- The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder, and Other True Stories from the Nebraska-Pine Ridge Border Towns
The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder tells the story of the brutal 1972 killing of a Lakota man, Raymond Yellow Thunder, in Gordon, Nebraska. Yellow Thunder died from injuries sustained during a beating by several white perpetrators. Yellow Thunder's death is often credited as igniting an onslaught of American Indian activism in the 1970s, and as one of the main events that brought the American Indian Movement to media fame and to the forefront of American Indian activism. Stew Magnuson's book additionally focuses on the death of Yellow Thunder in relation to other racial incidents in the Nebraska-Pine Ridge reservation border towns of Gordon and Whiteclay. The stories of the people, both white and Indian, who populate these border towns are interwoven throughout the text. Magnuson characterizes these border areas as dark, complex, and dismal small towns that are plagued with alcohol abuse and narrow-minded bigotry.
American Indian people historically have a contentious history with the non-Indian towns that border their nations. These towns, commonly referred to as border towns, are fraught with long-standing racial tensions and prejudices. Magnuson argues that the prejudices in the Nebraska context are two-sided, with the American Indians portrayed not as helpless victims of crime but often as participants in the racial dynamics played out in the border towns (301, 303). Unfortunately, the events described in The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder are not uncommon stories in Indian Country. Nor are these incidents relegated solely to the past.
Most recently, on May 24, 2011, an American Indian family in Nevada was the target of a skinhead attack. The family was harassed at a gas station by a group of skinheads and then pursued down a highway. An American Indian man, his son, and his wife were beaten severely. The perpetrators in this gruesome attack have not been arrested, and one of them is the son of the local sheriff.1 During April 2010, in Farmington, New Mexico, two white men and one mixed-blood Navajo man branded a young mentally disabled Navajo man with swastikas. Two of the perpetrators in this attack have been sentenced and charged with hate crimes.2 Even though hate crimes committed against American Indians are common, they are not often discussed in the media or literature. It is important to expose these issues because [End Page 127] they are a reality for many American Indian people and a violation of their human and civil rights.
This book was originally was published in 2008. The paperback version has been revised and updated, and includes a new afterword. The prologue begins with a march in Whiteclay, Nebraska, on July 3, 1999, after an American Indian man was found beaten to death there. As in the past, family members called in the American Indian Movement to help coordinate a march and protest against racial violence and mistreatment of American Indians in Whiteclay. Magnuson, a journalist, covers these events along with the 1999 march. The vivid description of the march and protest provides an introduction to the subsequent chapters, which depict both the death of Raymond Yellow Thunder and the history of racial tension in this region that dates back to the first contact between soldiers and Indians.
The chapter "A Cold Night in Gordon" relays the terrible events surrounding the beating of Yellow Thunder on February 12, 1972, and his subsequent death. Brothers Les and Pat Hare, along with Robert Bayliss, Bernard Lutter, and Jeanette Thompson, were drinking and joyriding in the small town of Gordon when they came upon Yellow Thunder walking along the road. In some reservation border towns, beating up Indians is a common pastime for white youths. Yellow Thunder was offered a ride, then was stripped of his pants and thrown into an American Legion hall. His attackers hunted him down for a second round of attacks later the same night. Yellow Thunder...