Peter Matthiessen dispels Peltier’s claims of the facts and innocence
For the moment set aside Peltier’s years of a tapestry of lies, falsehoods and fabrications, and focus on one significant primary source in the Peltier saga, Peter Matthiessen.
Matthiessen casts his own serious doubts on Peltier’s feigned innocence and his shifting versions of what happened that June day at Pine Ridge.
The late Peter Matthiessen was arguably the most ardent and influential Peltier supporter since FBI Agents Coler and Williams were brutally murdered. He had unfettered access to Peltier and all the American Indian Movement members as well as his undeniably detailed research along with a multitude of interviews on both sides. Matthiessen knew of a myriad of government details from Peltier’s trial, other AIM trials and Peltier’s many lengthy detailed and conclusively telling appeals.
Matthiessen compiled his extensive research into “The story of Leonard Peltier and the FBI’s war on the American Indian Movement” into a 646-page epic, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (ITSOCH). ITSOCH, although densely documented and well-written, is often infused with manipulated and slanted suppositions. For Peltier and his supporters, however, ITSOCH literally remains the bible and chronology of the events surrounding that infamous June day. To this very moment on his website, Peltier proclaims “Much of the information contained on this site is derived from ‘In the Spirit of Crazy Horse’ by the renowned author Peter Matthiessen. The book is the definitive work on the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the Peltier case.”
So, what does this really mean?
Without question, Peltier, his committee and supporters must acknowledge and accept any and all doubts that Matthiessen expressed concerning Peltier’s version of what happened that day and frankly to Peltier’s obvious guilt:
White Flag of Surrender (Footnote 1)
One need ask why Matthiessen was prompted to include this in ITSOCH:
At some point not long after noon, the agent seen crawling through the car had passed out from shock and loss of blood, and his partner, less seriously wounded, had thrown his gun down and stripped off his white shirt. Perhaps he waved it as a white flag in sign of surrender, in any case he apparently attempted to rig it as a tourniquet on the shattered arm of the downed agent. (ITSOCH p.157, emphasis added)
From all the AIM members shooting at the agents pinned down in an open field Matthiessen was provided with considerable details, in essence all the dirty little facts and secrets that only those who were there, those who actually witnessed the unfolding tragedy could describe. These telling details were not part of the government’s prosecution of Peltier. Yet, Matthiessen dutifully embraced them.
Is it possible that Matthiessen simply made this up?
Hardly, but perhaps Peltier would like to think so, however, doing that would undermine everything else Matthiessen has offered.
Someone told Matthiessen about the mortally wounded Agent Coler ‘crawling through the car,’ Agent Williams ‘had thrown down his gun’ and ‘stripped off his white shirt.’ There was absolutely no doubt that the “less wounded” (actually wounded three times), Ron Williams, did use his white shirt as a tourniquet on Jack Coler’s mangled arm. We know this, and other troubling details, from the crime scene photographs.
How did Matthiessen come up with the premise that Agent Williams waved his shirt as a sign of surrender? Simple logic would indicate that the surviving Williams felt they were both in dire straits and the only option at that moment, to stop the attack and hopefully get medical aid, was to surrender.
There were a number of witnesses that day, Peltier, Robideau, Butler and the others who all saw what remained after the initial shooting at the Agents stopped.
Matthiessen surely heard the same account from several, if not many sources from that day.
Matthiessen, being as thorough with his reporting as he was credited to be, likely felt a moral obligation, as he did in other instances, to report this very obvious and grave detail.
The Agents wanted to surrendered but Peltier and the others would have none of that.
I cannot find it
Over the years Peltier, aside from changing his version of the events, also offered any number of unprovable details: the Agents came roaring onto the Jumping Bull property shooting away; that this was the beginning of a planned para-military assault on the AIM camp along White Clay Creek; that there were dozens or hundreds of law enforcement surrounding the area, and as documented in writing and on film, the person they knew who was delivering dynamite to the camp that day, the phantom Mr. X, who first wounded and then killed the agents, driving off in the infamous red pickup. All provable lies. Peltier also claimed he didn’t shoot at the Agents, then admitted he fired in their direction, then again in an interview, that he did shoot at the Agents.
Peltier’s lies are just that because there is one irrefutable fact that there was an eyewitness to exactly how the unprovoked attack began. Agent Williams, over the FBI radio, was trying to describe where they were, that they were about to come under fire, the shooing began and they heard him say “I’m hit.”
But after all the research and fact-finding Matthiessen once again had to yield to a sense of conscience. Not only did he not buy the Mr. X fable from the beginning, he also could not contribute to Peltier’s versions of how the shooting began:
Matthiessen expressed doubt from the outset when he was first presented with the Mr. X story from Bob Robideau (Fn. 3). Late into ITSOCH Matthiessen provides us with this revelation:
…the agents pulled up in that vulnerable place down in the pasture because they heard a warning shot or came under fire; if there is another persuasive explanation of the location and position of their cars, I cannot find it. (p. 544)
Matthiessen offers some additional narrative with tedious speculation. He nevertheless, after all he had uncovered and learned could not escape the obvious truth, that Peltier’s versions of the event did not hold sway under honest scrutiny. Matthiessen knew all too well the words from one of the victims overheard by personnel in the Rapid City FBI office and those out on the Reservation.
Matthiessen makes an appearance in the film Warrior: The Life of Leonard Peltier, and within a mere two minutes and thirty-seven seconds puts to rest any doubt (Fn. 4).
…the plight of a young man spending his life in
prison for something he almost certainly did not do.
With the arrival of this film Matthiessen had been deeply involved in the Peltier narrative for fourteen years, promoting Peltier’s cause through his published tome as well as speaking openly in support.
Nevertheless, here is the very best he can offer; the strongest statement he could make in a filmed interview was a declaration about a crime that Peltier ‘almost certainly did not do.’
What was it that Matthiessen learned during these years that prevented him from proclaiming Peltier’s complete innocence? What collectively did Matthiessen uncover from Peltier and the others involved that prompted him to not firmly commit to Peltier’s innocence? Aside from mere speculations about what ifs, something prevented Matthiessen from standing inflexibly in Peltier’s corner while only offering speculation to the contrary.
Perhaps, or let’s assume for the moment at least, that Matthiessen understood what really happened on June 26, 1975 and had enough conviction and conscience to allow a significant grain of truth to air his unquestioned and reasonable doubts.
“In the Spirit of Coler and Williams”
1) White flag of surrender: http://www.noparolepeltier.com/flag.html
2) Just After Noon, June 26, 1975: http://www.noparolepeltier.com/noon.html This website would not include crime scene photographs; however, this is an artist’s rendition of what responding Agents found when they located the bodies of Special Agents Coler and Williams. Peltier was convicted of their murders by shooting them both in the face with the “Wichita AR-15.” Coler was likely unconscious but Williams was not and faced his killer as Peltier placed the muzzle of the weapon against a defensive hand, pulled the trigger, and blew his fingers through the back of his head. A horrible death and scene to anyone, excluding the cowards of Jumping Bull. Testimony at a later trial quoted Peltier saying that “The M..f.. begged for his life but I shot him anyway.” However, back to Matthiessen’s reporting; Agent Williams, shirtless, did fashion a torniquet on Agent Coler’s arm. Apart from Matthiessen’s brief description there is an obvious question to be answered. Both Agents were shot at point blank range in the face, yet their bodies were found rolled-over laying face-down. Which coward, or cowards among those present furthered the carnage by manhandling the mutilated bodies? Odds are, they all did.
3) ITSOCH p. 547: When Matthiessen was first told of the Mr. X story by Bob Robideau, this was his reaction to Robideau’s “lidded ex-con look that reveals noting.” “He gives the impression of bare honesty even when, to protect others, he is not telling the truth; that you suspect he may be lying does not bother him, since he knows that you know that he has no choice.” This is another instance where Matthiessen knows he is being lied to but continues nevertheless, thus at least, revealing serious doubts of the events and Peltier’s feigned innocence.
4) Warrior; The Life of Leonard Peltier, 1992; https://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/warrior-the-life-of-leonard-peltier-1992/ (last accessed 11/26/21)
*This blog was sent as follow-up letters to President Biden and many others.