Light & Verity

Apaches sue to recover Geronimo's skull

Tim Thompson/Corbis

Tim Thompson/Corbis

A stone monument now marks the grave of Geronimo at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. View full image

Three years after the Yale Alumni Magazine revealed new evidence that Skull and Bones may have robbed Geronimo's grave, his great-grandson is suing for return of the relics. But Skull and Bones is only one of the defendants. A lawyer for Harlyn Geronimo says that Yale and its most notorious secret society are not the main focus of the suit: the first-named defendants are President Barack Obama and the secretaries of defense and the army.

In the 32-page complaint, Skull and Bones receives only one paragraph, points out the lawyer, Ramsey Clark. "The main entity is the U.S. Army," owner of Fort Sill, the Oklahoma army base where Geronimo was held as a prisoner of war and buried after his death in 1909.

The rumor that Skull and Bones had remains of Geronimo first came to public attention in the 1980s. In 2006, the Yale Alumni Magazine printed a newly unearthed 1918 letter from one Skull and Bones member to another that reported on the "skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill." But some experts believe that even if Skull and Bones desecrated a grave, it could not have been Geronimo's.

The aim of Harlyn Geronimo's suit -- filed in federal court in Washington, DC, on February 17, the 100th anniversary of Geronimo's death -- is not to return any missing relics to Oklahoma, but rather to move all of his great-grandfather's remains to his New Mexico homeland.

Skull and Bones has not commented on the matter. A university spokeswoman points out that Skull and Bones is not part of the university and is legally independent of it. Neither Yale nor the secret society had filed a response, or even entered a court appearance, by press time.

Asked how confident he is that Skull and Bones actually has Geronimo's skull, Clark -- a former U.S. attorney general who has represented accused Serbian war criminals and Saddam Hussein, among others -- replies simply: "We don't know. There's been enough commentary about it over enough time that you can't ignore it."  

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