Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Boodle Boys' Geronimo Skullduggery

This one can be filed under "Deep Politics":

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 and saddle horn," according to the letter, written by Winter Mead...

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 [sic] (should read officers) 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.

A portion of the letter and an accompanying story were posted Monday on the Yale Alumni Magazine's Web site.

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...

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."...

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.

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