of America's great historical controversies intensifed yesterday
with the publication of fresh evidence that members of an elite
secret society may have dug up the remains of the Indian leader
displayed his skull in their headquarters.
Rumours that half a dozen members of
the Skull & Bones society at Yale University - including
President George W Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush - dug up
the grave of the legendary Apache leader during the First World
War have exercised historians for years.
"Bonesmen", as senior members of the
society are known, and the Bush family have long refused to
comment on the claims.
The society, founded in 1832 and
famous for its strange rituals centred on symbols of death, has
over the years been accused of obtaining the skulls of a range
of famous figures, including the former president
Martin Van Buren and
Its members include President Bush
and his defeated rival in the last presidential election,
Senator John Kerry.
Now contemporary evidence has been
unearthed backing the theory that a group of young Bonesmen,
based at an artillery school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, desecrated
The Apache leader had died while in
custody at Fort Sill in 1909, 23 years after he finally
surrendered to US troops.
In a letter written in 1918, one
society member tells another that Geronimo's skull had been
exhumed and was being kept in the "Tomb" - the society's
headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut.
"The skull of the worthy Geronimo
the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club...
is now safe inside the T- [Tomb] together with his well-worn
femurs, bit & saddle horn."
The letter was unearthed in Yale
University archives by a historian writing about First World War
Yale pilots, and published in the Yale Alumni Magazine.
The letter names only one member of
the alleged raiding party, a Charles Haffner, and makes no
mention of Prescott Bush, who become a senator and is seen as
the founder of the Bush political dynasty.
He was first linked to the saga in
1986, 14 years after his death, when documents from the
society's archives were leaked purportedly showing that six
Bonesmen - identifiable by their nicknames and including
Prescott Bush - unearthed Geronimo's skull.
Some historians insist that the
grave was never disturbed and that if there is a skull in the
Tomb it is not the Apache leader's.
David Miller, a history professor
from Cameron University, Oklahoma, said that until 1920
Geronimo's grave was unmarked. "My assumption is that they did
dig up somebody at Fort Sill," he told the Yale Alumni Magazine.
"But it probably wasn't Geronimo."
But society members have long
believed that they do have Geronimo's skull in their
"Many talked about a skull in a
glass case by the front door that they call Geronimo," Alexandra
Robbins, the author of Secrets of the Tomb, an exposť on the
society, told the magazine.
Apache leaders seized on the news
yesterday as further evidence that America's elite treated
Indian tribes as a subspecies into the 20th century.
"Who in the hell would do such a
thing?" asked Raleigh Thomson, a former branch leader who has
campaigned to transfer Geronimo's remains to the tribe's Arizona
He told the Wall St Journal: "I
guess it's the way my elders used to explain to me that white