Saturday, August 9, 2008

Whiteclay unrest focus of book

Whiteclay unrest focus of book

Nebraska native Stew Magnuson has written a book that provides an historical account of the often difficult relationship between Nebraskans and the Oglala Lakotas of Pine Ridge in "The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder: And Other True Stories from the Nebraska-Pine Ridge Border Towns."

Published: Thursday, August 7, 2008 4:31 AM CDT
The North Platte Telegraph

As a journalist, Stew Magnuson's work has taken him to live and report from places all over the world. When he decided to dedicate himself to writing a book, though, it was the Pine Ridge area of northwestern Nebraska that captured his attention.

Magnuson is the author of "The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder: And Other True Stories from the Nebraska -Pine Ridge Border Towns," a non-fiction book being published by the Texas Tech University Press as part of its Plains Histories series.

Magnuson, the grandson of Bernice Magnuson of Stapleton and a graduate of the University of Nebraska, first became interested in the Nebraska-Pine Ridge border towns in 1999 when he covered for the Christian Science Monitor the unrest in the town of Whiteclay. The hamlet sells millions of cans of beer per year to residents of the reservation where alcohol is banned.

The story of Whiteclay is one of those stories told in the book. The Whiteclay story traces from the town's origins at the turn of the century to the unsolved murders of Ronnie Hard Heart and Wallace Black Elk that sparked violent protests in 1999. It provides in-depth historical context to the ongoing debate over the controversial town.

The key story, which also gives title to the book, is the in-depth look at the death of Raymond Yellow Thunder.

On Feb. 12, 1972, four white men abducted Yellow Thunder, stripped him from the waist down, and tossed him into the Gordon American Legion Hall during a dance. Eight days later, he was found dead in the back of a pickup truck in a used-car lot.

His death brought the American Indian Movement, and its charismatic leaders, Russell Means and Dennis Banks, to the area for the first time.

The book provides a full account of Yellow Thunder's death, the A.I.M. march and occupation of Gordon's city auditorium and the sensational trial of the perpetrators in Alliance. Magnuson is said to be the only journalist to have interviewed Les Hare, the ringleader of the crime.

"The book will put the rumors surrounding the circumstances of Yellow Thunder's death to rest once and for all," Magnuson said.

Although the book is set mostly in the Sheridan County-Pine Ridge region, it details the story of Nebraska American Indian Movement coordinator Bob Yellow Bird Steele's life and two sensational trials held in North Platte in the 1970s.

The activist was reviled in Sheridan County, so the venues for a criminal trial and a lawsuit were moved to North Platte. The trials were covered extensively by the North Platte Telegraph and were front-page news.

Yellow Bird made a compelling witness and won both cases.

Magnuson lived in Gordon for four months in the fall of 2003 to conduct research on the book. He conducted more than 70 interviews for the project and returned to the area a half-dozen times.

"Most of the first draft of the book was completed while working in the basement of my grandmother's home in Stapleton," Magnuson said.

The book will be released in mid-August. It can be reserved locally through Waldenbooks. It will also be available from online book dealers and through Texas Tech University Press at 800-832-4042.

Magnuson, who is now managing editor of National Defense Magazine based in Arlington, Va., will present the work at the Nebraska Book Festival in Lincoln in October.

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