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Friday, February 20, 2009

"Skull and Bones" Society Sued By Geronimo's Family

Descendants of the Apache chief Geronimo are suing Yale University's Skull and Bones Society for the return of the warrior's skull. According to the Yale Daily News, twenty members of Geronimo's family are suing federal government officials, Yale, and Skull and Bones.

The story goes that back in May of 1918, a group of Bonesmen were all serving in the Army together at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, site of the mouldering remains of the Apache chief who had died in 1909 from pneumonia. It's no secret that S&B prides itself on its creepy collection of frat house decor, and the skull of an Indian chief whose name is synonymous with intoxicated white people jumping off cliffs would make a dandy addition to their "tomb." So (allegedly), Prescott Bush (father of George H.W., and grandfather of George W.), Henry Mallon, Ellery James and Charles C. Haffner, dug up the grave and stole the skull, a few bones, and a horse bit, and spirited them off to the Skull & Bones Tomb at Yale. Over the years, they have (allegedly) been in a glass display case.

The Skull and Bones "Tomb" on the Yale campus.

Because Geronimo’s grave was on a U.S. military base, the plaintiffs have also named President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren as defendants in the suit. Under the theory of never sue anyone poor or not famous.

The Geronimo skull is a longstanding piece of Skull & Bones folklore, but several members of the (alleged) grave robbing team gave conflicting accounts of the raid. Towana Spivey, director of the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark and Museum, is quoted as saying he has never believed the story. Still, there is a skull in the S&B Tomb in New Haven known commonly as Geronimo.

This public imbroglio started back in 2007 when Harlyn Geronimo of Mescalero, New Mexico, wrote to President George W. Bush for help in returning the skull of his great-grandfather. Bush didn't bother with a response, hence the lawsuit (I will avoid any use of the term "warpath"). During the 2004 presidential race, Bonesmen Bush and Deomocratic nominee John Kerry both reacted to questions about the secretive society (one of about a dozen on the Yale campus) by saying that it was so secret they couldn't talk about it. Obviously, Bush admitting the chief's skull was in the Tomb would be in violation of the Society's obligation. Now, the courts will attempt to find out.

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