WASHINGTON – Geronimo's descendants want to bring the infamous Apache warrior's bones home at last. But first they have to find them.
Harlyn Geronimo – great-grandson of the fighter,who died 100 years ago Tuesday – and about 20 relatives filed a lawsuit Tuesday in a fresh attempt to regain the allegedly stolen bones and move the rest of Geronimo's remains from their resting place near Fort Sill,Okla.,to his New Mexico birthplace.
Geronimo,a prominent Apache leader who fought Mexican and American troops to block their expansion onto American Indian lands during the late 19th century,surrendered to Gen. Nelson A. Miles in 1886 and was eventually imprisoned at Fort Sill.
The suit names Yale University and the school's secret Order of the Skull and Bones as defendants. The plaintiffs seek answers to a rumor that society members – including Prescott Bush,father of George H.W. Bush – stole Geronimo's skull and other bones in the early 20th century.
The suit also names President Barack Obama,Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Army Secretary Pete Geren in their official roles overseeing Fort Sill.
Harlyn Geronimo,who lives on the Apache reservation in Mescalero,N.M.,said during a press conference at the National Press Club that Geronimo's descendants want to honor their ancestor's wish to return to his birthplace.
According to his autobiography,written after his capture,Geronimo hoped to be buried at the mouth of the Gila River in what is now New Mexico.
When he died of pneumonia in 1909,the warrior was buried in an Apache cemetery at Fort Sill.
“If the remains are not properly buried,in our tradition,the spirit is just wandering,wandering until a proper burial has been performed,” Harlyn Geronimo said.
He is joined in his suit by attorney Ramsey Clark,a former U.S. attorney general more recently known for serving as defense attorney in Saddam Hussein's trial before the Iraqi Special Tribunal.
But leaders of the Fort Sill Apache tribe have previously opposed efforts to move Geronimo's remains and said they will do so again. The grave and the fort are tourist attractions.
Michael Darrow,the tribe's historian,said Apache tradition prohibits disturbing a body once it has been buried.
“In our tribe's tradition,once somebody is buried,you're not supposed to dig them up and move them,” Darrow said. He added that,while Harlyn Geronimo and his family are the only direct descendants of Geronimo,many Fort Sill Apaches also are related to the great warrior.
Darrow said it offends him that the Geronimo family filed suit without consulting the Fort Sill Apaches first.
“It is not done as a matter of consulting all of the descendants,” Darrow said. “It appears to be grandstanding by certain people.”
Fort Sill Apache leaders also denied the credibility of rumors that Skull and Bones members stole Geronimo's skull,a story publicized in Yale graduate Alexandra Robbins' 2002 book,”Secrets of the Tomb.”
Fort Sill Apache Chairman Jeff Houser said he doubts the veracity of such stories and doesn't see the point in exhuming Geronimo's remains to find out if parts are missing.
But Clark said Harlyn Geronimo and his family are determined to find out if someone took the remains and,if so,to reclaim what was stolen.
“I think there will have to be accountability,” Clark said. “We can't take the remains from Fort Sill and not have all the remains.”
Clark said the suit had not garnered any response from officials named as defendants.
Harlyn Geronimo said a year-old request to George W. Bush to move the remains was never answered.