To view a copy of the Geronimo lawsuit, go to:
Go to www.lcsun-news.com, click on this column to be published March 1, 2009.
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By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Wherever his remains end up, it’s clear that Geronimo’s spirit lives on.
The Las Cruces Sun-News broke the story online Feb. 17, shortly before a press conference on the 100th anniversary of Geronimo’s death, when Harlyn Geronimo and his wife Karen and a group of Geronimo’s descendants filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court, asking that his spirit and remains be freed for burial at the headwaters of the Gila River where Geronimo was born.
The complaint, which names President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates among the defendants, seeks “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.”
Since then, print, online and video reports have turned up all over the world. It was a lead item on the Russia Today Web site, complete with a photo of Geronimo I’ve never seen before, in what looks like Siberian folk garb.
I’ve fielded queries from British and German journalists, the Associated Press in Albuquerque and Web surfers across the nation.
“Hi from Pennsylvania,” an erstwhile New Mexican named Bill greeted me. “I just read your article about the return of the remains of Geronimo, after hearing the story on the radio this morning. I was born in Socorro and would like to ‘return’ there myself, but I support this effort. The radio story was from a station in Missouri, so probably a lot of people are aware.”
They sure are, Bill. The story spread like wildfire, touching the souls of those from many tribes on Indianz.com, and conspiracy theorists intrigued by the Skull and Bones connections. (A summary if you missed that part: Rumors have it that a 1918 letter, found in the Yale archives by a writer three years ago, addressed rumors that have persisted for nearly a century that Prescott Bush, father of President George and grandfather of George W., raided the Ft. Sills, Okla., tomb of Geronimo, and with others,” brought back his skull and femurs, and his horse’s bit and saddle horn, to the S & B headquarters at Yale.”
Or maybe not.
A Feb. 20 story in the Wichita Falls, Texas Times Record News quotes Gene Keeler, who alleges that his grandfather, Samuel Dave Cerday, a member of the Comanche tribe, helped “Apache chiefs” move Geronimo’s body from a burial plot, not at Ft. Sills, but at “Peachtree Crossing ... to yet another site at Elk Mountain, near Indiahoma, Okla.”
There has been a lot of active disputing of these allegations from many sources, and official tribal statements are mixed. The Ft. Sills Chiricahua Apaches and Mescalero Apache leaders have reportedly been considering whether or not to intervene in the lawsuit.
The chief attorney handling the lawsuit, Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. Attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson, has stated that the wishes of direct descendants have precedence over general tribal affiliation when it comes to the disposition of remains.
There is controversy on the direct descendants front, too. I received an e-mail from a representative of those claiming to be “the true descendants of Geronimo” and am awaiting further information. And while swimming laps at a local pool, I was approached by a person who said family legend has it that she, too, is a descendant of Geronimo.
Other feel a spiritual kinship, and want to help. An Ohio attorney with family connections in New Mexico e-mailed that her great-grandmother “walked the Trail of Tears. If I can volunteer to offer my legal skills in any way in this case, please feel free to e-mail my office. We all hope and will assist legal and political efforts to have all remains rightfully returned so our ancestor’s spirit may finally rest.”
I cannot say I was unprepared for all this. I’ve been covering Indian issues of repatriation and tribal rights since the 1970s and I first met and interviewed Harlyn Geronimo about his plans for this suit in 2007.
But I found myself surprised and moved by the passion of reactions to Geronimo and the continuing controversy that surrounds this case and by the lawsuit itself, which constitutes a poignant history well worth reading, wherever you stand on this particular issue. You can find it online by going to www.lcsun-news.com and clicking on this column.