SANTA FE, N.M. – Legend has it that Yale University's ultrasecret Skull and Bones society swiped the remains of American Indian leader Geronimo nearly a century ago from an Army outpost in Oklahoma.
Now, Geronimo's great-grandson wants the remains returned.
Harlyn Geronimo, 59, of Mescalero, N.M., wants to prove the skull and bones purportedly taken from a burial plot in Fort Sill, Okla., are indeed those of his great-grandfather. They're now said to be in a stone tomb that serves as the club's headquarters.
If they are proven to be those of Geronimo, his great-grandson wants them buried near the Indian leader's birthplace in southern New Mexico's Gila Wilderness.
"He died as a prisoner of war, and he is still a prisoner of war because his remains were not returned to his homeland," Harlyn Geronimo said. "Presently, we are looking for a proper consecrated burial."
Harlyn Geronimo grew up hearing stories about his great-grandfather and other Apache warriors who fought the Mexican and U.S. armies.
After their families were captured and sent to Florida, Geronimo and 35 warriors surrendered to Gen. Nelson A. Miles near the Arizona-New Mexico border in 1886. Geronimo was eventually sent to Fort Sill, where he died of pneumonia in 1909.
If the bones at Yale aren't those of Geronimo, Harlyn Geronimo believes they belonged to one of the Apache prisoners who died at Fort Sill. He said they should still be returned.
Harlyn Geronimo wrote last year to President Bush, seeking his help in recovering the bones. He thought that since the president's grandfather, Prescott Bush, was allegedly one of those who helped steal the bones in 1918, the president would want to help return them.
But, Harlyn Geronimo said, "I haven't heard a word."
The White House did not respond to messages seeking comment.
President Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, both attended Yale and joined the elite club. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, is also a Bonesman, as are many other men in powerful government and industry positions.
Members are sworn to secrecy — and that's one reason they won't say whether the club has Geronimo's bones.
"The reason there's all these conspiracy theories around Skull and Bones is because their loyalty to one another goes beyond their public differences," said historian and former Yale Alumni Magazine editor Marc Wortman.
Skull and Bones is one of a dozen secret Yale societies, according to Yale spokeswoman Gila Reinstein.
"If it's true about the bones, that's disrespectful and disturbing," she said.
John Fryar, a retired Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent in antiquities recovery and a member of Acoma Pueblo, said if the secret society does have remains, they should be returned to Fort Sill.
"To ignore a request like this for the return of human remains is totally uncalled for. Look at our guys going to Vietnam to recover remains. It's the same thing," he said.