Rumors of Unmarked Graves at Wounded Knee Still Alive after 40 Years

This is Part Four of a weekly blog that will take a look at several aspects of the Wounded Knee Occupation as the 40th anniversary of the controversial 71-day event continues from Feb. 27 to May 5. 

Before the Wounded Knee Occupation ended in May 1973, rumors were already running rampant.
This is not surprising. Watch the next mass shooting unfold on CNN. (Sadly, you won’t have to wait long.) All sorts of statements that will later be found untrue will be reported.
The same will happen during the next terrorist attack or natural disaster. Nowadays, the Internet and Facebook allow misinformation to zip around the globe at the speed of light. On battlefields, they call it “the fog of war.”
Hopefully, by the end of the day, the rumors and facts are sorted out.
The siege at Wounded Knee that took place 40 years ago was no different.
And so we come to the rumor that there are six bodies buried in or near the village — all killed at the hands of the occupiers.
Twelve young women were also said to be raped, murdered and buried outside the perimeter. Someone reported this rumor to the FBI during the occupation, an agent diligently writes it in a report, and 40 years later it is repeated.
Rumors sometimes have a kernel of truth.
Perry Ray Robinson
Let’s examine this one, because a group I am just going to call from now on “the Anti-American Indian Movement zealots” or anti-AIM zealots are keeping the rumor alive.
The de facto leader of this group former FBI agent Joseph Trimbach’s son John Trimbach made the assertion publicly at the Dakota Conference at Augustana College last year. And writing under the pseudonym, James Simmon, he will repeat it wherever he can on website comments sections whenever the occupation is mentioned.
“We estimate that half a dozen people were murdered inside the village versus the one casualty who died from a stray government bullet,” he said April 27, 2012 during a presentation at the conference.
The bar for facts that go into my books is extremely high. That’s because I make my living as a journalist. If I keep getting my facts wrong, I lose my credibility, and ultimately, my career.
John Trimbach’s AIM vendetta and the fact that he is an airline pilot, not a journalist, gives him the luxury of posting rumors publicly or under a fake name without any fear of losing his livelihood. What does he care? As long as AIM looks bad, he throws out anything he believes to be true to see if it sticks.
I don’t always get my facts right. But I try my best, and if I get something wrong, I will try to correct it as best I can. If I need to correct something in this article, I can do so relatively easily. Once a book is out, you can’t recall it. Rumors are usually just those: rumors.
I have gone as far to say that a black civil rights activist, Perry Ray Robinson, went inside the occupied village of Wounded Knee, and has not been seen since. He is presumed dead. No one has come forward with any hard evidence that he ever left the village.
The prevailing story is that he got in scuffle with AIM members, was shot in the leg and bled out. His body was later clandestinely buried in the village.
AIM leaders have denied he was ever there. (That is not true. He was.) They have been evasive about the case for decades.
Is this the kernel of truth that gave rise to the rumors? Maybe.
How about the other five murders. Who were they? Now thing get fuzzy. Very fuzzy.
John Trimbach handed me a sheet of paper at the conference with a transcript of an interview allegedly given by AIM spiritual leader Leonard Crow Dog, in which it mentions a black man being killed along with a “Sicilian.”
One other alleged victim is known in the anti-AIM zealot community as “mannequin man.” FBI agents or U.S. marshals wrote in a report that they observed at first what they thought was a mannequin being crucified and tortured in full daylight. Later, in interviews disseminated by the same sources, it is claimed he was a real person, and informant.  
The occupiers knew they were being watched 24/7. Why would they do that in full view of the feds?
As for bodies four, five and six. We have nothing. No theories, no names. Nothing.
That doesn’t stop John Trimbach from saying he estimates there are six murders there. Since he claims one died from a  “stray” bullet. (Was someone hunting deer nearby?) I surmise he thinks one was Frank Clear, aka Clearwater. See my post from March 6).
My wife gives me grief for one of my guilty TV pleasures, Judge Judy. What can I say, we all like a little junk TV.
Judge Judy, as she hectors her plaintiffs and defendants, likes to say, “It doesn’t make sense. And if it doesn’t make sense, it probably isn’t true.”
Perry Ray Robinson being buried at Wounded Knee is a possibility. It at least makes sense. Here is why:
I have met and talked to Cheryl Buswell-Robinson. She came to the aforementioned conference last year. She sobbed as she pleaded with anyone who had information on Ray to come forward, just so they could bring his body home to rest. Ray had a wife and children, who, to this day, are asking about his whereabouts.
What about these other five alleged victims?
Where is the Sicilian’s family? What is his name? Okay, I’ll grant the zealots the slim possibility that ONE person with an Italian name made his or her way to Wounded Knee without telling a single soul they knew, then was killed and buried there. But five? The same for the 12 rumored women supposedly killed by the Goons. Not one had fathers that came looking for them?
Doesn’t make sense.
Keep in mind these rumors Trimbach capitalizes on emerged before the siege ended. FBI agents, who were desperate to hang any crime on AIM leaders, went immediately in and combed the place for evidence and freshly dug graves and found nothing.
That doesn’t completely prove or disprove anything.  Although I would argue that hiding a whopping 18 unmarked graves from FBI agents would be quite a feat.
One of the first readers to finish my book, Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding, emailed me and asked if someone could go in and search for bodies and settle this question. Could ground penetrating radar or cadaver sniffing dogs turn up anything?
As a matter of fact, I went to the site last September with just that question in mind. I had not been there in a number of years, so I went hunting for a likely spot where Ray Robinson could be buried.
I came away convinced that a random search would be difficult. There are too many places where a body could be hid. I believe that someone would have to come forward with a tip to point searchers in the right direction.
Ground penetrating radar is expensive, slow, and painstaking to use. You just don’t run down to Ace Rent-to-Own and grab one. And I wonder how effective it would be in the uneven terrain in the gullies leading to Wounded Knee Creek, which would be the first place I would look. A cadaver-sniffing dog might be a better bet.
And then, it must be said, 40 years is time enough come in the middle of the night and move a body.
That is what I know. No more. No less.

Stew Magnuson is the author of Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding, published by the Now & Then Reader. It is available as an eBook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes.

Wounded Knee Hostages Have Seen Their Story Whitewashed from History

This is Part Three of a weekly blog that will take a look at several aspects of the Wounded Knee Occupation as the 40th anniversary of the controversial 71-day event continues from Feb. 27 to May 5. Next week: Are there unmarked Graves at Wounded Knee?

Former South Dakota Sen. James Abourezk, taking questions at the Dakota Conference at Augustana College last year, was taken aback when Adrienne Fritze stood up to correct him.
Just a few minutes earlier, Abourezk had cracked wise about the day he went to the occupied village of Wounded Knee two days after the American Indian Movement had taken over.
He suggested that they were all in on some kind of joke with their AIM captors. He had come to negotiate their release. Having failed to do so, he decided that they weren’t captives at all.
Wounded Knee, 1940. Photo by John Vachon. Library of Congress
The former South Dakota lawmaker didn’t count on another non-AIM witness being in the crowd that day.
Fritze, who was 12 years old at the time, was the niece of Clive and Agnes Gildersleeve, the long-time owners of the trading post.
She had read and heard for almost 40 years the misrepresentations of her family in history books, along with AIM’s twisted rationalization for destroying a community, and taking away all their possessions. She was standing right in front of Abourezk, Sen. George McGovern and the TV crew when they came in for the photo op on March 1, 1973.
She did not find Abourezk’s lighthearted anecdote amusing.
I won’t go into the exchange between the two that followed other than to say that Fritze said her and her family were under duress every minute of the almost nine days they were there. They were threatened with knives and guns, and held against their will. The occupiers stole any possession of any value in front of their noses, and they were powerless to stop them.
In short, those fighting for their liberty, did so, by taking others’ liberty away.
Abourezk’s attempt to recover after Fritze confronted him with these uncomfortable facts was quite sad, and one of the low points of a conference that had many low points.
It’s all in the new book, Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding.
The “Still Bleeding” secondary title refers to many who are suffering as a result of the occupation. The Fritzes, Adrienne and her mother Jeanne, the last two living hostages, are among them.
Tim Giago, founder of several Native American newspapers including The Native Sun News, and a former Wounded Knee resident, has written eloquently over the years about the Gildersleeves.
I did not know them personally as he did. All I can say is that since I first began doing research at Pine Ridge almost 10 years ago, I have never met anyone who had a bad word to say against them.
If there is one thing Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding contributes to the historical record, I hope it’s a more balanced description of the hostages, and their predicament.
AIM leaders, and sympathetic historians, have put forth two assertions. One, that they were happy and willing hostages. And two, as Russell Means suggested minutes after Abourezk and Fritze’s exchange, that they basically deserved it.
I’m not trying to brag when I say I am the first journalist or historian to interview Adrienne and Jeanne. I just want to point out that I was the first to even bother asking them for 39 years.
That is telling. Writers have accepted the simplistic “crooked white trader” and “willing hostages” narrative for four decades.
The happy and willing hostages idea has its roots in quotes that Agnes Gildersleeve and her brother Wilbur Riegert — both mixed-blood Ojibwes — gave to the press.
Agnes, in front of cameras and in private conversations, said she wasn’t sure she wanted to leave. Certainly, she had ambivalent feelings. The stated reason for not wanting to leave was because she feared what would happen to her home of 40 years after she left.
Well guess what happened to her home of 40 years after she left? It was burned to the ground.
Riegert, an elderly wheel-chair bound hostage, I believe has been particularly aggrieved by historians. This was a man who loved Lakota culture and religion and spent his life collecting art and artifacts, and writing unpublished histories about the people he had lived among his entire adult life.
In the book, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee, authors Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior quote him as telling a print reporter that he sympathized with AIM’s demands.
First of all, interviews given with armed AIM leaders standing a few feet away are done so under duress (You would think a smart guy like Abourezk would know that).
In any case, this is undoubtedly true. Riegert was well aware of all the injustices perpetrated against the Oglala Lakotas, would have loved to have seen the Black Hills returned to them, as well as many of the other demands fulfilled.
Like a Hurricane isn’t a completely bad book. But Smith and Warrior cherry picked facts to make Riegert and the Gildersleeves look like villains. It is an influential book, and used as textbook n college classes, so the misconception continues.
The other assertion is that they were corrupt, so they got what was coming to them.
I hope my readers know by now that I don’t back away from uncomfortable facts. And the fact is that the white trader system on Pine Ridge in the first half of the 20th century on Pine Ridge was tremendously corrupt.
AIM leaders asserted that the Wounded Knee Trading Post engaged in shady business practices, and Riegert’s museum was exploiting the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. 
I have come across no evidence that the Gildersleeves engaged in such practices. I believe that Riegert was sincere in wanting to share his love and knowledge of the local culture with any tourist who came to see his museum.
I duly note in the book that Jim Czywczynski invoked the Fifth Amendment 95 times in order not to incriminate himself at a Wounded Knee trial when asked about his business practices. (Yes, the same man who tried to sell the Oglala Sioux Tribe the land at Wounded Knee at a huge mark-up last month). He bought the trading post for the Gildersleeves and ran it during its final years.
At the end of the day, the occupiers had no right to take hostages, steal, loot and destroy lives under any circumstances.
There were many other Wounded Knee residents besides the 11 hostages. Their untold stories will have to wait for another column.

Stew Magnuson is the author of Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding, published by the Now & Then Reader. It is available as an eBook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes.

The Battle of Algiers

Franco Solinas, who wrote the screenplay for “The Battle of Algiers,” set out to demystify colonial war. Honor, glory, maintaining peace, bringing freedom and the advantages of civilization, guaranteeing human rights—whatever the occupier’s stated motivation for fighting—all of this was sentimental drivel. Solinas felt compelled, he said, to present the events in a harsh light because he was against “a hypocritical, phony, romantic, fictionalized idea of war.”
It’s true that the French do not come off well in this film. The colonists seem spiteful, their young people spoiled, their policemen immoral and underhanded. Apart from the paratrooper commander, Colonel Mathieu, who upholds his warrior code, the French army appears callous at best, sadistic at worst. In one brutal sequence, we see Algerians being tortured in graphic detail, Ennio Morricone’s mournful score heightening our revulsion. Not only must we endure the men’s agony as they are beaten, burned, waterboarded, and subjected to electric shocks, we are also shown the faces of their wives and mothers, tears running down their cheeks, as they too are made to witness the torture.
But none of this would have surprised audiences in the mid-1950s, when the events marked by the film took place. The fact that torture was routinely used in France’s “dirty war” in Algeria was widely known and hotly debated. Exposés were written by prominent figures, from decorated army generals to Catholic theologians. Soul-searching was the order of the day, particularly among Left-Bank intellectuals. Former members of the French Resistance routinely denounced the “Gestapo methods” of the French army. And efforts by the authorities to censor this literature only increased the demand for it.
The European-born editor of a left-wing Algerian newspaper critical of the colonial regime was tortured for a month at the height of the Battle of Algiers. His account, smuggled page by page out of prison, sold 168,000 copies in a clandestine Swiss edition published in 1958, after the original version was confiscated in France. His ordeal became a cause célèbre.
The shock value of “The Battle of Algiers” did not reside in its revelation of French brutality, difficult as the scenes of torture are to view. I think it was the film’s glorification of revolution, its endorsement of the argument found in Frantz Fanon’s radical manifesto, The Wretched of the Earth, that violence could be a cleansing force, enabling an oppressed people to overcome their fears and reclaim their dignity, that earned the film its acclaim, and its notoriety (depending on the viewer’s politics).
In a famous sequence, three Algerian women prepare to bomb civilian targets in the European area of Algiers. Who doesn’t root for them to get through the checkpoints? 

Pretty shocking, I’d say, even today.

In her new title, Dirty War: Terror & Torture in French Algeria, Lisa Lieberman tells the story of the Algerian war and its impact on French intellectuals and political and military leaders.

More Questions Than Answers About Wounded Knee 1973’s First Fatality

This is Part Two of a weekly blog that will take a look at several aspects of the Wounded Knee Occupation as the 40th anniversary of the controversial 71-day event continues from Feb. 27 to May 5. Next week: The residents of Wounded Knee.

Last year, the Oglala Sioux Tribe sent a list to U.S. attorney for South Dakota requesting that the he investigate approximately 56 suspicious deaths that had occurred in Pine Ridge or nearby.
It was an odd list. It looked like there was some padding going on. The first name that jumped out at me was Raymond Yellow Thunder. I wrote a book, The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder, in 2008, and I was perplexed as to why his name appeared there. The killers were caught, tried, convicted and served their time in in the 1970s. This all happened in Nebraska, outside of South Dakota and the FBI’s jurisdiction. And even if someone believed that the manslaughter charge should have been murder, what, you’re going to retry the case on a different charge 40 years later? Ridiculous.

The second name that jumped out at me was Frank Clearwater aka Frank Clear (or vice versa depending whether you’re in the FBI or American Indian Movement camp). Since the last name is in question, I’m just going to go with Frank for the remainder of this article.

Now here is a death worth investigating.

Frank Clearwater was the first fatality during the Wounded Knee Occupation in 1973. His name has been surrounded in mystery since the day he arrived in the village on April 17.

The story, as told in several history books, reputable and otherwise, is that Frank Clearwater, 47, an Apache, made his way into the occupied village with his pregnant wife — Morningstar — arriving sometime on the night of April 16.

The two weary travelers laid down to rest in the either the church or one of the houses, and while they were sleeping one of the most intense firefights of the occupation broke out. A stray bullet penetrated the wall and struck Frank in the head.

A ceasefire eventually came and he was medically evacuated to Rapid City, where he hung on for eight days, but succumbed to his wound on April 25.

His widow then asked that he be buried at Wounded Knee Cemetery.

A dispute immediately broke out between AIM and its avowed enemy Tribal Chairman Dick Wilson. Wilson produced documents claiming that Clearwater was named Frank Clear Jr., and that he was a white man who had served time in a military prison for abandoning his post in World War II. Wilson said only Natives could be interred at Wounded Knee.

To make a long story short, Frank was ultimately buried at Crow Dog’s Paradise, AIM spiritual leader Leonard Crow Dog’s home on the Rosebud Reservation.

So who is buried there? Frank Clear or Frank Clearwater?

As usual, we have two completely different interpretations of this event depending whether you believe the former FBI Special Agent in Charge Joe Trimbach, whose name appears on the cover of a book called, American Indian Mafia, or the AIM leaders.

American Indian Mafia goes into some, but not much detail of this event. Trimbach, of course, says he was Frank Clear. But he doesn’t go into why he would have lied to AIM leaders about his name and ancestry.

Curiously, in a timeline in the book’s Appendix, on page 513, it reads “April 17, 1973: Wounded Knee infiltrator Frank Clear is struck by a stray bullet that had penetrated a wall.”

“Infiltrator?” What a curious choice of words.

Is Trimbach saying that Frank was sent in to gather intelligence? I could ask him. But he wasn’t at Pine Ridge at the time, his superiors having removed him from the scene by that then. And now in his late 80s, I am not sure he would remember.

At the Augustana Conference in Sioux Falls, last year I asked Trimbach how many informants he managed to put inside the occupied village. None, he insisted. He was only on the scene for two weeks.

Later, I read his book in which it details gathering information from a total of four informants during his two weeks on the scene. This suggests to me that his memory is faltering in his old age, or he isn’t familiar with the information in a book that has his name on the cover.

Now to AIM. Four decades later, they continue to assert that Frank was a Native American. Proxies such as Ward Churchill, the former University of Colorado professor, asserted in his series of pro-AIM books that the documents Wilson produced were fake and it was a ploy to discredit him. He couldn’t be a martyr for their cause if he was an FBI informant.

My question to AIM leaders like Dennis Banks, who was there at the time of his arrival, is how did they know for sure? The prevailing story was the Frank and his wife weren’t there very long before they went off to rest.
They arrived at a time when leadership was deeply, and rightfully, paranoid about infiltrators.

According to Roland Dewing’s, Wounded Knee II, the best blow-by-blow account of the occupation published to date (sourced mainly from FBI documents), AIM initially gave authorities a number of names: First he was Matthew High Pine from Pine Ridge, then he was Frank Still Water, a Cherokee from Oklahoma, and finally Frank Clearwater, an Apache from Cherokee, North Carolina.

An Apache from North Carolina? Well, maybe.
Banks has a pretty bad record on telling who was and wasn’t a Native American. Doug Durham, a white man posing as an Indian, turned out to be the FBI’s most successful informant, and was one of Banks’ right hand men for years before he was discovered.

Was Frank Clear/Clearwater sent in as an informant? But with a pregnant wife? Or was he just a wannabe Indian, who was escaping a troubled past?

Or was he really who AIM claimed him to be?

I don’t have the answers, but I am certain they are out there. The Apache Nation would presumably have records of a Clearwater family.

And where is his widow — Morningstar — and where is the child — unborn at the time of its presumed father’s death, today? He or she would be about 40 or 41 years old. Could they shed any light on this man’s identity?

If you have answers to this mystery, send me a message. (stewmag (a)

Stew Magnuson is the author of Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding, published by the Now & Then Reader. It is available as an eBook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes.