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The Strange Saga of Geronimo's Skull

A century after his death, the Apache leader’s remains continue to make news  

July 1, 2009, 12:00 am

By Leo W Banks

Geronimo lay in bed, delirious. He was moments from death, and his final mutterings would be familiar to those who knew him in life. He spoke of his regret at having surrendered, saying he should’ve died fighting his enemies—the Mexicans, for whom he harbored a lifelong hatred, and the white eyes who’d taken over his homeland.

This was the warrior Geronimo, the man American settlers knew, the blood lover, the killer.

But he also talked about his love for his children. As his nephew Asa Daklugie held his hand that night in 1909, at the Fort Sill hospital in Oklahoma, Geronimo begged Daklugie to care for his daughter, Eva Geronimo, as if she were his own.

After a bout of unconsciousness, his eyes—those narrow, burning, paralyzing eyes—would open and fix on Daklugie. “I want your promise,” he’d say.

This was Geronimo, too, the worried father, the family man.

News of his death made telegraph wires crackle worldwide and, in those reports, the same split can be seen between Geronimo the man and Geronimo the monster.

In covering his passing, The New York Times called him “the worst type of aboriginal American savage,” whose life proved “the proverb that a good Indian is a dead Indian.”

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Geronimo, sitting left, met with Gen. George Crook, at right wearing a flat white helmet, at Cañon de los Embudos, Mexico, in March 1886. This famous picture of their surrender conference was taken by Tombstone photographer CS Fly.

Many of the same reports also noted his intelligence, his genius at warfare and how, in 1886, pursued by one-third of the US Army, plus 4,000 Mexican soldiers, he melted into the landscape, ghost-like, there one moment and gone the next.

But as with other great Western figures—Billy the Kid, Custer, Wyatt, Hickok—Geronimo’s death wasn’t an end, but a beginning. He’s too much fun to say goodbye to—and far too useful.

The question now is whether his skull and two femurs sit inside a spooky gothic stone building known as the Tomb, on High Street in New Haven, Conn.

It has long been rumored that several Yale students—among them Prescott Bush, father of former President George Herbert Walker Bush and grandfather of former President George W Bush—dug up Geronimo’s remains in 1918 while taking artillery training at Fort Sill.

The bones were allegedly taken to Yale, where some believe they’re used to this day as ritualistic props by an elite student society called the Order of Skull and Bones.

Harlyn Geronimo, of Mescalero, NM, a great-grandson, in February filed a suit to free Geronimo’s remains and spirit “from 100 years of imprisonment at Fort Sill, Okla., the Yale University campus at New Haven, Conn., and wherever else they may be found.”


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