Ghost Dance

Activists still wonder if Standing Deer died in a plot by the feds or Indian foes or for no reason at all

The night Smashed Ice stabbed Standing Deer to death with a kitchen knife, he made four phone calls. The first three were for an alibi that never held up. The fourth conveyed his confession.

The slain man's friend Judy Krull got the first two calls. At 3 a.m. on January 21, Smashed Ice asked Krull to pick him up at the bus station. She hardly knew Smashed Ice. No one did. No one knew how he had wound up at Standing Deer's Chimney Rock apartment from Maryland six days earlier. But he had said he was the nephew of the respected Leonard Crow Dog, and that was enough to get him through any door.

Now this Lakota stranger said he was at the bus station and needed a ride back to Standing Deer's apartment. She politely refused.

Krull was one of the last to see Standing Deer before he died.
Krull was one of the last to see Standing Deer before he died.
Smashed Ice left for Houston without even a change of socks.
Smashed Ice left for Houston without even a change of socks.

Four hours later, Smashed Ice called her from the Deer's apartment.

"Something's wrong," he said.

Krull knew right away. She bolted to her car and called the cops on her cell phone. By the time she arrived, a detective had already questioned Smashed Ice. The Indian said he'd left for a few hours, and discovered the Deer's body when he returned. That's when he noticed someone had broken in through the back door.

Krull managed to stick her head inside the front door. There, looking back at her, was the buffalo head on the drum that Smashed Ice had been playing two nights before.

The three of them had driven to Krull's apartment after dinner. The Deer was expecting a conference call from his friend in Leavenworth Prison, Leonard Peltier. He was serving two life sentences for executing two FBI agents on a South Dakota reservation 28 years ago. He had big plans to announce about changes at his defense committee that night, and the Deer couldn't afford to miss the call.

While he disappeared into the bedroom to wait for the call, Krull lit some sage. Smashed Ice sang spirituals and sweat-lodge prayers as he pounded the drum with a mallet. His voice was beautiful.

She had let Smashed Ice take the drum home with him. He was planning to play it on a radio show with the Deer the next day.

Now the 70-year-old lay butchered on his bed, bloodied by more than 20 stab wounds from the left side of his mouth down to his right ankle. He had been out of prison for only 18 months.

It wasn't an FBI bullet that would kill him, as his friends always feared, but a drunken Lakota.

It looked like a stranger traveled halfway across the country to kill Standing Deer for no reason. The Deer had no money and no connection to his killer. But he did have ties to Peltier and his crumbling defense committee, the self-destructing American Indian Movement and, by his own account, crooked federal agents.

If it's hard to imagine that the federal government had him killed for exposing a plot, or other Indians had the Deer killed for silence, it's even harder for his friends to imagine that he was killed for no reason at all.

Robert Wilson's father tried to beat the Indian out of his kids.

The elder Wilson had a good job as an auditor for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Oklahoma City. He was an Oklahoma Choctaw married to a Wisconsin Oneida, living off the reservation in a white neighborhood with white friends. His daughter and two sons went to white schools.

He would be damned if his kids thought of themselves as anything other than American. He hit them for speaking Choctaw or Oneida and told them to do the same to anyone who called them Indians.

Working for the BIA, the elder Wilson knew about life on the reservation. He knew about the poverty and the unemployment and the crime and the alcohol. He didn't want that for his kids. But at night, when the lights were out, Robert Wilson and his siblings huddled together, whispering in their native tongues.

Robert Wilson knew his grandparents enough to know he loved their cultures. He visited his father's people in the Washita Mountains, until his constant talk about Indian stories proved too much for his father. The man forbade the boy from seeing the elders again.

In the self-published memoir he authored later, as Standing Deer, he recalls those times: "I was never accepted around Indians who weren't relatives because I didn't know how to act. I no longer remembered the language or customs. I was an outsider, and when I would ask about sweat lodges and vision pits, I was met with blank stares."

Their resistance kept him out of Indian society. Clinging to his Indian heritage, he wore his hair long, but he wound up marrying a white woman when he was 19.

He was an angry man who loved other Indians and was taught to hate the Indian in himself. He was also a humorous, articulate man who loved to prepare Indian meals for his two daughters. He tried to be a good dad but didn't always know what to do. He bought his younger daughter a bunny and took her to see Fantasia. He also dragged her to Easy Rider. Those were some of the last things she remembers, before he went off to prison.

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