Ghost Dance

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

A few weeks later, Peltier transfers to Marion. Standing Deer sees his target across the courtyard, talking to other Indians.

Peltier has long black hair, a thick mustache and the sacred scars of the Sun Dance. He's telling about his first decision to become a leader. He was 14 years old, and an elderly woman on Pine Ridge was asking, "Where are all our warriors?" She saw her children starving and dying and succumbing to the horrors of life on the reservation.

Standing Deer is stunned.

"When I looked at Leonard, I saw in him all the things I never was and never could be," he says. He chokes up. "I was going to kill him…I reeked with shame."

He knows he can't go through with it, even if it means no more medical attention or life in the hole or maybe death. He tells Peltier he was sent to kill him. Peltier says nothing.

The next day, Alan Iron Moccasin, Peltier's 300-pound Lakota bodyguard, comes to Standing Deer's cell and tells him that Peltier wants to see him. Standing Deer's first thought is of the shiv under his mattress, of protecting himself. But the man he saw in the courtyard would not want to hurt him.

Iron Moccasin escorts him to the law library, which Peltier has already asked to be cleared. Peltier leads Wilson and Iron Moccasin into the storage room, where he promptly drops to his knees and fastens a blindfold over his eyes. Iron Moccasin produces rope from his coat and binds Peltier's hands behind his back. Peltier then tells his bodyguard to leave.

Iron Moccasin is unsure.

"Go on," Peltier says.

When the bodyguard leaves, Peltier has Standing Deer close the door and block it with a bookshelf so no one can get in. He obeys.

Peltier then tells him to reach into another bookshelf for a rolled-up newspaper. Wilson does as he is told. The paper is heavy. Wrapped inside is an 18-inch shank, beautifully crafted in the machine shop.

Suddenly, a ray of light from the storage room window gleams on the knife, blinding Standing Deer. He's dizzy, disoriented. The knife transforms into a snake. But Wilson is paralyzed, he can't drop the seething serpent. Instead, he stares straight into its eyes. The knife changes again; this time it's the blue-eyed stranger who told him to kill Peltier.

From outside this odyssey comes Peltier's voice: "Do whatever it is you have to do, my brother."

Wilson reacts before he even realizes it. He raises the knife and slashes through the rope binding Peltier's wrists. He rips off Peltier's blindfold and sees the tears in the man's eyes.

At that moment, all of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father for speaking Indian, all of the rage he felt inside him for being cast away from the elders evaporated.

Until that point in his life, he'd always been Robert Wilson. He was now Standing Deer. He had come home to his people.


Peltier himself had hoped to be freed as part of the wave of clemency action on the eve of President Bill Clinton's departure in 2000. He and members of his defense committee were convinced that he would be released. When it did not happen, Peltier lashed out at Clinton and his own committee. He accused board members of not working hard enough for clemency and of mismanaging funds.

A year later, more problems plagued the effort to free Peltier. Allegations surfaced in an Indian newspaper that linked Peltier to the death of a young AIM woman named Anna Mae Aquash in 1975. She had been killed by other AIM members because she saw Peltier kill the agents, the article contended.

If she was killed for what she knew, how many others had been killed for the same reason? Who were next? As damaging to Peltier as the story was, he still maintained supporters. He asked Standing Deer to join the board upon parole. According to friends, Standing Deer agreed, even though he was wary of the dispute between Peltier and the board.

Two nights before Standing Deer's murder, he and other associates were supposed to take part in a conference call with Peltier. It never happened.


Smashed Ice was released from his Sioux Falls prison cell in July 2002. His movements over the next six months defy clear explanation.

He first went to Rockville, Maryland, where he stayed with Sherry Connell, a 47-year-old preschool teacher who had been his pen pal when he was in prison. Smashed Ice told her in his letters that he got in trouble with the law when he was 15, shot a BIA officer in the leg and served eight years in a Colorado prison. He told her how he had stabbed that Rapid City white man so brutally that the man was paralyzed. None of it was true, but much of it was similar to the criminal record of his four-month cellmate, Alan Iron Moccasin.

Connell says Smashed Ice asked her in his letters to marry him. But shortly after he showed up in Rockville, he grew abusive. He drank constantly, didn't look for work and hung out with like-minded losers who frequented a nearby men's shelter.

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