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The Order of Skull and Bones and Geronimo

Historian Marc Wortman has infused new energy into the controversy over whether President George W. Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush – along with some college chums from Yale – stole Geronimo’s skull and femur bones in the early 1900s.

Wortman accidentally discovered a letter describing the grave robbery, written in 1918, in the Yale archives, while he was researching for a book about World War I aviators. The letter, written from one student to another, reports that “The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible [is] exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill,” and “is now safe” at their Yale clubhouse.

The newly found letter thus appears to be a straightforward and convincing acknowledgment that the Apache leader’s skull and bones were in fact stolen by the Yalies, in keeping with the name of the secret society that still exists at Yale: the Skull and Bones Society.

The Order of Skull and Bones, or The Order, is an ultra-secretive organization founded at Yale in 1832. The Order’s co-founders were William Huntington Russell and Alphonso Taft. The Russell family fortune was gained in large part through illegal 19th-century opium smuggling in Turkey and China. Alfonso Taft, of Ohio, was the father of William Howard Taft, who also was a member of Skull and Bones, and the only man to become both president of the United States and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. William Howard Taft was also a freemason, another secret society otherwise known as the Masons, an organization deeply implicated in the theft of Indian lands through the Society of the Cincinnati.

The membership list of Skull and Bones, dating back to the Yale class of 1833, reads like a Who’s Who of some of the wealthiest and most powerful English Puritan families in the United States, families that were some of the earliest aristocratic arrivals to North America in the period from 1630 – 1660. These also were some of the powerful families that helped orchestrate the colonization and theft of Indian lands throughout the history of the United States.

Skull and Bones families have been among the most powerful and influential banking and corporate interests in the world. Some key Bones family names are Root, Brown, Harriman, Rockefeller, Whitney, Davison, Bush, and Cheney (though Vice President Dick Cheney is not a member). The corporation Halliburton, and its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root, which have received tens of billions of dollars in military contracts in Iraq, are affiliated with Bones families, as is Exxon Oil (formerly Standard Oil of New Jersey).

Members of Skull and Bones are known as “Bonesmen.” Legend has it that Prescott Bush and several fellow Bonesmen dug up the grave of Geronimo in Fort Sill, Okla., where they were stationed as military officers during World War I. They are said to have taken Geronimo’s skull and femur bones back to “The Tomb” (the Skull and Bones headquarters) on the Yale campus. The recently located 1918 letter supports the story.

Given Geronimo’s powerful efforts to remain free of the United States, it seems ironic in the extreme that Geronimo’s burial remains would come to be held by and associated with one of the most elite and secretive societies in the United States.

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Tacked to my office wall is a photograph of the Apache leader Geronimo and three other Apache freedom fighters brandishing rifles. The photo caption reads, “Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.” The image, along with the caption, is intended to remind people of the way our respective indigenous nations and peoples were terrorized for centuries by the Europeans who brought their own brand of terrorism and grand colonial schemes to our indigenous shores.

From 1871 to 1886 the military of the American empire was committed to invading and seizing control of the indigenous lands throughout the Southwest, and either removing the Indians to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) or else containing the Indians on areas of land smaller than their traditional homelands. This was the military policy in preparation for white “settlement” or colonization of the region. The Apache were some of the fiercest fighters and defenders of their free and independent life in the Southwest against the machinations of the imperial expansion of the United States.

Throughout the summer of 1886, Geronimo (who was then 57 years old), along with a mere 24 warriors, successfully eluded 5,000 U.S. troops, 500 Apache scouts and thousands of irregular civilian militia. Additionally, Geronimo was also being pursued by thousands of Mexican soldiers.

When Geronimo surrendered, the United States sent him, along with many other Apaches, as prisoners of war to a prison at Fort Marion, Fla. Geronimo saw many of his fellow Apaches die of consumption because they were unaccustomed to the damp, warm climate. Ultimately, Geronimo was allowed to return to Fort Sill. When he died in 1909 at the age of 80, he still had a prisoner of war status.

Geronimo is emblematic of the drive of all indigenous nations and peoples to remain free. Skull and Bones is emblematic of efforts by the wealthiest and most powerful elite of the United States to control, in secret, key areas of the government and business sectors of the American society.

The Skull and Bones insignia is a classic symbol of piracy. Since the Skull and Bones society has long claimed to have in their possession the pirated ancestral remains of Geronimo, they should immediately return those bones to the Apache people so they can be repatriated to mother earth.

It is the height of macabre disrespect for Skull and Bones to have in its possession what it has long claimed to be the skeletal remains of Geronimo. President Bush, whose secret code name is said to be “Temporary,” is a patriarch of the Order of Skull and Bones. If Bush wants to demonstrate respect for American Indian culture and spirituality, he ought to have the Order of Skull and Bones immediately return to the Apache people whatever bones his grandfather, Prescott Bush, and his fellow Bonesmen pirated from the cemetery at Fort Sill.

<i>Steven Newcomb, Shawnee/Lenape, is Indigenous Law Research Coordinator at Kumeyaay Community on the reservation of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyayaay Reservation; co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute; a research fellow with the American Indian Policy and Media Initiative; and a columnist with Indian Country Today.