Willie Boy: MURDERER
To some people, the romance of the Willie Boy saga can be seen as a modern love story, like Romeo and Juliet. Two people madly in love, leave the constraints of their lives to be free and enjoy life together forever, but the truth has a much darker side. Most people will focus on the excitement of the chase, and not what caused the need for it. Willie has just murdered the father of the girl he was supposedly madly in love with, and a day later, possibly murdered her as well.
First and foremost, you have to come to terms with the fact, that he at the very least, Willie Boy was a cold blooded murderer, and possibly a double murderer. I know some people would like to hope that he got away and lived a very peaceful life. But no matter what, he was a cold hearted killer.
Willie Boy was a young Chemehuevi man of twenty eight, infatuated with someone who he was too closely related to, and her father was not going to allow the marriage to happen. In some Native American cultures, it’s ok to marry someone you might be related too, but they can’t be too closely related. Her true name was Lolita ( as per Clara True Superintendent of Indian Affairs ), and she was a beautiful sixteen year old daughter of Mike Boniface, Ole Mike as he was known, and they lived in the 29 Palms area. Ole Mike was a dedicated family man, trying his best to provide for the family. Mike had for a time worked closely with Clara True, the reigning superintendent of Malki Agency on the Morongo Reservation, and Clara describes him as “gentle with his family, honest, industrious and devout”. They would work the picking circuit, meaning they were the labor force for fruit farmers and ranchers.
Where and when Willie Boy and Lolita met initially is not clear, but we can easily say that Willie was most assuredly infatuated with her. Willie had already asked for permission to marry her multiple times before, but was continually denied.
Willie’s history prior to the killings is something that is not generally brought up, but it’s important to know who Willie really was. He had been working at the Verde ranch in Victor, modern day Victorville, and was already married. Lolita’s father Ole Mike knew this, and it was one of the reasons he did not allow the marriage. In the past Willie also had worked at the Swarthouts ranch in Lucerne Valley, and even at the Gilman ranch. He had a great reputation as a caring, thoughtful person, and a diligent worker, but not known as a drinker. His wife was of mixed blood and they had two children, but the possible strain of marriage, working from sunup to sundown on the ranch, and raising children probably drove him to have a drink every now and then. He may have began to stay out late with “the boys“, and this led to an incident of him being arrested for being drunk and making a nuisance, that’s how the police picture came into play. There have also been reports that he had beat his wife and that she left with the children, heading back to 29 Palms. So in his mind, he was single, but to most of us, what he really did was, abandoned his wife and children.
In the fall, the Boniface family would head over to the Gilman ranch in Banning, for the seasonal picking work. The family would camp somewhere near a giant cottonwood and it’s here were Mike was shot and killed, in front of the whole family. Willie had come again, to ask Ole Mike for his approval to marry his daughter and again was turned down. Most reports say that Willie was drunk when he came to Gilman, but personally, I not sure if that was true. President Taft was coming to visit Riverside so I think the press was looking to place the “drunken Indian” label on him in order to sensationalize the story. But that didn’t come into play till later. The newspapers of the day stated that Willie had met a friend from Riverside, who had a suitcase full of booze with him, and began an all day bender. But just how many people walk around with a suitcase full of booze? The fact is, that Willie Boy also found work at Gilman at the same time as Lolita’s family. He had roomed with a non Indian, who had just come back from “Circus Night” from a nearby town with some liquor.
Los Angeles Herald, Sept. 27 1909— Securing the rugged regions for a number of miles in either direction from the Banning reservation, heavily armed posses from both the San Bernardino and Riverside sheriff’s offices are in search of a young Indian buck known as “Willie Boy,” who last night murdered “Old Mike,” an aged Piute, and, taking his 15-year-old daughter, has eluded all efforts of Indian trailers and officers endeavoring to effect his capture.
The tragedy took place on the Gilman ranch, Willie Boy shooting the father of the girl, with whom he was infatuated, with a 33 Winchester rifle. The Indian is armed and the officers believe a desperate battle will ensue when he is surrounded. In that the murderer Is well acquainted with the Victor country, it is thought he Is making for that region, and to head him oft the posse sent out by Sheriff Ralphs of this city is now endeavoring to locate his trail, while the Riverside officers are guarding the Whitewater region, where he may try to evade his pursuers.
The newspaper account above, which is the first reported article, written the day after the murder, does not state that Willie was drunk. But there is also something I find missing, Willie was not reported to have either a horse or a gun with him. But according to Clara True, Willie knew Gilman ranch very well, and was aware of a rifle that was stored in one of the buildings.
About midnight, Willie Boy went to the camp where Mike was sleeping with seven other members of his family, and shot Ole Mike. He then began to terrorize the camp with threats of killing anybody else who would get in his way. Mike’s wife even tried to take the gun from Willie Boy, but he was too strong. At the point of the gun, he demanded that Lolita get up and follow him, reluctantly she did. Mike’s family ran to the foothills, frantic with fear, and remained till dawn.
Lolita knew it was her duty to leave with him, but it’s important to know that she did not go willingly, this is not a love story. She did it to save the lives of the rest of the family. And later it would also explain the written message found out on the trail. This message was written in an Indian script language of symbols not letters, tracker Jim Pine was asked to translate. It was a dreadful message, this poor girl who only hours before, witnessed her father being murdered and then taken by force to the desert with Willie, understood her situation. “My heart is almost gone…I will be dead soon”, this is a message only a grieving daughter will send, and the next day she was gone. According to True, she was shot in the back and through her breast. I know some people think, that it might have been possible she was shot accidentally, by a tracker. But I’m not sure what to think here, Willie may have had the idea on his mind, but then a shot rings out from one of the trackers and Lolita is dead. The trackers mistakenly thinking it was Willie. Which could be true, but the more I read the story, the more I believe it was Willie Boy. He knew people were going to come after him, and Lolita had now become a burden, and she had to go. The whole affair was not turning out like he had planned, and now his survival instincts were kicking in. But even if it was a tracker, the posse will lay her death at his feet no matter what, even if he didn’t do it. That way the blame is all neatly wrapped up, and once Willie Boy is killed everything goes away.
To me, Willie simply wanted to be with Lolita, whether she wanted to or not, and he was not opposed to killing for it either. Lolita might have felt something for Willie in the beginning, and this has yet to be proven, but it seems pretty clear to me, that as time went on she wanted nothing to do with him. Willie probably felt extremely jilted, and came after her and her father with a vengeance.
Let the chase begin…