On the 25th of September 1909 on Gilman Ranch, outside Banning, California, a 28 year old Paiute Indian, known locally as Willie Boy, shot and killed 68 year old Mike Boniface, an elder in the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe living in the 29 Palms, California Indian Reservation. The cause of the argument was Mike Boniface’s 16 years old daughter Carlota, who then fled the scene of the crime accompanying Willie Boy.
A posse was formed in Banning several hours after the “murder” and a manhunt began (see photos from October 1909 here). On this, all of the citizens of Banning, California, White and Indian will agree. From there on, the accounts differ widely. The play is a documentary and a love story. All of the people and events are real, although there is no way to tell exactly what happened between the characters, since there are so many versions, but we know the results – THREE DEAD AND ONE BADLY WOUNDED
The 25th of September 2009, marked the 100th anniversary of the incident. The play was presented at the Hi-Desert Cultural Center, a few miles from Landers, California, where the final gun battle took place (See production photos here).
The “Willie Boy/Swift Fox” story for the Hi-desert is a legend. At the time, the events were documented in photo and story by a 22 years old journalist, Randolph Madison, great grandson of president James Madison, who actually traveled with the posse in the field. The script, as much as possible, contains the actual accounts by the people that lived them.
The year 1909 was the height of “Yellow Journalism” and the “Willie Boy Case” caught the public attention. It was turned into an Indian uprising, Custerʼs Last Stand and a whole host of preposterous wild stories, including an imminent attack on Los Angeles. If anything, it was a tragic love story and the final deathblow to the Native American Culture.
The script takes in both points of view and is done in a somewhat “Rashamon” style, giving two versions of the same scene.
There are several conflicting reports to consider –
Carlota fled with Willie Boy. She was shot and killed.
On this all agree. The posse brought her body back to Banning, California, saying Willie Boy killed her by shooting her through the heart at point blank range.
The coroner, Mr. Dickson, concluded “she was shot in the back at a distance of at least 100 yards by parties unknown”. No official ever pursued the conflicting reports. According to the sheriff, Willie Boy committed suicide on Ruby Mountain. Randolph Madison, the reporter, took photos but they are very inconclusive. The posse burned the body. They did not have petrol, so they used what they could find, not an easy thing to achieve in the desert. At that time a normal procedure would have been to bring the body back to prove Willie Boy was dead, which they didnʼt do.
The Indians say he died in Las Vegas in 1933 in a TB. sanatorium. Since these people were all Indians, there was little interest in the case, apart from the fact that it again displayed the savagery of the Indian. After a good deal of research, I have concluded that nobody really knows. So, you decide.