Geronimo's descendants demand return of 'stolen' remains
American Indian leader Geronimo's descendants have launched a legal fight to have his 'stolen' remains returned to his birthplace in the
Mountains . New
By Tom Leonard in
They claim his body was taken by members of Skull and Bones, a secret student society, and are hidden at
. Yale University
George W Bush's grandfather and two other members of the group are said to have taken the remains of the Apache warrior Geronimo during the First World War.
However, the society's repeated refusal to comment on the story, or on rumours that new members have to kiss the chief's skull, have prompted the extraordinary lawsuit.
In a court action that names not only Yale and the society, but also Barack Obama and Robert Gates, his defence secretary, 20 descendants of the famous American Indian leader are seeking to recover his remains so his spirit can be laid to rest in his tribal homeland.
Their legal action, filed this week in a federal-district court in
on the 100th anniversary of his death, will seek to determine the truth of
rumours that Geronimo's burial at Washington DC in Fort
was not his final resting place. Oklahoma
Three Bonesmen, including Prescott Bush, served at
during the First World War. Fort
The trio were rumoured to have dug up Geronimo's remains in 1918 and took some of them back to Yale where they are supposedly still kept in the society's hall – known as the "Tomb" – on the university campus.
The Skull and Bones, whose illustrious membership has numbered three
presidents including both Bushes, supposedly makes new members kiss the
Chiricahua Apache's skull. US
The lawsuit – which also names Pete Geren, the Army Secretary, as a defendant – seeks to "to free Geronimo, his remains, funerary objects and spirit from 100 years of imprisonment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the Yale University campus at New Haven, Connecticut and wherever else they may be found".
Mr Obama and his colleagues were included in the action because Geronimo was initially buried on
government land. US
The remains would be returned to Geronimo's birthplace in the Gila Mountains of New Mexico for a traditional Apache burial, said his great-grandson, Harlyn.
He stressed that such a burial was one of the most important sacred rites in his tribe's culture.
"It's been 100 years since the death of my great-grandfather in 1909. It's been 100 years of imprisonment," Mr Geronimo said outside court.
"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
, 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 are 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," he said.
Mr Geronimo said he hoped the people named in the suit would take it seriously.
A spokesman for Yale said the university had "no relics or bones belonging to Geronimo" but stressed it could not answer for Skull and Bones because it was independent. The society has so far refused to comment.
Aged 79, Geronimo died of pneumonia in 1909 as a prisoner of war at
after decades spent fighting against US and Mexican expansion into Apache
lands. Fort Sill
Skull and Bones, about which George W Bush once wrote that it was "so secret, I can't say anything more", has never said whether any of Geronimo's remains are in its possession.
However, in 2006, the Yale Alumni magazine published a letter written at the time of the alleged grave robbery in which a Skull and Bones member confirmed that Geronimo's skull, femurs and some of his riding gear had been taken to the society's hall.
The letter prompted Harlyn Geronimo to write to President Bush, but he said he never got a reply.
Geronimo's Descendants Sue Yale's Skull And Bones Over Remains
HARTFORD, Conn. — Geronimo's descendants have sued Skull and Bones - the secret society at Yale University linked to presidents and other powerful figures _ claiming that its members stole the remains of the legendary Apache leader decades ago and have kept them ever since.
The federal lawsuit filed in
on Tuesday _ the 100th anniversary of Geronimo's death _ also names the university
and the federal government. Washington
Geronimo's great-grandson Harlyn Geronimo said his family believes Skull and Bones members took some of the remains in 1918 from a burial plot in
to keep in its Fort Sill, Okla. clubhouse,
a crypt. The alleged graverobbing is a longstanding legend that gained some
validity in recent years with the discovery of a letter from a club member that
described the theft. New Haven
"I believe strongly from my heart that his spirit was never released," Harlyn Geronimo said.
Both Presidents Bush, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and many others in powerful government and industry positions are members of the society, which is not affiliated with the university.
After years of famously fighting the
and Mexican armies, Geronimo and 35 warriors surrendered to Gen. Nelson A.
Miles near the Arizona-New Mexico border in 1886. U.S.
Geronimo was eventually sent to
and died at the Army outpost
of pneumonia in 1909. Fort
According to lore, members of Skull and Bones - including former President George W. Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush - dug up his grave when a group of Army volunteers from Yale were stationed at the fort during World War I, taking his skull and some of his bones.
Harlyn Geronimo, 61, wants those remains and any held by the federal government turned over to the family so they can be reburied near the Indian leader's birthplace in southern
Gila Wilderness. New Mexico
Their lawsuit also names President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Army Secretary Pete Geren as defendants.
"I want them to understand we mean business," said Harlyn Geronimo, who lives in
"We're very serious. We're tired of waiting and we're coming after
them." New Mexico
Neither members of Skull and Bones, who closely guard their secrecy, nor the Russell Trust Association, the organization's business arm for tax purposes, could not be reached for comment.
Justice Department spokesman Andrew Ames said the government will "review the complaint and respond in court at the appropriate time."
Yale officials declined to comment Wednesday, saying they had not yet seen the lawsuit. Spokesman Tom Conroy noted the Skull and Bones crypt is not on Yale property.
Membership into Skull and Bones marks the elite of the elite at the Ivy League school. Only 15 Yale seniors are asked to join each year.
Members swear an oath of secrecy about the group and its strange rituals, which include devotion to the number "322" and initiation rites such as confessing sexual secrets and kissing a skull. The atmosphere makes Skull and Bones favorite fodder for conspiracy theorists.
Its most enduring story is the one concerning Geronimo's remains, and in 2005, Yale historian Marc Wortman discovered a letter written in 1918 from one Skull and Bones member to another that seemed to lend validity to the tale.
The letter, sent to F. Trubee Davison by Winter Mead, said Geronimo's skull and other remains were taken from the leader's burial site, along with several pieces of tack for a horse.
"The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club and Knight Haffuer, is now safe inside the T - together with is well worn femurs, bit and saddle horn," Mead wrote.
Wortman, however, has said he is skeptical the bones are actually Geronimo's.
Geronimo's descendants say in their lawsuit that they want to uncover any information that people know, but have been keeping to themselves.
"To assure that all existing remains of Geronimo and funerary objects are recovered by Geronimo's linear descendants, the Order of Skull and Bones and Yale University must account for any such articles that are or have been in their possession, or on their property, and persons with knowledge must provide any facts known to them concerning the claims," the descendants' lawsuit says.
If the bones at Yale aren't those of Geronimo, Harlyn Geronimo believes they belonged to one of the Apache prisoners who died at
. He said they should still be
Harlyn Geronimo wrote to President George W. Bush in 2006, seeking his help in recovering the bones. He thought that since the president's grandfather was allegedly one of those who helped steal the bones, the president would want to help return them.
Judge dismisses Geronimo lawsuit
A lawsuit filed by descendants of the Native American chieftain Geronimo, who claimed some of his remains were stolen in 1918 by the secretive Skull and Bones society of Yale University, has been dismissed by a federal judge.
The lawsuit was filed last year in
by 20 descendants who want to rebury the Apache warrior near his Washington birthplace. New
It claimed that during the First World War, Skull and Bones members, including Prescott Bush, the grandfather of former
President George W Bush, took the remains from a burial plot at US , where Geronimo
died in 1909. Fort
Judge Richard Roberts last month granted a Justice Department motion to dismiss, saying the plaintiffs did not establish the government had waived its right not to be sued without its consent.
He also dismissed the lawsuit against Yale and the society, which is not officially affiliated with the university, saying the plaintiffs cited a law that applies only to Native American cultural items excavated or discovered after 1990.
Geronimo died aged 79 as a prisoner of war at
after decades spent fighting
against US and Mexican expansion into Apache lands. Fort
The Skull and Bones illustrious membership includes three former
presidents, including Mr Bush and his father. US
Geronimo’s Remains to Remain with Skull and Bones: Judge Dismisses Lawsuit
August 12, 2010
By Grant Lawrence
Imagine if some club had George Washington’s skull and used it as a source for amusement and weird rituals.
Americans would be outraged and demand justice for the disrespect paid to the father of their country.
It has been reported that George W. Bush’s Yale Skull and Bones Society uses the skull of Geronimo for their college rituals. Skull and Bones, out of respect, should apologize and turn the skull over to the descendants of Geronimo.
Instead they refuse to do what is right by hiding behind the law.
Recently a judge threw out the lawsuit by the descendants of Geronimo, a great Apache Indian leader, asking for his remains to be returned and buried in
. New Mexico
.…The lawsuit was filed last year in
by 20 descendants who want to rebury the Apache warrior near his Washington birthplace. New
It claimed that during the First World War, Skull and Bones members, including Prescott Bush, the grandfather of former
President George W Bush, took the remains from a burial plot at US , where Geronimo
died in 1909….(source: telegraph.co.uk) Fort
The judge threw out the lawsuit because the law protecting Native remains in
only pertained to those taken after 1990. Also the judge said that the suit
failed to establish that the government waived its right not to be sued without
its consent. America
In other words, here is another example where the law is doing what it is meant to do.
The law is meant to protect the rich and powerful at the expense of those that have neither wealth nor power. The justice system is generally a sham and a scam set up to appear as if there is justice.
It is an outrage that the sacred remains of a great leader will continue to be used as a play thing for parties and rituals of the super rich.
I live and work among the Navajo, cousins of the Apaches. I can tell you how much they respect the remains of the deceased and will not even disturb ancient
Anasazi ruins. They understand that it is right to show respect to ancestors,
even if it is not your own. Pueblo
Unlike the Navajo, the law in this country only respects the wealth of the powerful.
I work as a school counselor and mental health counselor in
. Gallup, New Mexico
Mystery of The Bones: Geronimo's Missing Skull
by DIANE ORSON
For decades, mystery has surrounded an elite secret society at
called the Order of Skull and Bones. One of the organizations most storied
legends involves the skull of Apache warrior Geronimo, who died in 1909 after
two decades as a prisoner of war at Yale University Fort Sill, Okla.
As the story goes, nine years after Geronimo's death, Skull and Bones members who were stationed at the army outpost dug up the warrior's grave and stole his skull, as well as some bones and other personal relics. They then sprinted the remains away to
, and allegedly stashed the skull at
the society's clubhouse, the Skull and Bones Tomb. New Haven,
To make matters even more intriguing, legend has it that the grave-robbing posse included Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. and grandfather of George W.
A Letter Offers Clues
All of this is speculative; Skull and Bones members swear an oath never to reveal what goes on inside the Tomb. But author Marc Wortman says that when he was at Yale's Sterling Library researching The Millionaire's Unit, his book about young men from the university who flew during World War I, he stumbled on a letter that seemed to confirm the rumor.
Written from one Bonesman to another, the letter, which is dated 1918, reads:
The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club and the Knight Haffner is now safe inside the Tomb, together with his well-worn femurs, bit and saddle horn.
Now 20 descendants of Geronimo have filed a lawsuit against Skull and Bones,
and members of the Yale University
government (including Barack Obama), calling for the return of their ancestor's
remains from U.S. , New Haven and "wherever else they
may be found." Fort
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark who represents the Geronimo family says that Geronimo made it very clear — even before his surrender — that he wanted to be in the Apache lands of southwestern
"When he met with Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, in March of 1905, his request was that he and the other Chiricahua Apaches who were prisoners of war be permitted to return to the headwaters of the Gila River ... adding that if he couldn't return in his lifetime, that he wanted to be buried there," says Clark.
But Suzan Shown Harjo, president of The Morning Star Institute, a Native rights organization, says it might not be possible to return Geronimo's remains. Twenty years ago, an Apache tribal chairwoman told Harjo that Geronimo's body had already been moved from
to Oklahoma . And even if the
lawsuit turns up a skull in New Mexico ,
"then you have the question of who? Whose head is it?" says Harjo. Connecticut
The Mystery Abides
We may never know the truth about Geronimo's remains, says Jeff Houser, chairman of the Fort Sill Apache tribe. Houser is uncomfortable with the lawsuit and would prefer not to disturb Native human remains. He also disputes the idea that Apaches are traditionally buried in their homeland.
"Unlike what was stated in the complaint, Apaches do not like to disinter remains, and there is no tradition of burying them in their birthplace. Apaches were nomadic people," says Houser. "When somebody is buried we traditionally do not revisit the grave. We don't make a big deal out of it."
And there's a further complication. Alexandra Robbins, author Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power says that even if Bonesmen displayed Geronimo's skull in the Tomb at one time, it's likely not there now.
"There are, at any one time, approximately 800 living members of this organization across the world. So any of them could have put the skull anywhere by now. And it's never going to surface," says Robbins.
In an e-mail,
spokesman Tom Conroy
wrote: "Yale does not possess Geronimo's remains. Yale does not own the
Skull and Bones building or the property it is on, nor does Yale have access to
the property or the building." Yale
Efforts to reach members of Skull and Bones for comment were met with silence.
Geronimo was in prison in
, when he died in 1909. Legend has it
that nine years later, members of Yale's Skull and Bones society who were
stationed at the army base absconded with his skull. Fort Sill,
The Skull and Bones clubhouse — also known as "The Tomb" — is secured with a padlock. Members are forbidden to reveal what happens inside the building.
Geronimo: A century after his death, mysteriously tied to Bin Laden, the
CIA and Skull and Bones May
3, 2011 |
Geronimo was an Apache leader in the 19th century. More than 100 years after his death the Native American warrior's name is back in the news when it was revealed that "Geronimo" was the code name used for Osama Bin Laden while the
special forces plotted to kill him. U.S.
Born in what would later become
in 1829, Geronimo spent many years
successfully fighting Mexican and New
armies until 1886. when he and 35 warriors surrendered to Gen. Nelson
Miles near the Arizona-New Mexico border. U.S.
Geronimo was sent to an Army outpost at
where he eventually died of pneumonia in 1909. Oklahoma
In 1918, according to legend, members of the secret Skull and Bones club at Yale (including, allegedly, former President George W. Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush) dug up Geronimo's grave when a group of Army volunteers from Ivy League school was stationed at
during World War I. The grave
robbers took Geronimo's skull and some of his bones. Fort
On the 99th anniversary of Geronimo's death a group of 20 of the warrior's decendants sued the
government, Skull and Bones and Yale in an attempt to rebury their ancestor's
bones near his birthplace. U.S.
In 2010 Judge Richard Roberts granted a Justice Department motion to dismiss the suit. Geronimo's relatives, he said, failed to establish that the government waived its right not to be sued. Roberts also
dismissed the lawsuit against Skull and Bones and Yale, saying the plaintiffs cited a law that applies only to Native American cultural items excavated or discovered after 1990.
Though Skull and Bones is often known as a Yale organization, the college has never officially recognized it. When President George W. Bush was asked on "Meet The Press" about Skull and Bones he said, "it's so secret we can't talk about it."
Don Oldenburg of the Washington Post wrote: "Conspiracy theorists have a field day over the fact that Bonesmen were among the founders of the Central Intelligence Agency. They love to point out that statues of the patriot spy Nathan Hale, Yale 1773, stand on both the university's campus and the
CIA's headquarters in Langley [ ]." Va.
Though one of Oldenburg's sources has a perfectly good explaination for the coincidence, there's no doubt that more conspiracy theorists will reopen their argument that there is a relationship between Skull and Bones and the
CIA now that the world
knows that the CIA-led mission to kill Bin
Laden used the name of an alleged victim of the secret society: Geronimo.
The Skull—and the Bones
This month, 125 years ago, the Apache warrior Geronimo surrendered to
authorities after a long and fabled guerrilla campaign. He died a
quarter-century later. But his legend has remained alive—invoked most recently
in the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden, which used the code name
“Geronimo.” And as Marc Wortman reports, the fate of his remains, too, has been
in the news, in a dispute among descendants that has echoed from U.S.
to the Indian lands of Yale University
and Oklahoma . New Mexico
By Marc Wortman
‘Did a group from Skull and Bones break into Geronimo’s tomb and ship his skull back to the society’s clubhouse at Yale?” My question was directed at Towana Spivey, the director of the
He and I were sitting in the original army fort, built in the days of the
Indian Wars, surrounded by today’s vastly expanded Fort
Sill National Historic
Landmark Museum artillery school, deep in the Fort
prairie. Every few seconds a blast from live-fire drills rattled the windows.
Spivey lifted an eyebrow as if to say, “You must be an idiot.” Oklahoma
Spivey has been asked this question before. He sat across from me at an old rolltop desk in the office from which Custer,
and Sherman once directed
campaigns against the Sheridan , the
Comanche, and the Kiowa. Outside, the parade ground looked pretty much the way
it did at the turn of the last century. Geronimo, the Apache warrior, was
interned here until his death, at age 79, in 1909. His body was buried in a
“prisoner of war” cemetery on the army post. The Geronimo question comes up
quite a lot because the alleged grave robbers purportedly included Prescott
Bush, a future Cheyenne
senator from U.S. and the
father of one president and the grandfather of another. All three of these
Bushes were members of Skull and Bones, the well-known secret society at Yale. Connecticut
While training at
, in 1918, Prescott and five
other Bonesmen are said to have dug up Geronimo’s remains and made off with his
skull and other relics. The Bushes have consistently refused to comment on
anything to do with Skull and Bones. The club is notoriously closemouthed, and
its roster of known members—ranging from the Bushes and Massachusetts senator
John Kerry to the Blackstone Group’s Stephen Schwarzman and numerous Wall
Street bankers, Central Intelligence Agency veterans, and U.S. Cabinet
officers—encourages the view that, well, yes, it does quietly run the world. Fort
There had long been rumors about a human skull kept in a glass case by the club’s front door—a skull that members reportedly refer to as “Geronimo.” In the 1980s, the rumors began to acquire solidity when a secret history of the goings-on at Skull and Bones mysteriously surfaced. The document, apparently compiled for the club in 1933 by the literary critic F. O. Matthiessen, a member of the club’s class of 1923, recounted a “mad expedition” in 1918 to a graveyard at
The history quotes an earlier Bones document, a logbook from 1918, which
fingers four of the Bonesmen involved: Prescott Bush, Ellery James (Bush’s
future partner at Brown Brothers Harriman), Charles Haffner Jr. (later chairman
of the printing giant R. R. Donnelly & Sons), and Neil Mallon (future head
of the oil-field-services company Dresser). According to the logbook, one of
the men kept watch while the others broke open the iron door of Geronimo’s
burial vault. Fort Sill
They took turns with a pickax until they “pried out the trophy.” Matthiessen declared it their society’s “most spectacular ‘crook,’” their code word for theft of a trophy brought back to the clubhouse, on High Street in
, a place itself
known as the Tomb. New Haven
The entry from the logbook was a significant piece of evidence. In 2005, while researching a book on another subject, I stumbled across a second important clue. It was a 1918 letter between two Bonesmen. Written by an undergraduate, Winter Mead, to a Skull and Bones member from the previous year’s cohort, F. Trubee Davison, who was recovering at home from injuries suffered while training to serve as a pilot in the First World War. Davison would later become president of the
of Natural History, and
would also serve as the C.I.A.’s first director of personnel. In the letter,
Mead makes an explicit reference to the skull of “the worthy Geronimo the
Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at American
Museum .” This corroboration, in a
private letter written soon after the event itself, received a great deal of
attention. It also set off a battle in Indian country. Could Geronimo’s
descendants get the skull back—and, if so, which descendants should get it? Fort
Ramsey Clark, attorney general under President Lyndon Baines Johnson, has been pursuing unpopular and sometimes hopeless causes for longer than most Americans have been alive. Since leaving the federal government, in 1969, he has been a thorn in its side, recently contesting
drone attacks on the Taliban, in U.S. .
Now 83, he took up the Geronimo matter on behalf of Harlyn Geronimo, the Apache
warrior’s great-grandson, and 19 of Harlyn’s relatives. Pakistan
Courteous to a fault, speaking slowly and precisely in a soft
drawl, Texas Clark
calls the matter of the missing skull part of a wider “human rights” issue
involving the treatment of Native Americans. He told me in one of our numerous
conversations, “The real purpose is to return his remains to ” and honor his wishes to be buried there. The
time had come to bring Geronimo’s bones back together, and to bring them home. New
said, “Everything depends on exhumation of the grave to determine whether it is
Geronimo’s remains, and whether they are complete.”
2009—100 years to the day after Geronimo’s death, at —Ramsey Clark filed a lawsuit
in federal district court in Fort
The suit’s targets were mighty ones: the secretary of defense, the secretary of
the army, President Barack Obama, Washington, D.C. , and the Order of Skull
and Bones. The complaint sought “to free Geronimo, his remains, funerary
objects and spirit, from one hundred years of imprisonment at Ft. Sill,
Oklahoma, the Yale University campus at New Haven, Connecticut and wherever
else they may be found.” I’m not sure how one sets a spirit free with a
lawsuit, but the other parts of the complaint had a clear objective. Yale
The flesh-and-blood Geronimo arose as a leader of his Chiricahua Apache band through his uncanny success in hit-and-run guerrilla fighting. He secured his mythic status in the course of a final, bloody campaign in 1886 as he and a small band of followers eluded fully a quarter of the U.S. Army. Geronimo finally surrendered, after winning the army’s promise of eventual release to his former homeland, along the border of today’s
The Arizona sent
him into exile instead, interning him without trial—a case that is still cited
by legal experts debating the constitutionality of the detention system at
Guantánamo. He spent part of his internment in U.S.
and Florida but lived out the
last 15 years of his life at Alabama ,
along with most of his fellow Chiricahua Apache. Geronimo tended cattle and
made extra money selling autographed postcards and other trinkets to tourists
passing through the nearby town of Fort Sill .
It was a mild end for a man described by The New York Times, in a
report on his death, as “crafty, bloodthirsty, incredibly cruel and ferocious.”
The Times observed that Geronimo’s life demonstrated the truth of the
saying that “a good Indian is a dead Indian.” Lawton
press conference held in conjunction with the filing of the lawsuit, Harlyn
Geronimo became the perceived face of the Apache nation. He declared, “If
remains are not properly buried, in our tradition, the spirit is just
wandering, wandering, until a proper burial has been performed.” His great-grandfather’s
spirit would never find peace, Harlyn has said, until his head was re-united
with his body, and all of him was re-buried at a remote and beautiful site in
the Washington Gila River headwaters region of , where he is thought to have been born. New
As he considered whether to take on the Geronimo case, Ramsey Clark recalls, “Harlyn and his wife got me down by the
, where they sang and painted my face.” The
ceremony may have fortified the former attorney general, but the unleashed
spirit of Geronimo did not pacify everyone. Harlyn Geronimo represented only
one branch of the family. The other branch wanted no part of his lawsuit—and,
frankly, no part of him. Rio
WHO IS A GERONIMO?
‘We don’t want the attention,” said Lariat Geronimo, the warrior’s great-grandson. “We’re trying to put a stop to this nonsense.” We were talking over dinner in a tavern tucked into the high-country ski town of
near the reservation of the Mescalero Apaches in south-central Ruidoso . Lariat cuts a striking figure. He is 41 years
old, with a jet-black ponytail that runs to midway down his back. He has
smooth, high cheekbones and deep-set dark eyes. I was told he has done some
modeling. His extended family had asked him to speak on its behalf. Lariat
lives on the reservation, working, when I met him, as an information-technology
specialist for the 4,300-member tribe’s telecom company. The tribe’s most
prominent business enterprise is the sprawling New
Mexico Inn of
the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino complex, where huge plate-glass windows
frame the 12,000-foot-high Sierra Blanca peak. Busloads
of gamblers from and Juárez
pull up to the casino each day. They leave more than $100 million behind them
every year. El Paso
The news of the Ramsey Clark lawsuit took most Apache by surprise, including Lariat and his extended family. They were never contacted about the litigation, Lariat said.
“When Harlyn showed up on CNN, it made a lot of people angry.” He sounded angry now. “Apache culture is about being who you are and not taking an identity that doesn’t belong to you.” And the Geronimo name? “He’s using it for his own personal gain.” I said, Wait, he’s your cousin — it’s his name too. Lariat replied, “From where I come from, he has no direct connection to Geronimo. Anyone can change his name.”
Harlyn Geronimo, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, was born Harlyn Via. Now 63 years old, he is a sometime actor and a self-proclaimed Apache medicine man who lives in Mescalero. Harlyn is also a sculptor and has said that he would like the new Geronimo grave site to be marked by a monumental sculpture of his own creation. About 15 Years ago, Harlyn and his brother Joseph legally changed their surname to Geronimo.
According to at least one credible Geronimo biographer, their grandmother was Geronimo’s daughter from a brief marriage during the period of his exile in
Released by the army, the mother went to Mescalero with the baby and soon
The evening after I met Lariat, I had a drink with Lariat’s cousin Robert Lensen Geronimo, an undisputed great-grandson of the warrior. He is 42 and an accountant for the Mescalero Apaches’ casino business. His face is a bit rounder, but he looks enough like his ancestor to have posed for a National Geographic–magazine remake of an iconic 1885–86 photograph of Geronimo. Sitting at the bar at the
Inn of the Mountain
Gods, Robert said of Harlyn and Joseph, “I always knew them as Via, and out of
the blue they changed their name to Geronimo.”
Whatever the nature of Harlyn’s kinship, he has certainly exploited the name. As Harlyn Geronimo, he has acted on television and been featured in documentaries. He has traveled to
and France ,
where fascination with Germany ’s
cowboys-and-Indians history is high. A book he co-authored, Sur les pas de
Geronimo (In the Footsteps of Geronimo), was published in America
in 2008. For his televised interviews and appearances at public events and
festivals, (sometimes) on horseback he wears the type of feathered headdress
used by the Plains Indians, not by the Apaches. When in France ,
you have to give the Parisians what they’re expecting. I have encountered
Harlyn only once—in a shared television appearance in the aftermath of my
discovery of the Winter Mead letter. His anger seemed genuine. I attempted to reach
Harlyn many times over the course of several months, to ask him about the
Ramsey Clark lawsuit, but he seemed always to be traveling in Paris Europe,
and unreachable. I finally contacted his brother Joseph, in Mescalero. Joseph
was not interested in pursuing a conversation. What he in fact said was “I
ain’t giving anything away for a handful of beads. Mail me a check, and if it’s
enough and don’t bounce, I’ll talk.”
I turned to a non-Indian familiar with the Geronimo family, Henrietta Stockel. She has lived just outside the Mescalero, reservation on and off since the 1970s. She has published 10 books about Chiricahua Apache culture and history. She calls Harlyn’s lineage “murky” and adds, “There’s always been a conflict, especially among the elders, whether Harlyn and Joseph are the true blood descendants of Geronimo.” One of those elders, an Apache woman I met with on the Mescalero reservation insisted that I not quote her by name. “People here don’t understand what they’re trying to do,” she said of the former Via brothers. “I think all of this is for publicity.”
Ramsey Clark hasn't been to Mescalero since this case began, but he said, “I don’t think there’s any question about Harlyn’s bloodline.” He did wonder whether something more sinister was at work, pushing the other side to fight him to keep the great renegade’s grave at
, where it remains “a trophy of
the army’s victory over Geronimo and in the Indian Wars.” And he thought he
knew what that something was: he was convinced that the Geronimos who were
opposing the lawsuit were less interested in rescuing the dignity of their
ancestor than in securing gambling revenue. Fort
It gets complicated. When Lariat Geronimo learned about Harlyn’s lawsuit, he sent a letter to the Mescalero tribal council asking that the tribe intervene to oppose it. It wasn’t long before word of the lawsuit reached the small group of Apaches still living near
, in Fort
Keeping the different bands of Apaches straight takes a little getting used to.
Four years after Geronimo’s death, the army decided it wanted all the land
for itself. It gave the Apaches living in the area — the remnant of Geronimo’s
original band — the choice of moving to the Mescalero reservation, in Fort Sill , where there was already a large Apache
population, or to a new settlement around the town of New
in Apache . Oklahoma
Some 300 Chiricahua Apache descendants, designated the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, still live in
with another 375 or so scattered around the country. The Oklahoma tribe operates a small casino
Sill , which earned a little
over $10 million in gaming revenues last year. When he learned about the
dispute over the remains, Jeff Houser, the chairman of the Fort Sill Apaches,
who lives in Lawton, went to Mescalero and met with Robert Geronimo Jr., a
grandson of the warrior, and his family. He asked if they wanted to join forces
and counterfile against the Harlyn Geronimo lawsuit. They agreed to do so, and
a Fort Sill Apache lawyer acted jointly on their behalf. Lawton
Ramsey Clark harbors suspicions about Houser’s motives for injecting himself into the case: he believes the Fort Sill Apaches want to keep Geronimo’s remains, or what’s left of them, nearby, because Geronimo’s grave site brings in tourists—“and they gamble.”
DISPUTED GROUND Geronimo’s grave, in the Apache Prisoner of War Cemetery, at
This monument was added in 1930, 12 years after the alleged Skull and Bones
break-in. Fort Sill, Oklahoma