Forensic anthropologist Elizabeth DiGangi recalled a “difficult afternoon” at the Carlisle Barracks last week when she and an assistant examined the remains of a young Native American.
“We looked at the remains and we just knew. We just knew,” DiGangi said.
What they knew was that the remains were not those of Little Plume, one of three Northern Arapaho children whose remains were disinterred last week by a team of archaeologists and forensic anthropologists.
Sixteen family members of the Northern Arapaho tribe were at the cemetery this week for the endeavor, and a tribal member observed the disinterment procedure.
Two of the three children were found as anticipated in the graves identified by headstones and historical records. They were Little Chief, also known as Dickens Nor, and Horse, also known as Horace Washington.
But in the grave marked for Little Plume, the team found two sets of remains. One set was from a 16- to 19-year-old male and the other from an adolescent or adult, whose gender could not be determined.
“Neither of these people were biologically consistent with Little Plume. The skeleton associated with the gravesite of Little Chief was biologically consistent with his sex and his age, as was the skeleton associated with the gravesite of Horse,” DiGangi said.
A report on the team’s findings is expected to be written within the next two to three weeks.
The remains of Little Chief and Horse were transferred to tribal members Monday morning, and will be re-interred on the Wind River Reservation, Wyoming. The unidentified remains will be re-interred at the Carlisle Barracks.
Art Smith, team leader for the Army National Military Cemeteries, said the team did not delve into the question of where Little Plume is actually buried.
“That’s something that we didn’t get into this week. We were focused on the task at hand,” he said.
The children had originally been buried at a different location on the grounds of the Carlisle Indian School, but had been moved to the cemetery along Claremont Road in 1927.
“To find Little Plume, a lot more research is going to need to be done,” said Michael Trimble, chief archaeologist for the Army Corps of Engineers.
The detailed record keeping to which we are accustomed today didn’t exist back then. If it had, the team would have had a much better chance at finding Little Plume.
Similarly, Trimble declined to speculate on how the remains of two other people came to be in the grave marked for Little Plume. What the team had discovered over the past week was that the reburial of the children had been done with great care, which gives him “high confidence” that future requests for disinterment will yield positive results for the tribes.
The Army has been in consultation with other tribes about remains at the cemetery, but there are no pending requests for disinterment.
“If we receive formal requests for disinterment, they will be reviewed and approved or disapproved by our director,” Smith said.
Trimble declined to go into detail about the private conversation in which the family members were informed about the two unidentified bodies, but said they sat under a tree in the center of the cemetery and talked for over an hour.
“It wasn’t a comfortable conversation,” he said.
Trimble said he respected the Northern Arapaho people before he met them, and respects them even more now.
“All of us are deeply grateful to have served the Northern Arapaho nation in the dignified recovery of their family members,” Trimble said.
That sentiment was echoed by other members of the team. Even as she analyzed the remains, DiGangi kept in mind the love the families had for these children than had endured over thousands of miles and more than a century.
“These were kids who went very far away from home and died thousands of miles from home, and their families never saw them again. We have to think about how we would feel if that were our teenage son or our teenage daughter,” DiGangi said. “Each one of those kids was the most-loved person in the entire world for someone else.”