Agent William's car, source: FBI
On June 26, 1975, FBI Special Agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler were murdered on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. While attempting to serve a Federal arrest warrant, a massive gun battle ensued. The Agents' cars were hit with 125 bullets and they were severely wounded early on in the gunfight.
Agent Williams had pursued a vehicle he believed contained the subject of the warrant. Agent Coler, who was nearby, came to assist. Only a few seconds into the pursuit, the subject vehicle came to a stop. Agent Williams radioed that the vehicle had stopped and the occupants had dismounted with weapons. The Agents' vehicles then came under fire not only from the pursued vehicle's occupants but from nearby houses, called the Jumping Bull Compound.
Upon hearing Agent Williams' transmission, FBI Agent Gary Adams drove to assist, however, he was 12 miles away. Williams called over the radio that both he and Coler had been hit. Gunfire could be heard in the background. That was his last transmission. Testimony indicated that persons from a nearby tent encampment heard the firing, came to the scene, and also began shooting at the agents. Later testimony indicated that at least seven persons fired at Williams and Coler.
Upon arriving, Agent Adams, joined by Police Officers of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, came under rifle fire. Their tires were shot out and because of the fire they were unable to reach Agents Williams and Coler for several hours.
Agents Williams and Coler were hit early in the fusillade and were only able to fire five rounds in return. Agent Coler's handgun was fired once and Agent Williams had fired his handgun twice. Agent Coler had two long guns in his vehicle, each of which had been fired once.
Agent Coler had been hit in the arm, which was nearly severed. This wound was sustained while retrieving his long guns from the trunk of his car. His arm had been wrapped with a makeshift tourniquet by Agent Williams. Agent Williams was wounded in his left arm, side, and foot.
Once Agents Williams and Coler were no longer able to fight, the three principal shooters walked to the agents' cars. Those individuals were Leonard Peltier, Robert Robideau, and Darrelle Butler. Peltier had been in the pursued vehicle, while Robideau and Butler had come from the nearby tent encampment. Peltier was not the subject of the warrant Agents Williams and Coler were trying to serve. However, he was wanted on a separate warrant for Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) for the Attempted Murder of an off-duty police officer in Milwaukee. His presence on the Reservation was unknown to Williams and Coler.
There was no eyewitness testimony as to the exact events at the agents' cars. Both Agents were executed at close range with an AR-15 rifle. Agent Williams was shot in the head, killing him instantly. A defensive wound on his right hand indicated he had put his hand up in front of his face before the shot was fired. Agent Coler was viciously shot twice in the head while lying on the ground, unconscious or near unconscious.
Leonard Peltier fled to Canada, but was eventually captured by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and extradited to the United States. On April 18, 1977, he was found guilty of the first-degree murders of Williams and Coler. On June 1, 1977, Chief U.S. District Judge Paul Benson sentenced Peltier to two consecutive life terms for the murders. All his appeals have been rejected.
For more detail about the Pine Ridge Shootout and its aftermath, visit the Tactical Professor
Claude Werner is The Tactical Professor. He served in Airborne, Ranger, Special Forces and Mechanized Infantry units in the US Army as both an enlisted man and an officer. His military assignments include being a Special Forces A-Team Commander, Intelligence Officer, and Mechanized Infantry Company Commander. Well known in the shooting community, he was formerly the Chief Instructor of the elite Rogers Shooting School and has won six sanctioned IDPA Championships with snub nose revolvers. In his civilian career, he was Research Director of three commercial real estate firms and was the National Director of Real Estate Research for Deloitte & Touche LLP. His blog is The Tactical Professor