Apache heirs sue Skull and Bones over remains

The descendants of the Apache Geronimo, a warrior chieftain whose remains are rumored to be held inside Yale’s oldest secret society, filed a lawsuit Tuesday demanding the return of their ancestor’s skull.

Twenty members of the legendary warrior’s family are suing senior federal government officials, the University and the society Skull and Bones in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to seek the return of Geronimo’s remains as well as punitive damages.

“I believe strongly from my heart that his spirit was never released,” Geronimo’s great-grandson Harlyn Geronimo said in the press conference on Tuesday. “Presently, he’s still imprisoned. The only way to put this into closure is to relieve the remains and his spirit so that he can be taken back to his homeland, on the Gila Mountains, at the head of the Gila River.”

One hundred years ago Tuesday, Geronimo died of pneumonia at Fort Sill, Okla., but the suit alleges that members of Skull and Bones exhumed his remains in 1918 or 1919 and transported them to the society’s High Street tomb in New Haven. The group that is rumored to have stolen Geronimo’s skull, bones and other items from his grave site is said to have included Prescott Bush, father of former President George H. W. Bush ’48 and grandfather to former President George W. Bush ’68.

“To assure that all existing remains of Geronimo and funerary objects are recovered by Geronimo’s lineal descendants, the Order of Skull and Bones and Yale University must account for any such articles that are or have been in their possession, or on their property,” the formal complaint states. “And persons with knowledge must provide any facts known to them concerning the claims.”

Reached by phone Tuesday evening, four individuals — named in the society’s 2007 tax filings as directors of Skull and Bones’s corporate parent, the Russell Trust Association — said they had no knowledge of the lawsuit. Repeated knocks on the front door of the society’s tomb were not answered Tuesday evening.

University spokeswoman Gila Reinstein said Tuesday afternoon she had “no knowledge” of the complaint filed by Geronimo’s descendants, adding that she could not comment on ongoing lawsuits. Even if Skull and Bones does have Geronimo’s remains, she said, the society is a separate entity from Yale and is not affiliated with the University.

Because Geronimo’s initial place of burial was a U.S. military base, the suit’s 20 plaintiffs — all lineal descendants of Geronimo — named President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren as defendants in the suit.

Rumors that Bonesmen stole Geronimo’s remains have never been authoritatively confirmed or debunked. Experts remain split on whether the grave robbery ever took place. In an interview, Towana Spivey, director of the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark and Museum, said he has never believed the story.

Some of the details of Bush’s story were also inconsistent with Geronimo’s tomb, Spivey said. For example, Bush described a stone vault with an iron door, Spivey said, but Geronimo’s grave would have been marked by a simple wooden headstone at the time when the robbery allegedly took place.

But Alexandra Robbins ’98, author of the 2002 Bones exposé, “Secrets of the Tomb,” is not so quick to discount the idea that Geronimo’s skull may have spent most of the last century at Yale.

“Of all of the pilfered items rumored to be in the Bones tomb, Geronimo’s skull is the most plausible,” Robbins said in an e-mail to the News. “The society’s documented description of the grave-robbing is in standard Skull and Bones lingo, and Bonesmen I spoke to told me that there is a skull in the building that they call Geronimo.”

If they win the suit, plaintiffs hope to re-inter Geronimo in a site close to his birthplace, in the Gila Wilderness of southwestern New Mexico.

Geronimo’s descendants are legally entitled to ownership of his remains and any funerary objects buried with him under the provisions of the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the complaint argues.


  • Duh.

    "Repeated knocks on the front door of the society’s tomb were not answered Tuesday evening."

    Try Thursday. Or Sunday.

  • Anonymous

    there is always someone there

  • Beat me to it!

    " Repeated knocks on the front door of the society’s tomb were not answered Tuesday evening."

    oi veh!

    "Reached by phone Tuesday evening, four individuals — named in the society’s 2007 tax filings as directors of Skull and Bones’s corporate parent, the Russell Trust Association — said they had no knowledge of the lawsuit."

    YDN reporters, on the move!


  • Anon

    Don't expect honesty out of any of the people associated with skull & bones.

  • Anonymous

    What is wrong with people today????

  • Anonymous

    This Geronimo business is ridiculous. Afeni Shakur should sue Skull and Bones for abducting Tupac and forcing him to make a new album every year from the tomb's basement since 1996

  • Dennis Niccum

    The only way to prove or disprove any of the allegations concerning Geronimo's skull is to go dig him up at Ft. Sill, OK.

  • Susie

    It's about time somebody took notice of this type of morbid activities taken upon Native Americans. I say bring him home at last! What about Sacajuwinya? Maybe someone should bring her home to rest too.

  • Anonymous

    In order for the suit to be successful, they have to prove that it's there, right? The burden of proof is on the plaintif. How on Earth do they plan to do that?

  • DD

    I have seen photographs of the inside of the tomb; if I remember clearly, there is a single skull in a small glass case, next to a picture of a Native American. The person who took the picture told me, "They've got Geronimo's skull." Clearly, they THINK they have it. Whether they actually DO have it, of course, is a different matter. They do have a LOT of skulls…

  • Anonymous

    And nobody came to the door when you knocked. Nobody will come to the door when you ring the bell, either. (Yes, there is a doorbell.) They don't call them "secret" society's for nothing, you know.

  • y09

    Can anyone who knows more about the law comment on the following:

    -punative damages

    -90 years

    -a jury of non-Yalies, and probably people unsympathetic to our institution

    Could S&B's endowment be cleared out? A similar legal strategy was used by the SPLC against KKK groups and they bankrupted them. Could this happen here? I've heard the endowment is less than $10mm

  • Latin King

    I heard from very a very reliable source that the skull is passed around from each quivering, gray-robed initiate-to-initiate and that they are required to kiss the skull directly on top of the head and repeat three times: "There now, snookums, you just stay as wild as you are!"

  • Steve Jackson

    Typical Free Mason Tactics, just bash the door in take it back and be done with it

  • Freemason

    Steve Jackson: exactly what do you mean by--and what would you know of--"typical free mason [sic] tactics," hmmm?

  • Anonymous

    Certainly those bonesmen can keep puttering around in their bastion of elitism without some old skulls rattling about. Return them to the apache, whether or not it can be "proved" it's Geronimo. I recommend they start a collection of the skulls of former Bonesmen who provide written consent to the donation before death, so the society can always have skulls.

  • Anonymous

    Give several skulls back and we'll see whether an imprisoned spirit can be released with someone else's mortal remains.

  • Scott Bruno

    As a Euro-White American Warrior and most recently Service Connected Disabled Combat Veteran I extend my personal apologies with hand extended out to you and mine eyes deeply focused into yours, all apaches eyes, I am Sorry.

    I happened to graduate US Army Basic Training as well as AIT and Special Field Artillery courses at Fy. Sill, Oklahoma. Fortunately upon my graduation, my mother flew out from Cali to proudly share in my milestones as a warrior grad. Having a mother who is German, and whom nearly crawled at knee level out of the rubble and dead left by Nazi and US war, she is a mother who places GREAT importance upon visiting and emersivly learning about others cultures, histories, arts and peoples heros of the past. Once my Army grad finished she pleasantly surprised me by taking us both out on a tour of Ft. Sill, US Army History, and most of all, a sacred space on Ft. Sill where Geronimo and much of all his immediate family are buried together.

    We spent a good amount of time at the graves in silence and historical wonder, respecting those Warriors who were indeed above most every aged heroes story. We took a few pics of each other and the grave "Pyramid" markers of the Warriors sacred resting ground, spent a little more time in silent respect and parted ways. That was in 1989.

    Little did I know that when I left Ft Sill and landed at the most warrior ethos centric NATO base on this planet (Graf) that in just a few short years I would encounter and outlast multiple red alrts, small battles, Berlins wall fall, the calming forced speeration of the hottest place on yearth goine past (Balkans) and take part in the middle east battle ay Medina Ridge which became the largest, swiftest, and most decisive tank rattle EVER fought in all our wars history. Still young at the time, like most, I tended to focus upon physical and intel rather than deep intuiyion, energies within and spiritual guidance measures.

    In fact, it would not be for more than a decade later, following marriage, child and family making, degrees and professions that I then learned of a wrong that I HAVE ALWAYS FELT MUST BE RIGHTED. AND SHALL! It would be A near 20 years after visiting Geronimos sacred resting grounds that indeed i came to find the truth and facts of the matter. Acts carried out by a White male group, of Euro American "Educated" leaders of the U.S. past time had come to the same grave almost 100 years earlier to dig up, and rob the family grave of not just artifacts, but the great Apache leader head and more.

    Even more disgusting and de-prouded this story became when the solid sources and evidence pointed directly at the person who clearly led the shameful euro white group to execute such despicable acts. His name?

    Prescott Bush

    The Father and Grandfather of two of Americas presidents.

    I would like to believe, but I shall not assume, that I can speak for all those who have defended, lost, won and killed in the hunt for and preservation of privacy, freedom and free will, THESE WRONGS MUST BE RIGHTED IMMEDIATELY, NOW! EVEN SO SHOULD THE VERY GRAVES OF THOSE WHO PERFORMED SUCH CRIMINAL ACTS, BE UNBURIUED AND BURNED TO NAY EVEN HOLD A SPACE UPON WHICH WE SHARE THE SAME LAND AND VALUES WE DEFEND, REGARDLESS OUR METHOD, THESE WRONGS MUST BE RIGHTED, NOW!

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