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Articles / Skull-and-Crossbones Society and Human Remains

The Skull-and-Crossbones Society
The Repatriation Battles Over Human Remains

By Iron Thunderhorse, March 2007

On November 24th, 1638 Theophilus Eaton, John Davenport and a group of Puritan Englishmen sat down with elders of the Quinnipiac Grand Council and executed a document entitled, “INDIAN DEEDS OR TREATIES OF THE PLANTATION OF NEW HAVEN” and they hashed out negotiations for living side-by-side at what was formerly known as Quinni-pe-okke (Long Water Land) and what was renamed New Haven. Ten square miles of land situated on the fertile New Haven harbor was traded in exchange for a 1200 acre reservation. It was the first designated reserved land for Indian people in what would become the United States and was situated in the suburb known today as East Haven, but Mioonkhtuck in our language, on the shores of Long Island Sound.

Historical Marker at Fort Wooster
Historical Marker at Fort Wooster,
site of Beacon Hill and a Quinnipiac burial ground
(from a photocopy of a photograph, courtesy of author)

In THE QUINNIPIACK INDIANS AND THEIR RESERVATION, Charles Hervey Townshend describes it on page 13 as: “on the northeast part of the hill … was the burying place of the Quinnipiacks, and on the summit of the hill was their Palisade Fort, the site of which has been recently imparked (Fort Wooster Park)… This was the Quinnipiack’s ‘lookout’ and signal-fire place…” It is also all that is left of our 1200 acre reservation. Townshend goes on to say, “The Indian Reservation … covered (originally) an area of about twelve hundred acres. The Quinnipiacks were reserved [there] by the Colonists. This tract is on the east side toward the River Connecticut…” [Townshend, 1900]

As the decades turned into a century the Algonquian people were removed and relocated (long before the Trail Of Tears) being removed seven times from Connecticut to Wisconsin along with our cousins the Mahican, Oneidas, Shinnecock, Stockbridge, Munsee, Tunxis and other Algonquian bands through the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution to name a few major battles.

In 1658 Reverand Abraham Pierson established a Puritan ministry at Totoket (Branford) the adjoining land to East Haven. He compiled a bi-lingual catechism while at Totoket and then moved to New Jersey after New Haven became part of Connecticut and was ordained as the first New Jersey minister in 1667. He passed away on August 9th, 1678 and was succeeded by his son Abraham Pierson Jr.

Abraham Junior left his parish and moved back to New Haven where his father had started and became the First Rector of Yale College. From its inception Yale epitomized the elitism of Puritan ideals.

My research of historical documentation of this era shows that Professor J.D. Dana of Yale took several students to the ancient burial grounds and “opened several graves” at Fort Wooster on Beacon Hill. Townshend’s book indicates that Dana “took therefrom two skeletons of persons, now to be seen (only the skulls remain [sic]) in the medical College…” This was in the year 1836, a century after my ancestors were removed. [Ibid, at p. 74]

Dr. Levi Ives, also of Yale confirms that when he was a student he was one of those who assisted Dana in this grave-robbing. He included Dr. Totten, John Atwater and other fellow students all from Yale who “opened thirteen graves from which were taken bones and trinkets … he kept for years a curiosity [sic] … a skull broken as if by a tomahawk blow. These he finally gave to Dr. Francis Bacon … for his collection …” [Townshend, 1900:75].

In fact, Charles Hervey Townshend himself admits to this trophy hunting and exclaimed, “From these graves many relics of the stone age (now in my possession [sic]) have been taken, and men now living testify to their having assisted … when many objects of extraordinary interest were exhumed.” Townshend nor the Yale medical students were archaeologists and this was no scientific project, but one of personal gratification. [Ibid]

Townshend again implicates himself as he stated, “The principal burying place of the Quinnipiack Indians is … still extant on the northeast part of Fort Wooster Field … This place of burial deserves more than casual mention, as it may again prove, as former examinations have, a mine of wealth…” [Townshend, 1900:73]

About a decade ago --- the Quinnipiac Tribal Council (ACQTC) submitted NAGPRA requests to Yale University. Their position was to summarily deny the request. I traced one set of remains to another University and learned that they came directly from our ancient burial ground at Fort Wooster on Beacon Hill. I filed a NAGPRA request on behalf of the ACQTC and this time we were given serious consideration after we produced a boxful of documents establishing biological, geographical, social, cultural, kinship, linguistic, archaeological, folkloric and similar connections. The remains we seek repatriation of consist of a mandible and cranium (jawbone and skull) of a Quinnipiac male about 20-25 years of age.

The data sheet provided to us concerning our pending NAGPRA request indicates that these human remains were found at “Locale: Fort Hill, East Haven; Context: Quinnipiac Burial Ground.” It also includes the following facts: “The human remains’ provenience is detailed in two correspondences … In the letter dated February 3, 1837 … Herrick states ‘The tribe from whose burying place at Fort Hill, in East Haven (Conn.) the skull in question was taken was the tribe of the Quinnipiacks.@‘" A note also indicates, “This locale is also referred to as Fort Wooster Park, as the remains of Fort Wooster are located there…”

The “collector” of these human remains on the data sheet is Edward Claudius Herrick (born 2-24-1811 and died 6-11-1862). His occupation is listed on our sheet as “YALE LIBRARIAN”. In 1853 these remains were SOLD for cash to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, who, in turn loaned them to the University of Pennsylvania Museum in 1966. Later, in 1997 these remains were part of a collection which transferred ownership to UPM.

Author's drawing of Geronimo
Geronimo, with Victorio and Nana
(in the folds of his blanket)
Drawing by author, ©2000, ACQTC, Inc.

Fast forward now to the year 1918. Prescott Bush, grandfather of our president and several others, according to a growing body of evidence, desecrated the grave of Geronimo, Apache Holy Man; removing his skull, and a prized silver bridle that was buried along with him.

Using acid they stripped the skull of flesh and hair then took their trophies back to a secret clubhouse at Yale University according to data provided by Will Russell of Vanguard Consulting.

The “Skull and Crossbones Society” was officially formed at Yale in the year 1832 but its roots go back a decade or so prior to that. This is the same period where graverobbing by Yale students at the Quinnipiac Burial Grounds at Beacon Hill in East Haven took place. Townshend admits that “in the year 1822 I examined three of these graves…” long before the students did so. Our research indicates it was Townshend and his rich cronies at Yale who concocted this secret society to gain wealth, fame and notoriety by desecrating the graves of our ancestors.

Several years ago documents and photos were leaked about this secret society which enraged the conscience of the American people and Indian First Nations across America and Canada. These documents detail Prescott Bush’s “graverobbing exploits” with a photo showing a skull and bridle on a shelf next to a framed picture of Geronimo.

The headquarters of this SKULL AND CROSSBONES SOCIETY is in a windowless building known as "THE TOMB" at 64 High Street in New Haven, Connecticut. Each year fifteen Seniors at Yale are “tapped” or exclusively initiated into the elite membership of this club of bone-worshipers and grave-robbers.

Yale has refused to clean up its act and we believe this is because it values wealth, power and elitism much more than it values respecting the rights of our First Nations to be shown dignity and respect concerning our ancestor's remains.

On Wednesday, May 10th, 2006 Associated Press reporter Stephen Singer filed an exclusive feature with headlines that screamed “''LETTER BACKS YALE TALE THAT CLUB STOLE GERONIMO’S SKULL'‘" (view a photocopy of the article). The story says that a Yale researcher from Hartford named Marc Wortman dug up a letter written by a member of this elite club written in 1918 confirming the truth. This letter, written by Winter Mead states, “The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club … is now safe inside the (tomb) together with his well worn femurs, bit & saddle horn.”

A portion of this letter and accompanying story was posted recently on the Yale Alumni magazine’s website. The AP feature indicates that this elite club/society of bone-collectors includes “both Presidents Bush, President Taft, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, numerous members of Congress, media leaders, Wall Street financiers, the scions of wealthy families and officers in the CIA.”

Members who pass muster must swear an oath of secrecy, and allegiance to its strange rituals which the AP feature says includes “''an initiation rite in which would be members kiss a skull.'‘"

Harlyn Geronimo, the great-grandson of the Apache Holy Man said he is seeking a qualified lawyer to sue the U.S. Army. If he is willing to include Yale University as well then ACQTC would also be interested in joining our Apache cousins whereas this club began with the bones of our own ancestors.

ACQTC has been at war with Yale and the Townshend family for decades over this and similar atrocities just as the Apache Nation and dozens of other First Nations have battled for the human remains of ancestors across this land. The Kennewick man fiasco was exposed by David Hurst Thomas in his book SKULL WARS and these battles continue to this day. A petition to repatriate Geronimo’s skull now has thousands of signatures bearing enraged comments and this should be read by everyone who has an interest in this matter.

If a group of Native Americans were to dig up the graves of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Davy Crocket, etc. there would be no stone unturned and we would be charged with desecrating a national treasure. Yet, when individuals responsible for running the federal government join a club whose sole purpose is to desecrate our ancestral graves with impunity then something is definitely wrong with this picture. Public awareness of this atrocity must convince Yale this club must end … now!

Iron Thunderhorse, March 2007


Hurst Thomas, David. 2000. SKULL WARS: Kennewick Man, Archaeology and the Battle for Native American Identity. NY, Basic Books.
Singer, Stephen. "Letter backs Yale tale that club stole Geronimo's skull" in USA TODAY, Wed., May 10, 2006 at p. 2A.
Townshend, Charles Hervey. 1900. The Quinnipiack Indians and their reservation. Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, New Haven.
Thunderhorse, Iron. 2006 WE THE PEOPLE CALLED QUINNIPIAC. Milltown, IN. QTC PRESS E-Media, Production (E-Book in ADOBE ACROBAT format).
"The Quinnipiac Of New England" in WHISPERING WIND, Vol. #32, No. 5, 2003.
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, American Section, Human Remains Report, Museum ID: L606-0026.
http://www.petitiononline.com/Geronimo/petition.html (note: This petition was composed by First Nations and Will Russell of Vanguard Consulting).
Look for:

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