Peter Matthiessen demonstrated considerable writing and research skills in his portrayal of the struggle between AIM and the FBI and the killing of Agents Coler and Williams, and had no doubt devoted a measurable amount of his life to creating In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse. His search for the truth and what had actually happened that June day had taken him on a winding path of eyewitness accounts and suspected government misconduct climaxing, so it seems, with his own personal revelations about the credibility of his own sources of information and ultimately learning about, then interviewing, Mr. X.
In over six hundred pages of well constructed prose, Matthiessen's kindest words for the deceased agents are:
"In a few wild minutes, Coler had received that shocking wound, and Williams could not or would not desert him - the details, the degree of bravery, the precise order of events are lost."
And with vivid descriptions not common to most in his trade, he accounts for the agents' final moments:
[Agent Williams] - "...was so painfully evident on those radio transmissions, ("Come on guys! Come on, guys!"), the knives of terror in heart and temple as the depthless hole of the rifle muzzle rose before him, as his hand flew up before his face in the shocked realization that he was about to be killed right now..."
[Jack Coler] - "mercifully unaware (the experts say) of what was happening, sat slumped against the car, the light already fading from his eyes as the barrel of this gun or another turned toward him."
Matthiessen was brought to this point, while offering any number of possible scenarios as to how and why the shooting first began, even had to admit to himself that the evidence had suggested that the agents "...had indeed been chasing one or more vehicles..." and "...they heard a warning shot or had been taken under fire; if there is another persuasive explanation of the location and position of their cars, I cannot find it." (p. 544)
In a certain bout with plagued conscience, Matthiessen carefully classifies the nagging credibility of his principal source of record, ROBERT ROBIDEAU, and whether or not his recent revelation (about Mr. X) squares with the facts they had already discussed: Robideau's "lidded ex-con look that reveals nothing..." leads to this startling conclusion:
"He (Robideau) gives the impression of bare honesty even when, to protect others, he is not telling the truth; that you suspect he may be lying does not bother him,, since he knows that you know that he has no choice." (Emphasis added)
Already deep into his research, it wasn't until, with self-admitted shock and skepticism ("Taken aback by this unexpected story...") on June 26, 1982, Matthiessen first learned from Robideau about the RED PICKUP TRUCK, and Mr. X, whom he had known since 1973, and who he now claims killed the agents. Questioned by Matthiessen as to why, now and not earlier, this revelation is being made, Robideau reasonably proffers the most truthful statement of his life.
(Robideau's explanation will be addressed in a moment)
Matthiessen's skepticism, however, is fleeting, as the stage is set for a one-on-one interview with Mr. X in February, 1990. Matthiessen, either being played for a fool, or so caught up in the myth of Peltier's innocence, or in too far to work his way back out again, meets with this small, husky, faceless figure, covered from head to toe except for a long strand of raven hair and a small band of brown-olive skin visible at nose and wrist - with a loaded AR-15 in the back room.
Matthiessen was led to believe that almost two years earlier, Mr. X, disturbed that Leonard Peltier had already spent thirteen years in prison, "...had come to Bob Robideau and offered him permission to name him as the killer to the FBI." (p. 576)
Mr. X lays out for Matthiessen and Robideau (who is also in the room) how he had driven onto the reservation with another non-AIM Indian in a borrowed red pickup truck to deliver explosives ("...explosives keep 'em at a safe distance," he said), ordered by Peltier and Dino Butler when they were spotted and followed:
The pursuing cars came down the long and muddy farm road from the highway and paused at the Little cabin, where one driver was seen to speak briefly to June Little. After which, a little faster now, they came lurching down the hill and across the pasture. "We decided to stop and confront the situation, we had to deal with them."
In greater detail Mr. X claims that the white man "might not have fired toward the pickup" but that it might have been some "sort of a signal." Shots exchanged, more join in the shooting, they move the truck out of the way, fire at a car arriving on the entrance road, after the shooting stopped from the white men deciding to take prisoners, approaching the two downed white men and in self defense, shooting from the hip, kills the one agent in self-defense (who may or may not have been trying to shoot him), and instinctively shoots the other one. They make a hasty retreat with his partner "freaking out" in the pickup. To convince Matthiessen, under Robideau's watchful eye, of his honesty, proclaims:
"I think of myself as a good person, and I don't feel guilty." (X said in his rasping whisper). "I never lied or stole or betrayed a friend." "...that I don't feel any guilt about what happened - it was self-defense."
In early August, in the Rockies, a second meeting between X and me (Matthiessen), was filmed by Oliver Stone and a small crew. Though we took great pains with the precautions, X had his loaded AR-15 in the back room, just in case. "I'm never going to prison," he told me, just as he had in the Pacific Northwest. "I'll never turn myself over to them. I'd rather die quickly fighting than die slowly in their prisons."
The concerned reader and researcher is requested to make what they will of these statements and Matthiessen's interview of Mr. X. If it smacks of the melodramatic, or perhaps that it sounds just too good to be true to support Peltier's claims (so pat and convenient that maybe Oliver Stone would have some conspiracy doubts), then perhaps it is just that, a lie, a fraud. Robideau, Butler, and Peltier nourished Matthiessen with just what he needed and wanted to hear; his probing questions, notwithstanding.
The entire interview can be read in "Spirit" at pages 576-584. The reader can compare for him or herself the many inconsistencies in Mr. X's version of his killing of Agents Coler and Williams. They are too many to list here, but Matthiessen is ignoring even his own reporting. Based on the undisputed timing of the agent's radio calls, they didn't have time to stop, even briefly, and speak to June Little as they pursued the red vehicle they believed to contain Jimmy Eagle onto the reservation, and Robideau, sitting in the room during Matthiessen's probing discourse, said, "all we know was, a few shots were fired, and the red pickup took off back up the hill and went out of there." Apparently he had forgotten what he stated in "Incident," claiming to have seen Mr. X get into the driver's side of the pickup and flee the scene.
Matthiessen, to his credit, divulges to the reader of "Spirit" exactly what Mr. X is all about; a legal diversion.
Matthiessen, skeptical, quizzes Robideau about this incredible revelation and why it had not been divulged by the defense attorneys.
"But there was no way to prove it, not without getting them others into trouble (Mr. X and his partner in the red pickup), and anyway, it was decided that it was better to keep us out of the area of the cars entirely, not only because of aiding and abetting (even minor involvement in the commission of a crime could invite prosecution on this charge), but because it might be too hard for a jury to believe what really happened."
When I grunted, still a little dazed, Bob said, "You See." (Emphasis added) (p. 546).
Peter Matthiessen, Dino Butler, Bob Robideau, and Leonard Peltier were correct; the jury wouldn't buy that story, and their attorneys, well versed in creating alternate scenarios, (no matter how implausible or devoid of truth), agreed. The lawyers knew that the phantom Mr. X wouldn't pass the smell test with any jury, but in the desperate straits they later found themselves, with Peltier facing life in prison, they went ahead with the diversion they had concocted, no doubt with the advice and consent of their lawyers.