By Tim Eberly
Stan Gardipee found it taxing to load clips into his 9 mm handgun while at the same time trying to stop the bleeding from his gunshot wounds.
Nevertheless, Gardipee mustered the strength and concentration to reload his weapon while slumped against his police car, clutching his bullet-riddled chest.
"There's a lot of stuff going through your mind when you're trying to hold your chest to keep your blood from pumping out," said Gardipee, a criminal investigator with the Rocky Boy Police Department since 1993.
The bloodshed followed after Gardipee had ferreted two intoxicated teenage boys 18-year-old Wayland Limpy and Alden Two Moons, 17 from a grassy field and trapped them inside a house in Busby on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
It was late afternoon on Aug. 22, 1991, and Gardipee, then a Bureau of Indian Affairs police chief, had nearly wrapped up a full shift when he decided to assist in locating Limpy and Two Moons, who were wanted for allegedly assaulting Two Moon's stepfather with a broom earlier that day.
Gardipee knew where one of the boys lived and drove to the house, where he saw them hiding behind tall grass in the nearby field. Gardipee turned onto the field and chased the duo in his vehicle while Limpy and Two Moons fled on foot. The pursuit looped back to the residence, in which both boys took refuge while Gardipee circled the residence.
Moments after they entered the house, Limpy opened the front door and fired three shots at Gardipee with a .223-caliber rifle, sparking a 1-minute gun battle that left Gardipee clinging to life. None of the initial shots found their mark, so Limpy changed position and took aim at Gardipee through a window.
The fourth blast pierced Gardipee's left ear and glanced off the back of his neck. "It felt like a sledgehammer hit me in the forehead, and (the impact) knocked my glasses off," he said.
Two more shots that followed burrowed into Gardipee's stomach and chest. Unable to pinpoint Limpy's exact location, Gardipee fired his weapon "where I thought the shells were coming from," he said.
In all, Gardipee reeled off 16 shots, a statistic he knows only because "I put 16 holes in the house," he said. One of his shots hit the butt of Limpy's rifle.
Noise from the gunfight alerted a neighbor, Michael Caywood Jr., who drove over and rescued Gardipee while slumping low in the seat of his vehicle. Caywood quickly ushered Gardipee into his car and set off for the Lame Deer hospital.
An ambulance intercepted Caywood halfway between Busby and Lame Deer, and he was later flown to Deaconess Medical Center in Billings. Gardipee's wife, Kathy, also met the ambulance on the road after listening to reports of the incident over her police scanner.
"I went to see him and he was covered with blood," said Kathy, his wife of 23 years. "I didn't know if he was going to make it or not. I didn't sleep all that night."
En route to Billings, Gardipee's lungs collapsed "That was more painful than getting shot," he said and it took two operations on his stomach and chest to repair his body.
A year of rehabilitation followed the two weeks Gardipee spent in the hospital. It also took two months for patches of Gardipee's memory of the shooting to return.
Federal prosecutors did not suffer from amnesia. After a four-day trial in Billings, Limpy was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A juvenile court placed Two Moons in prison until he turned 21.
During that time, his superiors forced Gardipee to retire from his 23-year career with the BIA. But not without honors. He received the Legion of Honor award the police equivalent of the Purple Heart and an award from the American Police Hall of Fame in Miami. For his heroics, Caywood received a Good Samaritan award from the American Federation of Police.
That spring, Gardipee and his family moved up to Rocky Boy and he spent a year recuperating before accepting the position he still holds today.
In 1993, the Discovery Channel made a documentary, narrated by Jeopardy television show host Alex Trebek, about the ordeal. Other than the videotape of the documentary, which includes pieces of an interview with Gardipee, his only constant reminder of that day is a 10-inch scar on his belly and a silver dollar-sized scar in the middle of his chest.
Gardipee is half of a two-man criminal investigation team at Rocky Boy, where he started his career with the BIA in 1968. In the late '60s, the police department consisted of only two officers, Gardipee and his supervisor. His boss worked the day shift, and Gardipee had nights.
Today there are 19 officers on staff. Gardipee has no plans to retire soon, and refuses to reveal his age, though he is in his 60s. "They'd retire me if they knew how old I am," said Gardipee, one of the first Rocky Boy officers to attend a police academy.
Gardipee and his assistant, Richard Morsette, are responsible for investigating serious misdemeanors and felonies, excluding homicides, that take place on the reservation. Because Rocky Boy police are no longer under the supervision of the BIA, Gardipee and Morsette collaborate with the three-person FBI unit based in Havre, as all major crimes on the reservation are prosecuted in federal court.
"I've worked with Stan since 1994," Morsette, 48, said. "And he's the best supervisor I've ever worked with. He's a very honest man. And he's a perfectionist."
Most of Gardipee's dealings are with assaults, drug-related crimes, rapes and burglaries 90 percent of which he says are solved and prosecuted.
"If you get on them and start working right away, none of them are hard to solve," he said.
When an assault or a rape occurs, for example, Gardipee and Morsette usually go to the crime scene, while the FBI agents head to Northern Montana Hospital to interview the victim.
In addition to their regular workday, Gardipee and Morsette are always on call. Early morning calls to Gardipee's house, located a stone's throw from the police station, are constant. On Jan. 17, Gardipee fielded a late-night call when a woman allegedly maced a police officer, upset that her husband and son had been jailed.
"I felt so sorry for that officer," Gardipee said. "His eyes were so red. His uniform was soaked because he had been pouring water all over himself."
But Gardipee doesn't let 4 a.m. phone calls, and his subsequent sleuth work, affect his daily schedule. "I go to work the same time every day," he said. "Even if I get called in to work (at night), I'll be at work at 8 a.m."
Gardipee has four children from a previous marriage, and a 23-year-old daughter, Marissa Gardipee, with Kathy. One of his three sons, Rick Gardipee, is a sergeant with the Rocky Boy police. Gardipee and his wife legally adopted one of their grandchildren, 6-year-old Ryan Gardipee, when he was 2. They also have legal custody of Kathy's grandson, Alonzo Windy Boy, 9.
"His kids come first," Kathy said. "He loves his grandchildren."
Now a law enforcement veteran with the scars to prove it, Gardipee fell into police work for one reason: He needed a job. When he returned from a three-year stint in the Army in the late '50s, Gardipee took a job doing construction at Rocky Boy. When all the contracts dried up, Gardipee went to the superintendent of the BIA, seeking employment.
"He said, I got one opening for a policeman. Do you want that?' I said, Not really, but I'll try it,' " Gardipee said. "So I tried it and I've been a policeman ever since."
After spending eight years at Rocky Boy, Gardipee leapfrogged to reservations in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska before returning to Montana in 1982.
"He's from the old school," said Bobby Ironmaker, a criminal investigator at Fort Belknap who worked with Gardipee at Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap. "Years ago, you were on your own a lot of times. You learn how to take control of things without backing."
He has worked at four of the five reservations in Montana, including Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy.
"It's a lot of moving around," Gardipee said. "I made a circle. I tried to get back here."
The incident at Northern Cheyenne was not Gardipee's first gunfight. In 1973, the BIA dispatched Gardipee to the battle of Wounded Knee in South Dakota, where members of the American Indian Movement and nearby reservations used force to seize control of a town for a 72-day siege.
Gardipee spent 39 days there, working 12-hour shifts with fellow BIA officers, FBI agents and U.S. marshals while securing the perimeter. The uprising was a violent protest of conditions on the reservation and the federally backed tribal government. When the dust had settled, two AIM protesters were dead and a federal marshal was left paralyzed.
"We had a few gun battles," Gardipee said. "I heard some bullets flying pretty close, but in those days, it didn't bother me. I was a lot younger."