Buffalo Bill performer remembered during ceremony

Descendants of a Native American man who died more than a century ago while touring with a western-themed show gathered together Sunday to honor his life and celebrate his remains coming home to a South Dakota reservation.

About 75 people gathered at a gymnasium on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to take part in a traditional Lakota funeral for Albert Afraid of Hawk, who died at the age of 20 at a Connecticut hospital in 1900. A ceremony at a nearby cemetery followed Sunday's service.

"He's going to make his journey today after over 100 years," said Lakota medicine man Rick Two Dogs.

Afraid of Hawk died after a bout of food poisoning while traveling with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and was buried in an unmarked grave in Connecticut. Family members weren't sure where he was buried until Connecticut history buff Bob Young uncovered records of the Oglala Sioux member's death and burial. A few years ago, Young pieced together the details and reached out to Afraid of Hawk's family members.

Last month, Daniel Afraid of Hawk, Albert Afraid of Hawk's last living nephew, and other relatives traveled to Connecticut from their homes on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota to witness the disinterment of Albert's remains. On Sunday, Daniel celebrated his uncle's life by singing him a song in Lakota before Two Dogs and others performed a traditional smudging ceremony with herbs to bless Afraid of Hawk.

Other people involved in the repatriation of Albert Afraid of Hawk, including Young and his wife, Mary Jo, spoke at the service about the process of bringing the Lakota man back to his tribe.

Young, who worked at the cemetery at the time of the discovery, said he and his wife have gained a new family.

"We love all of you dearly," Young, who is president of the historical society in Danbury, Conn., said to the Afraid of Hawk family. "I'd like to say, Albert, you've become like a grandfather to us."

Following the funeral service, Albert Afraid of Hawk's remains, which were wrapped in a buffalo robe, were driven to a nearby cemetery. With the Badlands in the background, Afraid of Hawk was hoisted on to a wooden scaffold to remain until evening. His remains were then to be buried in the ground along with buffalo and cherry juice.

According to Lakota spiritual belief, the journey to the spirit world takes four days. The Lakotas bury food with people to sustain them during that time. Once someone arrives in the spirit world, the food is shared with family members.

Albert Afraid of Hawk was born in 1879, the third of seven children belonging to Emil Afraid of Hawk and his wife, White Mountain. His brother Richard was among the survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. Afraid of Hawk joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West show in 1898 with childhood friend David Bull Bear from the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Descendants of Bull Bear also attended Sunday's ceremony.

"I'm proud to see him coming home and to rest in peace. I'm thankful to the people that discovered all this," said Lonnie Bull Bear, 48.


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