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.

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