Protest leads to exclusion of game warden from Washington monument
ST. IGNATIUS - A group of western Montana Indians and a historian had a simple question: Why is the United States honoring a cold-blooded killer?
And the answer came with an apology: We shouldn't have, and we're sorry.
Under pressure from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Pablo, the Salish-Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee in St. Ignatius and a Montana Historical Society historian, the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks withdrew its nomination of deceased Deputy Game Warden Charles Peyton for inclusion on the National Law Enforcement Officers' Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Department spokesman Rich Clough said Friday the nomination was a mistake, done without full knowledge of historical research and that he has offered an official apology.
"I went up and met with the Culture Committee (in St. Ignatius) on Tuesday and apologized on behalf of the agency," said Clough, former regional director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Missoula and now director of operations for the agency in Helena.
Law officers from across the country killed in the line of duty are being honored with a new monument in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the National Law Enforcement Officers' Memorial Association. The memorial is to be dedicated Sunday.
But when Culture Committee members and others learned early last week of Peyton's nomination, they registered their protest.
"There is absolutely no basis to honor Peyton in this context," said Montana Historical Society research historian Dave Walter in a letter to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. "This is not a case of a Montana game warden giving his life in the line of duty, but a case of a game warden committing murder."
Peyton was killed in a gun battle with an Indian hunting party in the Swan River drainage in 1908 at a time of tense relations between Indians and whites in western Montana. According to historical research by the Cultural Committee, Peyton surprised and killed three Indians, including a nearly blind and defenseless tribal elder, and his accomplice, Herman Rudolph, killed a 14-year-old Indian boy before one of the women in the hunting party shot and killed Peyton as Peyton was reloading,
"We feel it would be wholly inappropriate for the memorial to include this warden who was killed in one of the most notorious and tragic incidents in the 20th century history of Indian-white relations in Montana," said Fred Matt, chair of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, in a letter to the National Law Enforcement Officers Association Memorial.
The Culture Committee asked that every effort be made to physically remove Peyton's name from the Memorial Wall, where it has already been inscribed.
Jeff Hagener, FWP director, wrote a letter one day after Walter's letter, withdrawing Peyton's nomination and urging that the Culture Committee's requests be honored.
"The actual removal of the name from the memorial may not be feasible, but by removing the references in the written text and from the index to name locations, I feel the wishes of the committee will be recognized," Hagener said.
Craig Floyd, director of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and Fund, did not return calls from the Missoulian on Friday. The director of research also did not return a call from a second Missoulian reporter earlier this month.
Hagener said the nomination was made by the agency's chief of law enforcement, Beate Galda, on recommendation of one of her staff. Galda did not return a call requesting comment and explanation Friday. But Clough said she was unaware of the controversy over the "Swan Massacre," as it is called by tribal elders, when she sent in the nomination.
Clough said an unnamed member of the Montana Game Warden's Association was researching a centennial project, and noticed that Peyton, one of nine wardens killed, had not been recognized as being killed in the line of duty. The man asked Galda to sign a letter nominating Peyton for the memorial, which she did.
Peyton's name was removed last year from the list of 10 law enforcement officers to be included at the dedication of the Missoula Law Enforcement Memorial last July.
He also has three times been refused inclusion in the state Law Enforcement Memorial in Deer Lodge. The 1909 Montana State Legislature voted against a legislative enactment that would have classified Peyton's death as being in the line of duty, according to Father T.Y. Tyler, the state memorial's coordinator.
In 2000, Missoula memorial officials said that archives from the state and the Montana Historical Society indicate that Peyton, a deputy state game warden stationed in Corvallis, was shot and killed during an altercation at a Salish Indian hunting camp in the Swan Valley on Holland Prairie near the present location of the Swan (River) Ranger Station in 1908.
The research indicates Peyton fired the first shot after a heated exchange with the Indians, who were in their traditional hunting grounds. No charges were ever filed against anyone involved in the incident nor was any restitution made to the victims.
Research historian Walter wrote: "All of the historical evidence extant indicates that Peyton (1) repeatedly had used his position as a law-enforcement officer to harass Indian families hunting under treaty provisions in the Swan Valley; (2) had instigated the Oct. 18, 1908, confrontation with members of three Pend d'Oreille families that resulted in his death and the killing of four Pend d'Oreille men, and (3) had been shot by Clarice Camille Pierre Paul, a Flathead Indian woman, in self-defense, only after the killing of four Indian men."
When the time came for a hearing in St. Ignatius two days after the incident, Rudolph, a prospector and woodcutter of Russian descent from Seeley Lake, didn't show up and was never heard of again.
There was some speculation that Rudolph had been killed in an act of revenge, but while the Indians admitted they'd have liked to get their hands on him, they said they never did.
The coroner's report is said to have disappeared from the courthouse a few days after the affair, according to a 1972 Missoulian story.
Paul gave birth to a son, John Peter Paul, who became a respected tribal elder and cultural leader, and who died last Jan. 25 at the age of 92.
"Had Clarice Paul not succeeded in stopping Charles Peyton on Oct. 18, 1908, there would have been terrible repercussions for the Tribes' efforts to ensure the survival of a culture and language and heritage that has survived now in western Montana for thousands of years," the cultural committee said in a seven-page reprise of the historical evidence regarding the incident.
Missoulian reporter Mick Holien also contributed to this story.
Reporter John Stromnes can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or email@example.com