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Interviews with Thelma Rios
by David Seals, January 10, 2004

She's the woman everybody loves to hate, which is probably why I like her. She's a fighter who speaks her mind. And she was right in the middle of the whole ugly Anna Mae Aquash murder back in the 70s, so that what she has on her mind are a lot of pertinent facts relating to the 2 upcoming trials and Canadian extradition hearing of Annie Mae's accused killers, Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham.

Thelma Rios was still in the middle of the South Dakota war zone when I talked to her many times over the last 25 years, usually at her home in the depressed Indian ghettoes of North Rapid City. She's been described as a "hawklike" Pine Ridge Lakota by the local media when she organizes marches and protests for native rights, and some Natives scorn her name in local meetings at the 'Lakota Homes' public housing project where she lived for years, but all I ever saw was a friendly woman who always had a cup of coffee for me and a welcome mat for anyone who might need a meal and a place to sleep for the night.

Her split-level HUD "mansion" on Gnugnuska Street in the ugly government projects - rows of the same cheap box houses painted with the same bland colors and unhappy brown yards seen in hundreds of North American Indian communities, on and off the awful Reservations - was decorated in the front windows with a huge upside-down "amerikan" flag and posters all over the walls about racism, genocide, and indigenous struggles throughout the bloody hemisphere. If she was a hawklike fanatic it was because she had grown thin and unhealthy on lousy government issue commodities, fear of the police, and worry for her children.

"Annie Mae?" I asked her, the first time among many we talked about the case. "David Hill did it," she said without hesitation, calmly lighting a cigarette at her kitchen table. "I should know. I was goddamn married to him. He's a cop, and always was. Here's the proof." She went in a back room and brought out a box of old papers and letters and news clippings. "I was there, I saw it. He's tried to kill me several times but they can't get me."

Even the police indictments against Looking Cloud and Graham describe the alleged assassins bringing the hapless victim toThelma's house here in Rapid City, back in December of 1975. "That part of it is true," she said. "I knew Anna Mae, of course. I saw her there at our old place on Milwaukee Street. But it was David Hill who took her away. That's the last I saw of her. He turned her over to the police for interrogation. Arlo and John Boy were just young guys hanging around with a lot of other people, trying to help out. Arlo was drinking though and I threw him out."

So who is this David Hill, rarely mentioned in any of the extensive books and news articles analyzing the history of the American Indian Movement, and never mentioned at all in all the countercharges swirling back and forth between the FBI and AIM, accusing each other of complicity and guilt?

"He's a cop," she shrugged simply, with complete certainty. She knew I was a writer so I know she hoped I would write about it some day and perhaps clear her good name from all the slanders and innuendoes of a lifetime against a strong Lakota woman.

We went back over the whole history of AIM since its beginning in the late 60s in Minneapolis, in those tons of papers she brought out in file cabinets and more and more boxes. The first time Dave Hill came to the notice of the media was at the Custer Courthouse "riots" of February 1973, just before the famous Occupation of Wounded Knee later that month in nearby Pine Ridge. "He started it all, Dave," she said. "He provoked the riot. He was right there. He told me so, proudly, several times." Peter Matthiessen in his book 'In The Spirit of Crazy Horse' corroborated that on page 62, "...Means, Banks, Crow Dog, and a young Choctaw named Dave Hill, were allowed inside to talk with the nervous officials." From that confrontation a fight soon broke out.

When I askedThelma if Russell Means, Dennis Banks, and Leonard Crow Dog knew Hill was a cop, she clammed up. She gave me a funny look, and changed the subject. I knew that she was a Means partisan, because he was the leader of 'Dakota AIM' as a Lakota himself from her reservation. Like Looking Cloud, who is also an Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge, they were always most loyal to their own tribal kindred, and still are.Thelma always spoke well of Russell.

Matthiessen next notices him on page 107, "...a wild melee took place before the twenty were subdued. The injured included Custer defendant Dave Hill, who suffered permanent impairment of his vision in one eye, poked by a nightstick."

"He instigated that courtroom riot too. I was there. I saw him start it, punching a cop," she said. "At the time everybody thought it was great. He was a warrior. He was a hero and everybody trusted him, including me." She snorted in disgust. "I was a stupid girl. I fell in love."

They were married and lived in "the Samsonite Hotel" she laughed, referring of course to the semi-nomadic life familiar to Skins. Then it got hotter by 1975 and the shootout at Oglala, for which Leonard Peltier eventually was sent up for 2 life sentences, convicted of the death of 2 FBI agents. Several other Lakotas joined us for a memorable conversation about that fateful day of June 26, on the Jumping Bull property, talking openly about Hill's participation in it. Bernard "Bunky" Peoples and Steve Robideau added corroboration to what Thelma was saying.

"Dave Hill was known as the 'The Dynamite Man'," Bunky told me later. "But he wasn't a cop. I trust him."

"Then why doesThelma say he is? She was married to him?"

Bunky just smiled and shrugged. "Who knows? Dennis Banks said on the Peltier Tour, in front of audiences several times, that he killed those agents." Bunky and his wife, Mohawk singer Jay Hart, had just returned from the 1997 Spring Peltier Tour nationally, and Jay nodded that Yes, she'd heard Banks say that too. "People heard it all over the country."

When I asked Thelmaa bout it the next day, without Bunky present, she also smiled and shrugged. "Yeah, David Hill was the guy who got dynamite for everybody. Everybody knew that. They never could figure out where he always got it. But it's obvious isn't it, Dave? The government's the only one who can get those kinds of things. Bunky's right, he was called the dynamite man. Who were the cops chasing on June 26? A pickup truck with dynamite in the back. Maybe Dennis was there too, shooting, I don't know. I wasn't there, luckily. But David Hill came back home that night with a guy named Tony Ament, a white college kid, and they were both really nervous, or excited, or something. They loaded up again and went up to Mount Rushmore and dynamited the Visitor's Center that night. A few days later, I think it was, cops came in from all over the place and busted them."

The Rapid City Journal covered the story extensively, on page 2, Monday July 7, 1975:


Two men arrested Sunday by the FBI were to be arraigned Monday in Rapid City, according to Richard G. Held, special-agent-in-charge of the FBI at Pine Ridge. He identified them as: 

*Anthony E. Ament, 25, No. 1 Winterville, Spearfish, as a material witness in connection with the early June 27 bombing at Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

*Harry David Hill, 32, a Choctaw male, arrested in Rapid City on a charge of violation of the national firearms act.

Both were to appear before U.S. Magistrate James H. Wilson Monday afternoon for determination of bonds, Held announced.

In a press conference late Monday morning on the steps of the tightly secured federal building in Rapid City a local young, Indian woman told of the search of her house at 1014 Milwaukee where Hill was arrested Sunday afternoon.

She said several FBI agents entered her house at gunpoint and did not show her a search warrant until they had looked through the house for 15 minutes. She charges the agents ransacked the house.

The woman said the warrant stated the agents were looking for explosive devices and diagrams. They found no explosives in the house she said. "They even took my son's BB gun," she said.

At the press conference Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense attornet Lew Gurwitz said a number of traditional elders are being called to testify before the grand jury which he said will be convened next Monday to look into the deaths of the two FBI agents killed June 26 on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

"That was you?"

She grinned. "Damn right. Now follow the story. David Hill walked the next day with no bail at all! He'd just been caught red-handed blowing up Mount Rushmore and he walks! Personal recognizance bond."

"Incredible." I found the RC Journal stories confirming what she said (well, he hadn't been released the next day, at least not according to the newspaper), over the next week, in the microfilm files in the Public Library. The one on Thursday July 10 was the most amazing of all, buried on page 30:


Released from federal custody Wednesday afternoon on a personal recognizance bond, David Hill, 32, a Choctaw Indian, was immediately arrested by state officials on a charge of obliterating the serial number on a pistol. He was to be arraigned Thursday morning in magistrate court on the misdemeanor charge.  U.S. Magistrate James Wilson had followed the recommendation of the federal government in releasing Hill who had been held on two federal charges - possession of a firearm while under indictment on charges stemming from the Custer courthouse takeover incident in 1973 and obliterating a serial number on a firearm. He had been held on $15,000 bond on the possession charge and $20,000 on the other charge and would have had to post 10 per cent or a total of $3,500 to secure his release.

When I asked Steve Robideau, Leonard Peltier's cousin whom I had worked with daily for years at the Peltier Defense Committee, about it, he nodded, "Yeah, Dave Hill was at Oglala." In 1991 he came to my shack in the ghetto and wanted to talk out in the alley. He was very upset. "I've just come back from Lawrence [where the Committee was working near Leavenworth Prison]. I don't know what Bob {Robideau} and Dave Hill are doing with this Mr. X thing. It's going to hurt Leonard."

"Dave Hill is Mr. X?" I asked, referring to the famous masked confession that summer that Oliver Stone filmed on '60 Minutes' in aninterviewwith Peter Matthiessen, of a guy who claimed to be the real killer of the 2 FBI agents, in the hopes of clearing Peltier's name.


Steve was scared and wanted to walk down the alley, obviously afraid of being bugged or spotted by someone. To this day he is still scared and has given up hope that Leonard will ever get out of prison. The Director of the LPDC today in Lawrence, Kansas is....David Hill. He is still a national spokesman for Peltier and apparently trusted by Leonard as well as Dennis Banks and Russell Means, who were photographed in September 2003 on the steps of the federal courthouse in Denver at a rally for a new Appeals Motion for Peltier. The Motion was dismissed. Leonard remains in Leavenworth after 28 years in various Canadian and American penitentiaries, but David Hill is trusted by them, as he is by Bunky Peoples, as a right-on Bro who's been injured and jailed for "the People".

Thelma nodded. "Anna Mae saw it all come down, that's why she was killed. She knew David Hill was driving Marlon Brando's van in Oregon when they were busted in November of '75. She was going to talk. It was obvious. She was a brave little lady. What were Redner and Loud Hawk hauling in the car behind the motor home? Dynamite. It was an ambush. They got Anna Mae and Leonard had to run off across freezing fields and made it to Canada eventually."

I only ran into David Hill a few times, in 1991, when the Lakota Sovereignty Committee was helping the Bear Butte Council declare independence from the US and Canada, according to the great 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. We'd had some notable successes, particularly a score of Lakota elders declaring Independence officially on Bear Butte on July 14, which made the front pages of the Denver Post and Rapid City Journal. The declaration was denounced by tribal councils of course, and then the Feds showed up - Dacajawea 'Splitting-the-Sky', and David Hill. He was a handsome friendly guy who didn't look Indian. I asked him about Thelma.

He snorted. "Yeah." That's all he said.

I asked him about his 14 year old son Tony, whom he'd had withThelma, about 1976 in those bad old days. Tony was up on a murder charge and facing prison as an adult, which Thelma was fighting tooth and nail in the courts and media. He didn't respond. He didn't care.

"After the Oregon bust,"Thelma concluded, "he came back here and that's when Anna Mae was brought in. David Hill was in and out a little, and he had court dates with Russell and Vernon Bellecourt in Custer, and other guys. They were all over the place together. They were here for sure, unlike Banks or Peltier who were off in Canada and California. I didn't like Dennis because he was always after all the girls, but no way they could have been involved. But Hill? No. He was a killer, a proven killer. A violent man. I came to hate him, and fear him. It's hard to put your finger on it, Dave, but you just know when someone is evil, you know what I mean? He's evil. An evil man.

"When I heard about Anna Mae, I knew he'd done it. I just knew it. I saw him take her out to the car, his hand on her arm, putting on that charming act of his. But he was squeezing her arm hard. She was so scared and crying."