Funeral in ‘sacred spaces’ for actor Cole Brings Plenty, found dead in Johnson County

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The life of Cole Brings Plenty, a budding Lawrence actor who appeared in a spinoff of Kevin Costner’s hit drama series “Yellowstone,” was set to be honored Tuesday with memorial services in South Dakota.

Native American communities across the country have grieved his death.

Brings Plenty, who was 27, was found dead around noon on April 5 by Johnson County sheriff’s deputies checking on a reported unoccupied vehicle around West 200th Street and Homestead Lane near Edgerton.

They found his body away from the vehicle in a wooded area.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office announced last week it did not suspect foul play but offered no cause of death..

Brings Plenty’s family reported him missing on April 2.

Lawrence police then announced Brings Plenty was wanted in an alleged domestic violence incident early Easter Sunday and asked the public to help find him.

Police disclose few details in such cases.

Brings Plenty was a student at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence. News of his death went international via social media.

It amplified discussions about the long history of missing and murdered Indigenous people whose cases go unsolved or unseen outside Native communities — known as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples (MMIP) crisis.

Vigils for Brings Plenty — “Coco” to his family and friends — were held in Native American communities across the country on Sunday and Monday, according to Dakota News Now, a TV station in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“That’s the best thing we can do as Indigenous people is to really bring more awareness for one another because these things shouldn’t be happening,” Shaina Yellowback, organizer of a vigil in Sioux Falls, told the TV station Sunday.

“I know a lot of our relatives are missing and they don’t get that thorough investigation like any other relative would, honestly. I’m just wanting more awareness, thorough investigations.”

The tradition of wearing braids

His death is particularly heartbreaking in South Dakota, “where Brings Plenty was a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe,” Dakota News Now reported.

Hundreds of people packed into a school gymnasium in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, on Sunday and filed past his open casket, reported the British tabloid The Daily Mail. A horse-drawn carriage delivered his casket, draped with a traditional Lakota star quilt, the tabloid said.

Mourners told the publication that Brings Plenty had been their “great hope.”

He was known for wearing his hair long in Lakota tradition and in two braids, seen as support for Native boys shamed and bullied for wearing braids.

Last week, the advocacy group Rising Hearts led a “Braids for Cole” campaign in his memory. Supporters flooded social media with photos and videos with the hashtag #BraidsForCole.

Rumors that Brings Plenty’s braids had been cut on the night he disappeared angered many people.

The Daily Beast and other publications have reported that just hours before he went missing, Brings Plenty was seen at the Replay Lounge on Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence, where his braids got tangled in a microphone cable while he was moshing.

A post by the band, since deleted, reportedly said someone cut his hair with scissors.

The budding actor is remembered as a notable tribal member and an anchor on “Good Morning Indian Country,” which describes itself as student-led “morning radio for the reservation.

The collaboration between Haskell, the University of Kansas, Lawrence Arts Center and community members provides news that might otherwise go uncovered — interviews with Native American newsmakers, updates on powwows and other events, even weather reports.

As he was finding his voice as a journalist he was also pursuing acting. On the “Yellowstone” prequel “1923,” he played Native American sheepherder Pete Plenty Clouds. He also had roles in a couple of Western TV shows, “Into the Wild Frontier” and “The Tall Tales of Jim Bridger,” according to IMDb.

The Daily Mail reported that an officiant at the Sunday wake told mourners not to get too close to his body because undertakers had to do “a lot of work” on him after he was found.

Missing person or fugitive?

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has called for a “full and thorough investigation into Cole’s disappearance and subsequent death.”

After the sheriff’s office declared no foul play was involved, Lawrence police chief Rich Lockhart posted a statement on social media addressing the relationship between law enforcement and the Native American community.

It can be better, he said.

“This is a tragic case for everyone involved,” Lockhart said.

The police department “worked very hard to investigate the incidents and worked very hard to find Cole. None of us could have imagined this outcome,” he said.

“I learned through this series of events that our Police Department must work harder to increase trust with our Native American community members. Through meeting with Cole’s family members and members of our Native American community, I clearly see that we are not where we need to be in partnering with a community that is very important to Lawrence’s history and to its current culture.

“This sad series of events has been shared around the world. It’s my hope that future bridges we build and partnerships we form between our Native American community and our police department will create a relationship that will not only increase trust and understanding, but will also be a model for other communities.”

Brings Plenty missed a meeting with his agent the day after Easter, so out of character that family members reported him missing to Lawrence police.

His uncle, “Yellowstone” actor Mo Brings Plenty, posted a missing persons flyer to his Instagram on April 2. The same day, fellow “Yellowstone” actor Cole Hauser also shared the flyer.

After the “Yellowstone” actors went public, Lawrence police issued their statement saying Brings Plenty was wanted on charges related to the alleged incident.

They said officers responded early on Sunday, March 31, to a report of a female screaming for help in a Lawrence apartment, noting that the suspect, later identified as Brings Plenty, left before police arrived.

Traffic cameras reportedly showed him driving out of Lawrence, heading south on U.S. 59 Highway in a Ford Explorer.

Nearly 100 volunteers — family, friends, Haskell students, community members, advocates, even strangers — and law enforcement searched by car, horse, kayak and with drones.

The family collaborated with the MMIWG2ST Chapter of Lawrence, which stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two-Spirit, and Trans people.

The Haskell library served as a base of operations for the university community’s efforts. Students kept a fire lit and held sweat ceremonies in a nearby lodge, according to The Lawrence Times, an independent online news publication.

“I have never met Cole, but this is my community and this is affecting my relatives,” Moniquè Mercuri, a spokeswoman for the family in Lawrence, told Native News Online.

Native News noted the confusion: Were volunteers searching for a missing person or a fugitive?

His uncle was clear, posting on Instagram before his nephew was found that it was not known that Brings Plenty had been involved in the incident he was accused of and it also wasn’t known if he was driving or even in his 2005 Ford Explorer when cameras caught it leaving Lawrence.

“We know — FOR A FACT — that Cole would NOT go ‘on the run’ in ANY SITUATION. It is not in his character,” Mo Brings Plenty wrote.

“First and foremost, we want to ensure the safety of his well-being,” Mercuri told the Native News during the search. “That is a priority for us.”

Funeral of Cole Brings Plenty

His funeral was set for Tuesday at Cheyenne Eagle Butte High School in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, and the Brings Plenty family cemetery in Red Scaffold.

Friends from Kansas and people from across the country were expected to attend.

Last week, more than 60 community members attended an open mic and silent auction in Lawrence to raise money for more than 100 Haskell students traveling to the funeral.

Members of the Lawrence intertribal community housed Brings Plenty’s family when they traveled from South Dakota for the search.

The Eagle Butte community was ready to return the favor.

Monday night in a Facebook post, “Good Morning Indian Country” reminded mourners they would be in “sacred spaces.”

“The ancestors have welcomed Cole “Coco” Brings Plenty to walk with them, and the earth has called for his body/vessel,” it read.

“In the coming days, Coco’s loved ones will help him transition. The wake, funeral and burial are sacred spaces, and We ask that everyone respect that they are and refrain from live-streaming, recording … and/or taking pictures.”

Anyone with information about Bring Plenty’s death should call the sheriff’s office at 913-782-0720.