Friday, December 02, 2005 SKULL AND BONES AND THE SKULL OF GERONIMO Native Americans groups fight to recover lost skull of Geronimo.
[Reprinted under FAIR USE DOCTRINE for Educational and Public discourse purposes]
BY NOAM RUDNICK The Yale Herald October 24, 2003
An axe pried open the iron door of the tomb, and Pat[riarch] Bush entered and started to dig…Pat[riarch] James dug deep and pried out the trophy itself…I showered and hit the hay…a happy man…”
So recounts a document thought to be an internal record from the Skull and Bones Society. “Pat[riarch] Bush” is Prescott Bush, father of an American political dynasty. His “trophy” is the skull of Geronimo, the Native American spiritual and military leader laid to rest in 1909 at Fort Sill , Oklahoma , where Bush and fellow Bonesmen were stationed nine years later.
Alexandra Robbins, ES ’98, has researched Bush’s secret society extensively. Her recent book, Secrets of the Tomb, has heightened interest in the activities of Skull and Bones. She attests to the legitimacy of the story, “The text looks to be an authentic Bones document describing Prescott Bush and other Bonesmen robbing Geronimo’s grave and cleaning the skull with carbolic acid.” In interviews with Robbins, Bonesmen have admitted that there is a skull in the tomb that they call Geronimo.
Current Members of Skull and Bones chose not to comment on the legitimacy of the allegations.
Apache tribal leader Ned Anderson was informed of the alleged theft in 1986. As an ancestor of Geronimo, Anderson petitioned the Federal Bureau of Investigations to force the return of the skull. Noting that Apaches have a “great fear and respect for death,” Anderson said that he hoped to honor Geronimo’s express wish to be laid to rest in ” Arizona acorn country.”
Unwilling to remove himself from the case entirely and yield all his evidence to the FBI, Anderson withdrew his request for action. Instead, he arranged to meet with George H. W. Bush’s, DC ’48,(Skull and Bones) brother Jonathan in New York City . Anderson recounts that Bush sounded “very encouraging” during their initial meeting. Eleven days later, Bush presented the display case. Anderson refused to accept the skull because it appeared to belong to a small child. Bush acknowledged this fact but claimed that it was the only relevant artifact in the society’s possession.
He urged Anderson to accept the display and sign a document verifying that the society was not in possession of Geronimo’s skull. Anderson refused.
Since the meeting in Manhattan , no further efforts to recover the skull have been made. Anderson puts great faith in the Bonesmen. “I believe that those who are involved need to come clean on this,” he said. “I think they’ll come around and do what is appropriate.”
GETTY IMAGES The skull of Geronimo, an Apache chief, is rumored to be in the possession of Skull and Bones. Jim Adams, managing editor of Indian Country Today, provides an explanation for the notable absence of recovery efforts. “Apache tribal governments seem reluctant to raise the issue because it does violate taboos about speaking about the dead. This doesn’t mean they’re not concerned; rather they have their own laws of secrecy.”
Native Americans are far from unconcerned. Adams ‘ publication, the leading Native American news source, has run several articles on the secret society’s alleged possession of the skull. On Oct. 6, 60 Minutes televised a segment on Skull and Bones that briefly addressed the society’s posession of Geronimo’s skull.
James Craven, an economics professor at Clark College , suggests that such media exposure is leading to action. “In the near future, there will finally be large groups of Natives showing up in front of ‘the tomb’ to protest this ugly racism and grave robbing by the Bones, and they will not be leaving until that skull and any other Native artifacts have been returned.”
Adams expressed similar sentiments. “My sense is that American Indians in general are appalled outraged by the accusation, but not surprised,” he said. “Remains of ancestors have been exploited and desecrated for centuries in the name of anthropology or simply for idle curiosity. But even by these standards, it’s bizarre and embarrassing that a supposedly elite group would use the remains of any human being for its own entertainment.”
Supposing the grave-robbing allegations are true, why would the Skull and Bones be interested in the head of Geronimo? Robbins suggests that the answer lies in their name. “Bones as a society is preoccupied with death; skulls, skeletons, and artwork depicting death are prevalent in the tomb. When Bonesmen steal things they use the euphemism that they are taking ‘gifts to the goddess’ whom they honor within the tomb.” The focus on death is not arbitrary. The society emphasizes mortality in order to illustrate the necessity of success.
Robbins, herself a member of Scroll and Key, attests to the centrality of ritualized stealing in many of the societies at Yale. Each class attempts to outdo its predecessor in the acquisition of valuables. In addition to Geronimo’s skull, the Bonesmen’s tomb is rumored to contain the skull of Pancho Villa and Adolf Hitler’s silverware.
Robbins expresses outrage at Skull and Bones’ behavior. “I think it’s ridiculous that Bonesmen’s sense of entitlement is broad enough to include items that allegedly don’t belong to them. The items they supposedly steal as a prank or competition may be valuable and meaningful to the actual owners. It’s appalling that proper authorities have not forced their way into the tomb to retrieve the items that don’t belong in there.”
The legality of Skull and Bones’ behavior is dubious. According to Adams , members of Skull and Bones have violated laws preventing the desecration of graves and should be held responsible as felons. “If it is true that Skull and Bones and its corporate parent RTA Inc., continue to hold these skulls, my belief would be that they are participating in a continuing conspiracy to be in possession of stolen property.” Many are quick to cite the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act as grounds for prosecuting Skull and Bones. Ironically, it was George H. W. Bush, DC ’48, a member of Skull and Bones, who signed this bill into law in 1990. However, NAGPRA only applies to organizations that receive federal funding. The University, in fact, was forced to return certain artifacts previously held by its Peabody Museum in accordance with the bill. However, secret societies are not directly affiliated with the University, exempting them from NAGPRA jurisdiction.
While the society’s exemption from NAGPRA relies on financial independence from Yale, the two organizations are in fact closely intertwined. As Robbins emphasizes, the administration hasn’t taken steps against the societies because administrators have historically been members. To this day, prominent figures on the Yale faculty and administration are members of Yale secret societies. There has always been a kinship between society men at the faculty, administration, and undergraduate levels. This close connection may explain Yale’s failure to investigate the activity of certain students.
In addition to being high-ranking members of the Yale administration, members of Skull and Bones work in important governmental positions. The upcoming presidential election could potentially pit Bonesman against Bonesman.
George Bush, DC ’68, and John Kerry, JE ’66, both members of the society, could be hurt by their involvement in an organization that allegedly takes part illegal behavior. “I think these politicians are caught in a real conflict between their loyalty to Bones and their oaths as public servants if they don’t take positive steps to return any human remains. The reports about Geronimo certainly poison relations between the Presidency and the tribes,” Adams said.
Whatever the repercussions, many see the society’s behavior as wholly reprehensible, particularly among those who would run for high public office. “[The theft] is a metaphor for something much bigger and even uglier. It is the ugly racism and hubris of the in-bred power elites who seek to infiltrate positions of power,” Craven said.
Discovery lends weight to ultra-secret Skull and Bones society lore
Updated: 9:52 a.m. ET May 9, 2006 HARTFORD , Conn. – A Yale University historian has uncovered a 1918 letter that seems to lend validity to the lore that Yale University ‘s ultra-secret Skull and Bones society swiped the skull of American Indian leader Geronimo. The letter, written by one member of Skull and Bones to another, purports that the skull and some of the Indian leader’s remains were spirited from his burial plot in Fort Sill , Okla. , to a stone tomb in New Haven that serves as the club’s headquarters.
According to Skull and Bones legend, members, including President Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, dug up Geronimo’s grave when a group of Army volunteers from Yale were stationed at the fort during World War I. Geronimo died in 1909.
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, according to the letter, written by Winter Mead.
Skepticism But Mead was not at Fort Sill and researcher Marc Wortman, who found the letter last fall, said Monday he is skeptical the bones are actually those of the famed Indian fighter.
What I think we could probably say is they removed some skull and bones and other materials from a grave at Fort Sill , he said. Historically, it may be impossible to prove it’s Geronimo’s. They believe it’s from Geronimo.
Harlyn Geronimo, the great grandson of Geronimo, said he has been looking for a lawyer to sue the U.S. Army, which runs Fort Sill . Discovery of the letter could help, he said.
It’s keeping it alive and now it makes me really want to confront the issue with my attorneys, said Geronimo, of Mescalero, N.M. If we get the remains back … and find that, for instance, that bones are missing, you know who to blame.
A portion of the letter and an accompanying story were posted Monday on the Yale Alumni Magazine’s Web site
Only 15 Yale seniors are asked to join Skull and Bones each year. Alumni include Sen. John Kerry, President William Howard Taft, numerous members of Congress, media leaders, Wall Street financiers, the scions of wealthy families and agents in the CIA.
Members swear an oath of secrecy about the group and its strange rituals, which are said to include an initiation rite in which would-be members kiss a skull.
Whose Skull and Bones? May/June 2006 by Kathrin Day Lassila ’81 and Mark Alden Branch ’86
Did Skull and Bones rob the grave of Geronimo during World War I? For decades, it has been the most controversial and sordid of all the mysteries surrounding Yale’s best-known secret society. The story was widely rumored but, despite the efforts of reporters and historians and the public complaints of Apache leaders in the 1980s, never verified. An internal history of Skull and Bones, written in the 1930s and leaked to the Apache 50 years later, mentioned the theft. But Bones spokesmen have always dismissed the story as a hoax.
“The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club, is now safe inside the T –.”
A former senior editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine has now discovered the only known contemporary evidence: a reference in private correspondence from one senior Bonesman to another. The letter was written on June 7,
1918, by Winter Mead ’19 to F. Trubee Davison ’18. It announces that the remains dug up at Fort Sill , Oklahoma , by a group that included Charles C. Haffner Jr. ’19 (a new member, or “Knight”), have been deposited in the society’s headquarters (the “Tomb”): “The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club & the K — t [Knight] Haffner, is now safe inside the T — [Tomb] together with his well worn femurs[,] bit & saddle horn.”
Mead was not at Fort Sill , so his letter is not proof. And if the Bonesmen did rob a grave, there’s reason to think it may have been the wrong one. But the letter shows that the story was no after-the-fact rumor. Senior Bonesmen at the time believed it. “It adds to the seriousness of the belief [that the theft took place], certainly,” says Judith Schiff, the chief research archivist at Sterling Memorial Library, who has written extensively on Yale history. “It has a very strong likelihood of being true, since it was written so close to the time.” Members of a secret society, she points out, were required to be honest with each other about its affairs.
Moreover, the yearbook entries for Haffner, Mead, and Davison confirm that they were all Bonesmen. (The membership of the societies was routinely published in newspapers and yearbooks until the 1970s.) Haffner’s entry confirms that he was at the artillery school at Fort Sill some time between August 1917 and July 1918.
Marc Wortman, a writer and former senior editor of this magazine, discovered the letter in the Sterling Memorial Library archives while researching Davison’s war years for a book — The Millionaires’ Unit, released this month by PublicAffairs press — about Yale’s World War I aviators. The letter is preserved in a folder of 1918 correspondence in one of the 16 boxes of the F. Trubee Davison Papers. Mead’s was one of many letters Davison received that year about Bones matters. With the war on, the Bonesmen were scattered around the United States and Europe , and society business like choosing new members had to be conducted by mail. “Lists of people to be tapped would come to Trubee and he would comment on them,” says Wortman. Mead’s letter also relays the news that Parker B. Allen ’19 had been initiated as a member in Saumur , France , and Allen’s yearbook entry confirms his membership in Bones and his posting to artillery school in Saumur.
The Geronimo rumor first came to wide public attention in 1986. At the time, Ned Anderson, then chair of the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona , was campaigning to have Geronimo’s remains moved from Fort Sill — where he died a prisoner of war in 1909 — to Apache land in Arizona . Anderson received an anonymous letter from someone who claimed to be a member of Skull and Bones, alleging that the society had Geronimo’s skull. The writer included a photograph of a skull in a display case and a copy of what is apparently a centennial history of Skull and Bones, written by the literary critic F. O. Matthiessen ’23, a Skull and Bones member. In Matthiessen’s account, which quotes a Skull and Bones log book from 1919, the skull had been unearthed by six Bonesmen — identified by their Bones nicknames, including “Hellbender,” who apparently was Haffner. Matthiessen mentions the real names of three of the robbers, all of whom were at Fort Sill in early 1918: Ellery James ’17, Henry Neil Mallon ’17, and Prescott Bush ’17, the father and grandfather of the U.S. presidents.
“My assumption is that they did dig up somebody at Fort Sill . It could have been an Indian, but it probably wasn’t Geronimo.”
Anderson arranged a meeting with Bones alumni Jonathan Bush ’53, a son of Prescott Bush; and Endicott Peabody Davison ’45, a son of Trubee Davison. At the meeting, Anderson has told several journalists, the Bones representatives produced a display case like the one in the photo. But they told Anderson that the skull inside it was that of a ten-year-old boy. They offered the skull to Anderson, but he declined, as he believed it was not the same one in the photo.
Some researchers have concluded that the Bonesmen could not have even found Geronimo’s grave in 1918. David H. Miller, a history professor at Cameron University in Lawton , Oklahoma , cites historical accounts that the grave was unmarked and overgrown until a Fort Sill librarian persuaded local Apaches to identify the site for him in the 1920s. “My assumption is that they did dig up somebody at Fort Sill ,” says Miller. “It could have been an Indian, but it probably wasn’t Geronimo.”
Mead’s letter, written from one Bonesman to another just after the incident would have occurred, suggests that society members had robbed a grave and had a skull they believed was Geronimo’s. It does not speak to whether Skull and Bones may still have such a skull today. Many have speculated that they do, but there is no direct evidence. Alexandra Robbins ’98, who wrote the 2002 Bones expose Secrets of the Tomb, says she persuaded a number of Bones alumni to talk to her for her book. “Many talked about a skull in a glass case by the front door that they call Geronimo,” Robbins told the alumni magazine. (Representatives of Skull and Bones did not return calls from the magazine by press time.)
Skull and Bones and other Yale societies have a reputation for stealing, often from each other or from campus buildings. Society members reportedly call the practice “crooking” and strive to outdo each other’s “crooks.” And the club is also thought to use human remains in its rituals. In 2001, journalist Ron Rosenbaum ’68 reported capturing on videotape what appeared to be an initiation ceremony in the society’s courtyard, in which Bonesmen carried skulls and “femur-sized bones.”
It may have been easier for the Bonesmen to plunder an Apache’s grave if they shared the racial attitudes typical of their era and social class.
It may have been easier for the Bonesmen to plunder an Apache’s grave if they shared the racial attitudes typical of their era and social class. At the time, says Gaddis Smith, Larned Professor of History emeritus, who is writing a history of Yale since 1900, “there was a racial consciousness and a sense of Anglo-Saxon superiority above all others.” He notes that James Rowland Angell, who became president of Yale in 1921, “would say, very explicitly, that we must preserve Yale for the ‘old stock.'” Smith adds, “The slogan of the first major fund-raising campaign for Yale, in 1926, was ‘Keep Yale Yale.’ The alumni knew exactly what it meant.”
At the same time, many of those complicit in what was apparently the desecration of a grave cherished ideals of service and fellowship, and had lived up to them by enlisting for the war voluntarily. A striking example is chronicled in Marc Wortman’s book, The Millionaires’ Unit, which began as an article for this magazine about a group of Yale undergraduates who took up the new sport of aviation in order to fight for the Allies (“Flight to Glory,” November/December 2003). Trubee Davison was the co-founder and moving spirit of this project. Before the United States had even entered the war, he recruited two dozen elite and wealthy young Yalies of his set — five of them Bonesmen — to devote themselves to flying. Out of these efforts grew the first squadron in what is today the Naval Air Reserve.
The letter might not have been discovered if Davison hadn’t founded the aviation group. It might not even have been written if he hadn’t endured great personal suffering for the war effort. Davison never made it overseas; he crashed during a training flight and was disabled for the rest of his life.
It was while he was recuperating at home that his fellow Bonesmen wrote to him about candidates for membership, initiations abroad, and other society business. The Geronimo letter, with its matter-of-fact reports of troop units and its boast about a grave robbery, speaks to the complex and contradictory mores of the privileged class in early twentieth-century America .
2002 The Yale Herald The Herald is an undergraduate publication at Yale University. Book Excerpt: The Legend of Skull and Bones, An Expos of President George W. Bush’s Secret Society:
“Skull and Bones has curled its tentacles into every reach of American society. This tiny club has set up networks that have thrust three members to the most powerful political position in the world. And its power is only increasing – the 2004 Presidential election might showcase the first time each ticket has been led by a Bonesman. The secret society now, as one historian admonishes, is “‘an international mafia’ . . . unregulated and all but unknown.” In its quest to create a New World Order that restricts individual freedoms and places ultimate power solely in the hands of a small cult of wealthy, prominent families, Skull and Bones has already succeeded in infiltrating nearly every major research, policy, financial, media, and government institution in the country. Skull and Bones, in fact, has been running the United States for years.
They are taught that once they get out into the world, they are expected to reach positions of prominence so that they can further elevate the society.s status and help promote the standing of their fellow Bonesmen.