May 19, 2022

“I’m hit” were the last words the FBI heard from Agent Ronald Williams.

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On June 26, 1975, just before noon, FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, in separate vehicles, were searching for a fugitive, Jimmy Eagle.  The agents followed a suspect suburban containing three individuals from a rural highway onto a dirt road leading to the Jumping Bull family farm in a remote corner of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

The suburban stopped at a distance, as did the agents, who were now exposed in an open field.

The beginning.

The unprovoked attack and what followed are undisputed.  Agent Williams was on the FBI radio describing that the three individuals were getting out with rifles and were about to fire at them.  As gunfire erupted, personnel in the FBI’s Rapid City office heard Agent Williams trying to describe their location.  The radio call for assistance ended with “I’m hit.”

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Unknown to the FBI, and the two agents, was the presence of an American Indian Movement (AIM) camp nearby.  They had followed Leonard Peltier, who was also a fugitive at the time.  When the shooting began, others from the AIM camp, with rifles, pinned the agents in a deadly crossfire.  The attack didn’t last long, but it ended with no fewer than 125 bullets holes in the FBI vehicles.

Agent Coler received a devasting wound to his right arm.  Agent Williams, wounded three times, removed his shirt and waved it as a sign of surrender — which was ignored — and crawled to his critically wounded partner, using his shirt as a tourniquet on Agent Coler’s shattered arm.  Williams waited, hoping help would arrive quickly, not knowing that the first to find the Jumping Bull farm were also fired upon and forced back to the highway.

Later trial testimony placed the three older AIM Indians, Leonard Peltier, Bob Robideau, and Dino Butler, at the agents’ vehicles.  Agent Williams faced his killer as the muzzle of Peltier’s AR-15 was placed against a raised hand and fired — fingers blown through the back of his head.  It was hoped that Agent Coler was unconscious as the weapon turned toward him, with two more point-blank bullets to his face.

Peltier and others stole what they could, shot at responding law enforcement, and managed to elude capture.

Eight months later, Leonard Peltier, the FBI Top Ten Fugitive, was arrested in Canada and extradited.  In April 1977, in Fargo, North Dakota, he was convicted of murder and aiding and abetting, receiving consecutive life sentences.

The Peltier myth quickly emerged, resting on the notion that since Native American history with the government is dismal at best, Peltier’s plaintive cries of innocence must be true.