AP NEWS
Related topics

Life Returning to Normal After Freemen Standoff Ends

June 14, 1996

JORDAN, Mont. (AP) _ Four chairs sat empty along a dusty country road at the checkpoint where the Freemen once negotiated with FBI agents. With the fugitives gone and the FBI leaving, too, people in Jordan are looking forward with smiles to a high school reunion and a rodeo.

``This is a wonderful day!″ said farm wife Ruth Coulter, hugging a reporter after hearing that the 81-day standoff was over.

People sat in lawn chairs, enjoying a picnic of watermelon, steak and salad, and expressing relief.

``I think it’s a good deal it’s over,″ said William Brown. ``Somebody was going to get hurt out there if it went on too much longer.″

The 16 Freemen who surrendered to the FBI on Thursday night were the last holdouts on a remote ranch dubbed Justus Township, about 30 miles outside Jordan.

For the most part, residents of this ranching and farming county haven’t been sympathetic to the Freemen. Earlier this month, 200 signed a community petition urging the FBI to use ``reasonable force″ to end the standoff.

``The operative word is relief,″ said Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion, one of several public officials who had been threatened by the Freemen.

For Ada Weeding, the sister of Freemen Ralph and Emmett Clark, the end of the standoff made her sad, relieved and apprehensive all at once.

``No one’s hurt. That’s great,″ Weeding said. But her brothers face possible prison time: ``It’s not over. I’m still anxious about it.″

Weeding said she thinks her brother Emmett was taken in by fast-talking strangers who promised to solve his financial worries. ``The sad part was watching Emmett get himself in deeper and deeper and deeper,″ she said.

Life was quickly returning to normal in this ranching community on the eastern Montana plains. Traffic again flowed freely along rural roads where federal agents and Montana Highway Patrol officers had set up checkpoints.

TV networks packed up the long-lens cameras and satellite trucks that had sprouted like spring weeds on hillsides overlooking the fields and pastures of the 960-acre Freemen ranch.

And the locals were looking forward to a festive weekend: an all-class reunion for the Garfield County High School, coupled with the 27th annual Match Bronc Ride rodeo.

``I’m having a pretty good day,″ Murnion said Friday. ``I’m thinking of taking part of the day off.″

For farmer Dean Clark, the end meant he could get to work. He bought 2,300 acres of foreclosed land next to the Freemen farm but hasn’t been able to plant crops because the Freemen threatened him and because the FBI declared it off limits during the siege.

As of Friday, he still couldn’t get on his land, said his lawyer, Patrick Kelly. The FBI plans to search the fields for possible caches of weapons or explosives, Kelly said.