The descendants of Geronimo, the Apache chieftain whose skull is rumored to be part of the initiation rite of Yale’s Skull and Bones Society, filed a lawsuit Tuesday demanding the return of his remains.
The lawsuit, which named Yale’s oldest and most powerful secret society, the university and the U.S. government, was brought by 20 members of the legendary warrior’s family on the 100th anniversary of his death.
Three members of Skull and Bones, including George W Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, are said to have dug up the remains when they were stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma during World War I, and taken them back to the society’s headquarters at Yale, called the Tomb.
The society, whose membership includes three U.S. presidents, including two Bushes, supposedly makes new members kiss the Chiricahua Apache’s skull as part of their induction.
“It’s been 100 years since the death of my great-grandfather in 1909. It’s been 100 years of imprisonment,” Harlyn Geronimo said outside of court in Washington D.C.
“The spirit is wandering until a proper burial has been performed. The only way to put this into closure is to release the remains, his spirit, so that he can be taken back to his homeland in the Gila Mountains, at the head of the Gila River.”
The suit contends that Geronimo’s descendants are entitled to his remains and funerary possessions under the 1990 American Indian Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
The Geronimo family is being represented by Ramsey Clark, who was attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson. “In this lawsuit, we’re going to find out if the bones are there or not,” Clark said.
The latest support for the claim that Geronimo’s remains had been swiped by members of the powerful clandestine society was uncovered two years ago by a researcher at Yale. It’s a June 1918 letter from one Bonesman, Winter Mead, to another, F. Trubee Davison:
“The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club . . . is now safe inside [the clubhouse] together with his well worn femurs, bit & saddle horn.”
Another account alleges that Prescott Bush was one of the grave robbers. But at least until now, no member of the society has ever come forward to answer questions.
We’ve written before about how Sen. John McCain tried to broker a meeting in the mid-1980s between George H.W. Bush and one of his Arizona constituents - a former Apache chieftain name Ned Anderson seeking the return of the remains.
Bush, however, wasn’t interested, and the matter was dropped, according to Alexandra Robbins, author of Secrets of the Tomb. A 2006 appeal for the skull’s return, this time to George W., from Harlyn Geronimo, also went unanswered, according to a report by the Associated Press.
For all the intrigue, some believe the whole thing is a story concocted by drunken frat boys.
“It’s all a bunch of poppycock,” said Towana Spivey, a Geronimo expert, a Chickasaw, and director of the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark Museum told the Washington Post. “He’s still buried where he was originally.”
Spivey says he is so certain because the Apaches deliberately misled outsiders as to the location of the grave, and a description of the tomb the Bonesmen allegedly found doesn’t match Geronimo’s.
Of course, Skull and Bones could clear up the controversy, if it wanted, by sending out its skull for forensic testing, said Garrick Bailey, professor of anthropology at the University of Tulsa and former member of the board that oversees the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
“You should be able to tell whether or not it’s that of an elderly Native American male,” Bailey told the Hartford Courant. “Geronimo was one of the great iconic figures of American Indian history, particularly as it relates to the spirit of resistance. If I was his descendant, I would be appalled that the question lingers.”
Yet those questions are what give a secret society its grasp on the imagination. The order, founded in 1832, has always been a favorite topic of conspiracy theorists because of its closely held secrets and its powerful membership.
In the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, both the Democratic and Republican nominees were members. George W. Bush wrote in his 1999 autobiography: “[In my] senior year I joined Skull and Bones, a secret society; so secret, I can’t say anything more.”
When asked what it meant that both he and Bush were Bonesmen, former Presidential candidate John Kerry said, “Not much because it’s a secret.”