Geronimo's Skull - A Matter Of Respect
From the editorial pages of The Arizona Republic, May 24th, 2006.
At first one is tempted to laugh.
It sounds like a hokey movie plot, so absurd as to be dismissed with a wave of the hand and cascades of lame puns.
But the matter of Geronimo’s skull is serious business, and if someone with the authority could spare the time, a definitive investigation might lay some troubling questions to rest.
The story involves President Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, and a secret Yale University society known as Skull and Bones. The society’s roster over the years has included an impressive number of America’s movers and shakers, including both Bushes elected to the White House.
According to a 1933 document purporting to be an official Skull and Bones history, Prescott Bush was among the group of soldiers who robbed the grave of the legendary Apache chief in Fort Sill, Okla, during World War 1. The skull and other artifacts were supposedly spirited to the Skull and Bones headquarters in New Haven, Conn.
This document first surfaced 20 years ago, at which time Apache leaders futilely tried to retrieve the skull from society members and publicly asserted they were stonewalled in the process. In 1988, a lawyer representing Skull and Bones told The Arizona Republic it did not possess the famous cranium and described the 1933 document as a hoax.
Now, Yale archives have yielded a 1918 letter that revives the old suspicions. The letter, from one Skull and Bones member to another, says in part, “The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club is now safe inside the T”(The “T” stands for Tomb, the club’s mausoleum like headquarters on the Yale campus.)
The letter by itself, proves nothing other than that club members at the time believed thy did indeed possess Geronimo’s skull and that they obtained it by digging up a grave at Fort Sill, where Geronimo was buried in 1909.
But was it Geronimo’s grave?
On that point some experts are dubious, in part because records indicate Geronimo’s burial place was unmarked and hidden by brush until 1920, two years after the purported desecration. On the other hand, Skull and Bones members interviewed by journalist Alexandra Robbins have admitted the presence of a skull in a glass case they call Geronimo.
This is a matter of no small concern to Geronimo’s descendants and to the San Carlos Apache tribe in Arizona. If the remains of their forefather and tribal hero are indeed ensconced on the halls of a college men’s club, that would be an outrage to be corrected forthwith.
And judging from the 1918 letter, it seems more than likely that the remains of some Indian, if not Geronimo himself, were disturbed. The outrage would be no less even were the bones owner more obscure.
The question speaks to some of the most troubling aspects of America’s past and even its present: its treatment of indigenous peoples, its cultural arrogance. The past will continue to haunt us until good-faith efforts are made to correct its mistakes, and this could well be one of them.
It is necessary for Skull and Bones to come clean on this. No one is asking them to divulge their secret handshake or reveal their initiation rites.
But fraternal codes of silence are poor excuses for covering up wrongdoing if indeed wrongdoing occurred.
It’s time we found out.
Anglos Once Were The Immigrants
By DAVID HOUSE
Ft. WorthStar-Telegram Staff Writer
Whether illegal immigration issues stir brilliant debates or cries of fear and intolerance, one historical fact is always overlooked: America's own holocaust, carried out by (guess who?) illegal immigrants from (guess where?) Europe -- uninvited foreigners who came to these shores and took everything they could.
That's not getting much mainstream attention. I'm taking off my reader advocate hat to offer some personal thoughts about this matter out of love for my mixed Cherokee/Scots-Irish heritage.
Somehow the deaths of a guesstimated 11 million Native Americans at the hands of attacking, manipulative immigrants during a 400-year span seems worth bearing in mind as Americans respond to alarms about porous borders, jeopardized healthcare and threats to justice and quality of life posed by "illegals."
Americans can say, surely not with pride, that our country knows from centuries of personal experience how unchecked immigration devastates life and why it's an issue that deserves the best of our thinking and empathy.
Our history brims over with examples -- brutal, bloody instances of inhuman immigrant actions that are far removed from the basic aspirations so often associated these days with "illegals."
Most "illegals" might dream of a better life, but it's doubtful that, like the earlier immigrants and the perpetual forces they set into motion, they're plotting to seize others' property, kill babies and earn bounties based on body parts brought back from raids.
Consider that, in the late 1630s, the British wiped out every man, woman and child of the powerful Pequot tribe of southern New England in retaliation related to conflicts arising out of fur-trade struggles. A few years later, Dutch authorities in charge of the settlement of "New Netherland" on the island of Manhattan carried out unspeakable actions against a local tribe they feared.
Russell Shorto's national bestseller, The Island at the Center of the World, examines Dutch Manhattan and includes a pamphlet account of one nighttime raid by Dutch soldiers against that local tribe: "[I]nfants were torn from their mothers' breasts, and hacked to pieces in the presence of their parents."
More graphic detail is included, and as Shorto noted, the account probably involved some exaggeration, but there's no reason to doubt that the bloody raid occurred and that soldiers were as lavishly praised as documentation says.
Immigrant authorities were just beginning in their efforts to obliterate "the savages," as American history chronicles. One tiny detail includes legislation approved in Massachusetts and elsewhere in New England in the 1700s that authorized bounty payment for scalps or heads of Indians, young and old.
This is not to detract from the good -- friendships, sympathies, exchanges of knowledge and philosophies -- that flowed between Indians and foreigners, but the relationship's bottom line is what we have today: a shameful record of attempted extermination, abuse and destruction that accompanied virtually every aspect of the immigrants' taking of North America.
Some of the best-known names in American history are soiled with prejudice and arrogance aimed at Native Americans.
As lovely a patriot as Thomas Jefferson, who spent months with the Iroquois learning about their Great Law of Peace and later writing their philosophy into his draft of the Constitution, was convinced that the best solution in dealing with Native Americans was to drive all of them west of the Mississippi.
That earthy war hero-president, Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson, is one of the most despicable Indian-haters on record -- and not just because he made no bones about his racism and championed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Even today, some Native Americans hate the sight of a $20 bill because it bears Jackson's image.
The 19th century in particular was dark with accounts of foreign intruders' invasions of Indian country, especially in the Southeast and West, and the carnage that resulted.
Among the overwhelming number of accounts of that horrible period are the killings of legendary Oglala warrior Crazy Horse and famed Hunkpapa Lakota chief and spiritual leader Sitting Bull.
To make long stories short:
In 1877, Crazy Horse was fatally bayoneted from behind while struggling in custody at Fort Robinson, Neb.
In 1890, Sitting Bull was dragged from his cabin on the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota by Lakota policemen appointed by white authorities. One of the officers killed the defenseless chief with a shot to the head.
A few weeks later, the St. Louis Republic in Missouri editorialized:
"So when Sitting Bull was surprised and overpowered by the agents of the Great Father, he set his greasy, stolid face into the expression it always took when he was most overcome by the delusion that he was born a native American from native American ancestry. Disarmed and defenceless [sic] he sat in the saddle in which he had been put as a preliminary to taking him to prison, and without a change of countenance urged his handful of greasy followers to die free. This idiotic proceeding he kept up until he was shot out of the saddle.
"So died Sitting Bull. So was removed one of the last obstacles in the path of progress. He will now make excellent manure for the crops, which will grow over him when his reservation is civilized."
Sitting Bull might have been one of the last obstacles to Anglo settlement of the West, but his killing wasn't the last abuse of Native Americans by any means.
Abuses of property and rights continue to this day, and they spring from the same destructive immigrant practices such as greed and elitism that were brought here by foreigners long ago, which help to explain why illegal immigration is of special, if grim, interest among some Indians.
JoKay Dowell, a media consultant and Quapaw-Peoria-Cherokee activist based in Park Hill, Okla., has been closely following developments related to illegal immigration. She views the matter from a Native American perspective.
"The immigrant nation that is the U.S. has a short memory," she said, "and is in denial of their own historical facts: they are descendants of immigrants who came here and took, either by force, coercion or dishonesty, lands and resources and banned the religions, languages and cultures of the original indigenous peoples of this continent.
"Now those descendants of Uncle Sam's immigrant children fear the karma of their ancestor's actions. But those they fear do not come to take, destroy and claim. They have always been here and always will be."
These are thoughts that cross some of our minds when we hear rhetoric about the so-called invasion of illegal immigrants (many of whom are -- gasp -- Indians) and calls to protect "our" land. If we smile in response, it's not so much out of agreement. We see a payback coming home to roost.
David House is senior editor/reader advocate for the Star-Telegram. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.
© 2006 Star-Telegram and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.http://www.dfw.com
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