Photos by
Shane McMillan


Name: Crow

Tribe: Crow

Population: 6,900

Native: 75%

Counties: Big Horn,

Bangert says FBI agents "refused to do anything but the most cursory investigation" into the circumstances of Bearcrane-Cole's death.

The FBI agents' findings were referred to the South Dakota U.S. attorney's office, which declined to file charges. The Montana U.S. attorney's office had a conflict of interest in the case because a relative of the Cole family was employed there.

The lawsuit also states that the South Dakota U.S. attorney's office "has a pattern and practice of refusing prosecutions in cases in which the victims of those crimes are Native Americans."

The Coles are joined in the lawsuit by another Crow family that feels the FBI has failed them.

Veronica Springfield's husband, Robert "Bugsy" Springfield, 48, disappeared on Sept. 19, 2004, on a bow-hunting trip with his 13-yearold son, Colton, in the Bighorn Mountains, an area he grew up exploring.

Searchers used a grid system to comb the area for any sign of Springfield, while a volunteer helicopter pilot used an infrared sensor but also came up with no results. At one point more than 200 volunteers and about two dozen trained dogs scoured a five-square-mile area. They came back during the spring and still found nothing.

Springfield's remains were found by hunters in October 2005, in an area the family says was 50 yards from where they had camped during the search. They insist searchers had looked at the exact spot where the body was found.

The family wonders if Springfield, an ex-Marine and Special Forces member, had been murdered and his body disposed of later.

"If he was actually up there in that area, to put it bluntly, we would have smelled something," Veronica Springfield says. "The animals would have been there. The birds would have been there."

But what happened next is almost as upsetting as knowing he was dead.

The FBI sent the remains to Quantico, Va., for DNA testing and identification. It took two years for the FBI to return the body to the family so that they could bury the remains. And over those two years the FBI never made contact with the family.

"We went to hell," Springfield's sister Myra Gros Ventre says of their ordeal. They hope that in defending the lawsuit the federal government will at least have to answer for their actions.

"At this point in time, it's not going to bring Bugsy back, but hopefully something good comes out of our suit," she says.

Springfield's death certificate was released to the family on Nov. 16, 2007. The cause of death was listed as undetermined. Several items in his wallet, including his ID and Social Security card, were returned to the family with no obvious signs of weathering or water damage, which the family believes means they weren't exposed to the elements for any lengthy period.

Bangert says the two cases reflect a pattern in federal law enforcement of treating Native American victims as unimportant. The lawsuit states that both FBI agents Matthew Oravec and Ernest Weyand "consistently closed cases involving Indian victims without adequate investigation."