‘Something should have been done’

White rancher encounters jurisdictional quagmire in clash with Native family
Thursday, December 6, 2018
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Photo by Andrew Turck

Mark Gatrell of Dunmore points out his cattle pasture late Saturday morning. With some effort, according to Gatrell, he has managed to garner FBI support after clashes with the area's Two Leggins family that began Wednesday, Nov. 21.

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File photo by Levi C. Flinn

In this Sept. 29, 2016 file photo, former Crow chairman candidate Hubert “Burdick” Two Leggins discusses energy solutions during a forum at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency. Members of the Two Leggins family allegedly assaulted Mark Gatrell after he shot their “house dog” in Dunmore.

Before entering his truck late Saturday morning, Dunmore resident Mark Gatrell placed against his back seat a rifle with a telescopic sight.

Two weeks earlier on Wednesday, Nov. 21, he wrote in a statement, he had used a rifle on the 503 interchange of Interstate 90 to chase off the occupants of a white SUV who blocked his path. At the time, Gatrell wrote, he was delivering his bulls to a winter pasture. He continued this task after the SUV sped off; it moved too quickly for him to see its license number.

“Don’t worry, I won’t shoot you,” he joked regarding the rifle. “I don’t go anywhere without this no more.”

Tensions have been high ever since Monday, Nov. 19, when he shot two dogs he said threatened his herd, and sparked a confrontation with the neighboring Two Leggins family. Gatrell ranches within the Crow Reservation boundary; he is white and the Two Legginses are Crow tribal members.

Legal confrontations between white and American Indian people within reservation boundaries, according to Big Horn County Attorney Gerald “Jay” Harris, fall under federal jurisdiction. This means the Bureau of Indian Affairs or FBI may respond to such incidents.

The FBI now are “trying to do something” about the various threats to his safety and that of his family, Gatrell said, but he believes any law enforcement aid arrived long after it was needed and all parties notified. A request for comment from the FBI on Friday was referred to the BIA. At press time, the BIA has not responded.

“Something should have been done immediately,” Gatrell said. “Nothing was done whatsoever.”

The two dogs moved onto Gatrell’s property, he wrote, roughly an hour after he and members of the local Small family herded his cattle across the Little Horn River. He pointed out a wood post along his fence line where, at about 2 p.m. that Monday, he shot the dogs, who he said had isolated one of his calves and were attempting to kill it. Both dogs died from their injuries.

“The Dunmore area, historically, has had problems,” he wrote, “with stray, malnourished dogs dumped off from the nearby interstate.”

Gatrell wrote that shortly after the shooting, a verbal confrontation ensued when a member of the Two Leggins family arrived at the fence line and claimed one of the dogs. The family member, according to Gatrell, wanted the body “left where it was” on his property.

“Mark drug the other dog over into the brush,” Gatrell wrote. “Mark told the dog’s owner he wasn’t going to continue to argue with him.”

Gatrell returned to the Little Horn River on his four-wheeler at about 3:30 p.m. that day, he wrote, “to make sure all the gates were closed and in good order.” As he drove past the Two Leggins’ residence, he continued, three pickups “with at least two adults in each followed him to the river.” He stated the people in the last vehicle appeared to have weapons.

Hubert “Burdick” Two Leggins exited a white pickup with members of his family and friends, Gatrell wrote, and “was immediately yelling ‘we’re going to kill you, white boy’ and other racial slurs.” In 2016, Burdick ran unsuccessfully as one of 10 candidates for Crow tribal chairman.

Gatrell wrote he was “jumped by the group” and “went into survival mode, not making eye contact and getting in a protective stance.”

“Burdick hit Mark first. After that, Mark was knocked unconscious,” he wrote. “When Mark came to on the ground, he was still surrounded by the gang and he thought they were going to kill him. He blacked out. When he came to again, they were gone.”

Burdick did not return requests for comment. Another Two Leggins family member mentioned that she believed Gatrell started the problem when he shot the “house dog.”

The BIA’s summary report for the incident – under the heading “Aggravated Assault” and marked at 3:17 p.m. on Nov. 19 – notes: “Male called and advised that his neighbor had shot his dog. Later, local department…advised that the neighbor called and stated that he was assaulted by the original caller. Officer responded and no complaints were filed.”

A second report from the same time, under the heading “Law Enforcement Serious Incident Report,” states Gatrell told the BIA “he was assaulted by several Indian males.” The Crow Criminal Investigative Unit, it stated, would be looking into the matter.

A responding officer, Gatrell wrote, interviewed him quickly and took his photos. As for his state at the time, according to Gatrell, he was “in a daze” and “extremely bruised, swollen and beat up.” The officer, he wrote, said he would talk to the Two Leggins family and send an investigator the following day.

For Gatrell, however, morning didn’t come soon enough.

He reported “shots fired by a possible tribal member” at 6:57 p.m. that evening, according to the BIA report, but “the shooter was unidentified, gone on arrival.” According to Gatrell, “the gang” drove into his yard and shot at his home.

“The SWAT team showed up, looked around and left,” he wrote. “No one offered to do any welfare checks in the area.”

A deputy from the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office arrived the following day, he continued, but said the county couldn’t help him with his situation. The BIA investigator, he added, didn’t show.

Now armed with a rifle, Gatrell stated, he chased the white SUV out of his path the following day. His dealings with the Two Leggins family, he explained, inspired him to keep the weapon by his side.

Since neither the Sheriff’s Office nor the BIA had responded properly, Gatrell said, he decided to report the Two Leggins incidents to “the supreme being on the reservation.” In his words, he “started screaming at the FBI” to help protect him and his family. The County Attorney’s Office, he added, was “very helpful” in this pursuit.

Reflecting on the alleged attack, Gatrell noted he would “like to see it presented as a hate crime.”

“It’s white against red,” he said. “The issue with the dog is irrelevant. It was just a reason for a bunch of Natives to beat up a white man.”