Apache Chief Geronimo’s life and bones

Published 11:10 pm Saturday, October 28, 2006

A couple of weeks ago I got a telephone call from Elwood Mallow. He was calling from Geronimo, Oklahoma. We attended the 7th and 8th grades together back in 1932 in the depth of the depression when the drought lasted for years, the prairie winds blew hard, the Big Pasture country dried up, and dust storms blotted out the sun for days. We talked about people we knew and events we shared over seventy years ago. Strange how we old folks can remember people and experiences of long ago yet fail to recall the names of people we know well today.

Near the end of our conversation, when Elwood said that he was planning a trip down South to see his sister in Mississippi and a couple of his daughters in Louisiana, I asked him to come by the farm. Well, he and his wife, Helen spent last week end here on the farm. Elwood and I talked for hours about the two years we shared as best friends and the decades since we grew up and raised our families.

He married Becky Baughman, one of the girls in our class at school, and together they raised a large family of twelve children. My family moved away near the end of my 8th grade year but the Mallows stayed put. During those decades Elwood ran a grocery store, a restaurant, a dairy farm except for a couple of years in the Army during WW II when he served in the Philippines. He was a deacon in the First Baptist Church and served the town as a councilman and mayor. Becky died about a dozen years ago and Elwood remained single until he married Helen three years ago.

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Today I would like to mention one of the subjects that cane up during the visit with my boyhood friend. We got to talking about the great Apache chief, Gernonimo, who had been held as a prisoner at Fort Sill located at Lawton about ten miles north of Gernonimo. Our little town had been named for him and some of the old timers had actually met him. We talked about Geronimo’s exploits as he outwitted and evaded the American and Mexican armies all over the Southwest for a quarter of a century before he quietly surrendered. We discussed his imprisonment in Fort Sill which amounted to no more than living under military supervision.

The old chief adapted well, dressing in white man’s clothes, attending church and becoming a real celebrity. He even attended fairs including the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis where he sold souvenirs and photographs of himself. It is said he even sold buttons off his coat and vest which he replaced each night in preparation for the next day. Gernonimo was also a huge attraction when he rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in Washington. He died of pneumonia in 1909 and was buried at the Apache Prisoner of War Cemetery at Fort Sill.

After Elwood and Helen left to visit more of his children in Louisiana and Texas, I logged onto the internet and discovered an amazing fact about what happened to Geronimo’s remains. Here is my letter to Elwood about what I found out:

In 1918 certain of Geronimo’s remains were stolen in a grave robbery. Three Army volunteers who were serving at Fort Sill were suspects. One member of the trio was Prescott Bush, the father of George H.W. Bush and grandfather of President George W. Bush. They were members of a secret society at Yale University, “The Skull and Bones.” The stolen items included Geronimo’s skull, some bones and the chief’’s silver bridle. The relics were reported to have shown up on the Yale University campus and used in the rituals of the society including the kissing of the skull during the initiation ceremony. The members are called Bonesmen and include some of the most powerful men of the nation including presidents, cabinet members, spies, Supreme Court Justices, and corporation presidents. In fact, both of the candidates in the last presidential election, George W. Bush and John Kerry, are Bonesmen. The society meets in a windowless building on the Yale campus called the Tomb where, it is reliably reported, the relics from Geronimo’s grave are kept. The society’s purpose is to provide leadership for building a great nation and to place as many of their members as possible in positions of power. Their macabre ceremonies and relics clearly stress the brevity of life, the certainty of death, and the need for strong national leadership.

Over the years the Skull and Bones society kept its secrets well hidden but in our day of “telling all” some of the members opened up to Alexandra Robbins who wrote a book that penetrated the silence titled, “Secrets of the Tomb”. The society was founded in 1832 as an American version of the student societies that were common in Germany at the time. Since its founding only 15 seniors are “tapped” each year to become “patriarchs” after they graduate as lifetime members of one of the most powerful clubs in the nation.

Each member is imbued with a moral mission to serve the nation and the world, and many of them have made significant contributions. Among them are William Howard Taft, president, Henry Luce, founder of Time Magazine, and Averell Harrimen, diplomat and confidant of presidents.

Skull and Bones remained an old boys club until recent years when it was forced to move into the 21st century. The day before two women were to be initiated a group of Bonesmen, including William F. Buckley. got a court order blocking the initiation. After a period of legal wrangling women were admitted and initiated.

The story of the theft of Geronimo’s grave relics was known for many years, but they were generally considered to be fake bones or not human. This year the Yale Alumni Magazine printed a dated contemporary letter written by society member Winter Mead in which he flatly stated that the relics were genuine. “The skull of the worthy Gernonimo 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 and saddle horn.”

The letter prompted the chief’s great grandson, Harlyn Gernonimo of Mescalero, New Mexico to write to President Bush asking him to use his influence and have the remains returned to his people.”to be reburied with the proper rituals.to return the dignity and let his spirits rest in peace.”

That part of the ritual in which the initiate is supposed to kiss the skull of the Apache chief recalls an ancient belief that to touch a person of great power can transfer power to the believer. The Bones candidates might do well to recall the 1903 autobiography of Gernonimo in which he wrote that his native religion left too many questions unanswered. He went on to say, “I have adopted the Christian religion..I am not ashamed to be a Christian, and I am glad to know that the President of the United States is a Christian, for without the help of the Almighty I do not think he could rightly judge in ruling so many people. I have advised all of my people who are not Christians to study that religion, because it seems to me to be the best religion in enabling one to live right.” Amen.