Ghost Dance

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

"I felt for Pius," she says. "I saw the kid that was thrown away and that nobody really gave a shit about."

She says Smashed Ice told her that his father never returned his love. Things hadn't been the same since the divorce, when Smashed Ice's mother demanded custody of the children. Smashed Ice told Connell that he feared his father was going to beat his mother. He got between them, and Sam Wounded Head cracked Smashed Ice right in the mouth.

Smashed Ice soon started making strange requests to Connell, like randomly asking her to lie down so he could watch her go to sleep, she says. It became his obsession, she says, and something she would never do.

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.

She kicked him out after several weeks, so he caught a bus back to Rosebud. There he took part in a sacred four-day Sun Dance. A medicine man pinched his chest and arms, pierced the flesh with a knife and ran pieces of bone through the holes. Ropes were tied from the bones to a tree, and Smashed Ice spent the next four days freeing himself. The dancers offered their flesh for the good of the tribe and gave thanks to the sun, which gives life to all.

He tired of the reservation and moved in briefly with a friend in Kansas, another woman who had written him while he was in prison. She welcomed him, but he soon turned on her. He went through her mail and listened in on her phone conversations, she says. After ten days, she gave him enough money for a bus ticket out of town.

Back in Maryland, Smashed Ice found work as a day laborer and moved into a boarding house in Frederick. Connell visited him shortly before Christmas and says he had lost 30 pounds from doing crank and crack. She brought him his favorite treats, Doritos and Mountain Dew, but he couldn't eat. He gagged trying to force himself.

She says she saw him last in early January, when he said he found a way to get enough money for them to be married. A South Dakota Lakota had given him the phone number of an Indian social service agency where the ex-wife of the great Standing Deer worked, right there in Maryland. She would tell him how to find Standing Deer, and Standing Deer would give him $4,900 -- enough for a wedding and honeymoon.

Smashed Ice said he would come back to Maryland for Connell. He left all of his belongings in his apartment. He left town so quickly he didn't even bring an extra pair of socks.

On January 13, Anna Standing Deer prepared to meet a Lakota who had called her agency's Frederick office, saying he needed to get back on his feet. The 53-year-old woman always fought for Indian rights. She was an African-American with Creek, Choctaw and Cherokee blood. And she was an avid supporter of Peltier and Standing Deer. She struck up a correspondence with the Deer in the late 1970s, and married him when he was in prison in 1981.

Anna entered the office and saw the stocky Indian in a baseball cap give her a wicked smile, like he'd landed on his prey. He acted as if he already knew who she was.

It made her uncomfortable, but the man soon told her he was Leonard Crow Dog's nephew, and the son of Sam Wounded Head.

A few minutes into the interview, Standing Deer called Anna on her cell phone.

"Guess who I'm sitting with?" she asked the Deer. "Leonard Crow Dog's nephew."

Smashed Ice perked up.

"Is that an Indian?" he asked. "Let me speak Lakota to him."

Anna knew that Standing Deer loved the Lakota tribe. She passed the phone across the table, but the man didn't speak Lakota.

"What's your name?" he asked the Deer.

Within minutes, the man got Standing Deer's phone number and address -- information he carefully guarded. But this was the great medicine man's nephew he was talking to. He could trust him.

After the call, Anna said she could get him a welfare check in about ten days, but he'd have to stay in Frederick. He asked her for a ride back to his apartment, then suddenly turned on her. "You fucked me up with Standing Deer!" he screamed. "I wanted to be down in Texas by Friday!"

Anna was scared, but she kept her word and gave him the ride. He asked to be dropped off a few blocks from his place. She got home 30 minutes later and told Standing Deer about the outburst when he called.

"What are you talking about?" the Deer asked. "Who was the last one to talk to him, me or you?"

Standing Deer said the man had just called him about 15 minutes ago from the Frederick Community Action Agency. A caseworker wanted to verify that he knew Pius Vinton Smashed Ice before the agency bought him a ticket on a bus headed for Houston that night.

Standing Deer was supposed to pick him up at the bus station.

He asked Anna what his killer looked like.

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