Dickinson College staff may have played a role in helping the Army pinpoint a possible location of the lost remains of Hayes Vanderbilt Friday.
Also known as Little Plume, Friday was a Northern Arapaho boy who died in 1882 while he was a student at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
Last August, the Associated Press reported that remains unearthed at the Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery did not match those of 10-year-old Friday.
The remains of two other children, 15-year-old Little Chief (a.k.a. Dicken Nor) and 14-year-old Horse (a.k.a. Horace Washington), did match and were returned to the Northern Arapaho delegation for burial in Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation.
The Army has scheduled this Thursday as the start date of a project to disinter the remains of four Indian School students from the cemetery. The four students include Little Plume.
Last August Dickinson College staff forwarded information to the Army about a possible alternative location of the remains of Little Plume, college archivist Jim Gerencser said Wednesday.
That information came out of an investigation conducted after Frank Vitale, a 2016 Dickinson College graduate and library intern, had noticed that something didn’t seem right about a Philadelphia Inquirer photograph that had been posted on social media, Gerencser said.
On Aug. 7, 2017, the Army hosted a press conference in the lead-up to the start of a project the next day to disinter Little Plume and the two other Northern Arapaho boys from the cemetery next to the Claremont Road gate to the installation.
Two days later, on Aug. 9, Vitale was in the library doing work on an ongoing project to compile information on Indian School students who are believed to be buried in the Post Cemetery. His research was made part of the college’s online digital resource center on the Carlisle Indian School.
Vitale noticed a photograph that had been posted by Jeff Gamage, a staff writer for the Inquirer, Gerencser said. That photograph showed the tombstone and staked-out gravesite of Little Plume as being in close proximity to the tombstone and gravesite of Little Chief. The image of the two tombstones close together got Vitale thinking that something was wrong.
Vitale alerted library staff who spent Aug. 10 and 11 double-checking all the sources the college had on the location of students buried in the cemetery, Gerencser said. He said that included a check of different versions of grave marker inventories done of the cemetery over its 90-year history.
The research confirmed what the staff suspected: Over the years a switch had taken place that mismatched the tombstone and gravesite of Little Plume with that of an Apache Indian named Frederick Skahsejah.
The Army on Wednesday, June 13, invited the media to photograph the gravesites of the four Carlisle Indian School students who are to be disinterred in this latest project. Aside from Little Plume, those students are George Ell (aka George Eli), Herbert Little Hawk (aka Herbert J. Littlehawk) and Her Pipe (aka Dora Brave Bull).
Art Smith, a project manager for Army National Military Cemeteries, said Wednesday that the gravesite marked with the tombstone for Frederick Skahsejah may actually be the final resting place of Little Plume. Both students are in Row E of the cemetery.
Information confirmed by library staff placed Little Plume in plot E-15 next to the gravesite of Horse (aka Horace Washington) in plot E-16. The Army excavated the gravesite at E-1, which was marked by the tombstone for Hayes Vanderbilt Friday, aka Little Plume.
After confirming the information last August, college library staff met on Aug. 13, with a descendant of Little Plume and a woman named Yufna Soldier Wolf, a member of the Northern Arapaho team that was spearheading the effort to repatriate the remains, Gerencser said. “We shared with them what we thought may have happened.”
Library staff asked and got permission from the Northern Arapaho delegation to share their findings with the Army, Gerencser said. The information on the mismatched gravesites was forward to Army representatives on Aug. 14.
“We don’t know whether they [the Army] used that information or whether they came to the same conclusion on their own,” Gerencser said. “I am happy that the process did not end with the unsuccessful first attempt to find Little Plume’s remains.”
In a press release issued Monday, the Army said the 100-year-old records used did not accurately lead the team of archeologists to Little Plume’s remains.
“Last year’s disinterment results combined with newly discovered information and research supports confidence in a different gravesite for Little Plume,” the release said.
Work to prepare the Post Cemetery for disinterment activities started Monday and continued Wednesday. The set-up included the installation of privacy fencing and tents for tribal leaders, the relatives of the students and the experts involved in the disinterment.
Last August, there was one large delegation for the three Northern Arapaho students. This year, travel plans have been arranged where each family will be addressed individually starting with the descendants of Little Plume.
ANMC will disinter and transfer custody of the remains to families able to establish the closest family link between a decedent and requestor. Families may return the children to cemeteries of their choice. The Army will reimburse the families for transport and re-interment.
“The Army is acting in response to requests by families from Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota,” the press release said. “Little Plume was requested by a Northern Arapaho family; George Ell by a Blackfeet family, Herbert Little Hawk by an Oglala Sioux family; and Her Pipe Woman by a Standing Rock Sioux family.”