Wichita Federal Courthouse

Wichita Urban Native History Tour

Wichita Federal Courthouse

Wichita, Kansas 67203, United States

Created By: Wichita History Walk


The Wichita Federal Courthouse is a site of profound historical significance, especially concerning an event tied to the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the 1970s. This incident and the subsequent legal proceedings underscore the era's heightened tensions between AIM activists and the federal government, reflecting broader themes of Indigenous rights and activism.

On September 10, 1975, a tragic event unfolded as a station wagon, carrying AIM members and their families from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to protest a visit by President Gerald Ford, caught fire and exploded on the interstate near Wichita.

Dubbed the “Turnpike 7” by AIM Leaders, the aftermath of the explosion saw Robert Eugene Robideau, Norman Charles, Keith C. De Marrias, and Darlene and Bernadine Nichols facing multiple charges, including illegal possession of firearms. Two minors also received legal discipline through the juvenile system. These charges were formally issued at the Wichita Federal Courthouse on September 25, 1975. Among those charged, Darlene Nichols was notably the wife of Dennis Banks, a key leader within AIM, highlighting the personal stakes involved in the legal battle.

This period was already charged with tension, following the Occupation of Wounded Knee from February 27, 1973, to May 8, 1973, and was further intensified by the shooting of two federal agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on June 26, 1975. AIM Members Leonard Peltier, Darrell “Dino” Butler and Peltier’s cousin Robideau were suspected in the killings. All 3 men would eventually be apprehended in the coming months, with Robideau being arrested after the turnpike explosion. Leonard Peltier escaped to Canada and was arrested by Royal Canadian Mounted Police in December of 1975.

After his arrest in Kansas, Robideau was transported to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to face trial for murder along with Butler. In June of 1976 they were both acquitted of the murder based on grounds of self-defense.

While charges were dropped for Robideau and Butler, the evidence found in the station wagon in Kansas, particularly the burnt remnants of an AR-15 rifle, played a crucial role in convicting Leonard Peltier of the murders. This evidence, known as the “Wichita AR-15,” became a controversial piece in Peltier's conviction, leading to his life sentence and sparking widespread debate over the fairness of his trial. The "Free Leonard Peltier" movement emerged from this controversy, becoming a rallying cry for Indigenous rights and justice.

Darlene Nichols, after having six counts against her dropped, pleaded guilty to transporting firearms across state lines, and received time served. Meanwhile, Charles and De Marrias both received 3 years of probation, and Bernadine Nichols saw all charges against her dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

The Wichita Federal Courthouse, through these events, is more than just a building; it represents a critical chapter in the story of Indigenous activism in the United States, embodying the legal struggles and the ongoing fight for justice and sovereignty that defines much of Native American history.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Wichita Urban Native History Tour


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