Jack Coler and Ronald Williams were looking to arrest a man named Jimmy Eagle, who was suspected of stealing a pair of cowboy boots.
Pine Ridge had been a nightmare of violence, intimidation, murder and mayhem almost on a daily basis.
There had been more than 60 killings in just a couple of years in confrontations between members of the activist American Indian Movement, and groups of thugs who controlled life on the reservation.
The Sunday Edition
On CBC radio's The Sunday Edition on April 6 starting at 9 a.m. EDT:
Robert Redford on Leonard Peltier: Why the actor and director supports the release of the imprisoned American Indian Movement leader.
Goldman Sachs: The Libya connection.
Lorrie Moore: The award-winning short-story writer and novelist on her latest short story collection, "Bark."
Mark Damazer: A former head of programming at the BBC makes a fiery, unapologetic case for public broadcasting.
Michael Enright's full interview with Robert Redford, and an interview with Leonard Peltier's lawyer, Michael Kuzma, can be heard on The Sunday Edition, at 9:15 a.m. Both interviews are also available in full on The Sunday Edition's website.
What happened after agents Coler and Williams neared the Jumping Bulls ranch on the reservation is a matter of long-standing dispute.
Gunfire broke out. Coler and Williams took cover behind their car, but their small-calibre service revolvers were no match for the high-powered rifles raining down fire from a small mesa above their vehicle.
Both agents were killed. Some witnesses said that after being mortally wounded they were executed with rifle fire to the head.
That November, four Indians, including an Anishinabe Dakota activist named Leonard Peltier were indicted for the murders of Coler and Williams.
Peltier managed to escape custody and fled to Canada, to Hinton, Alta.
The following February he was arrested by the RCMP and transported to Vancouver to await the outcome of an extradition hearing. In June 1976, the Canadian government authorized his extradition.
That next month, the others accused of the murders were acquitted. But a year later, on April 18, 1977, a jury in Fargo, N.D., found Peltier guilty of murdering the two FBI agents. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.
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