Federal officials said Thursday that the disinterment of 10 graves associated with the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School yielded 11 sets of remains and a small portion of another, a finding not inconsistent with the history and circumstances of the century-old site.
The 10 identified sets of remains, which were found to be consistent with the known ages and sexes of the children buried there, have been turned over to relatives, officials said, completing this year’s disinterment project.
The additional unidentified set of remains, which officials said was consistent with a child of 11 to 14 years of age, was re-interred at the Carlisle Barracks cemetery.
One child is an Alaskan Aleut, and the other nine are Rosebud Sioux. Tribal advisers worked closely on-site with federal archaeologists and anthropologists throughout the process.
“I will remember this human experience much, much more than the technical aspects of this work,” said Michael “Sonny” Trimble, an archaeologist and site manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
This was the fourth year that the federal Office of Army Cemeteries has embarked on the exhumation of remains from the cemetery at the Carlisle Barracks, which houses the gravesites of children who died at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which was in operation from 1879 to 1918.
The handoff at the U.S. Army's Carlisle Barracks cemetery was part of the fourth set of transfers since 2017. The remains of an Alaskan Aleut child were returned to her tribe earlier this summer.
Thus far, 21 sets of remains have been returned to Native American families over the four years, said Renea Yates, director of the Office of Army Cemeteries.
Disinterment is done at the request of family members, Yates said, and the Army works through tribal authorities to find the relatives of children whose identities are known through their headstones and archived records from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
“We are working several requests with other individual families at this time,” Yates said, which could lead to a fifth disinterment project at Carlisle in 2022.
The recovery of remains is complicated by the fact that the gravesites were moved in 1927 as the Carlisle Barracks expanded. The area where the children were originally buried is now beneath buildings, Trimble said.
This is likely the explanation for the unknown remains, Trimble said. The soldiers who exhumed the remains, placed them in new caskets, and re-buried them in 1927 were not experts in identifying complete skeletons — virtually no one at the time was. The soldiers would have inadvertently mixed up different sets of remains, particularly in cases where graves were very close together.
In addition to the casket, which held two sets of remains, another grave was found to have part of a second individual, specifically two vertebrae, said Elizabeth DiGangi, a forensic anthropologist from Binghamton University who examined the remains.
Otherwise, the remains of the 10 identified children “were found to be consistent with the ages and sexes they were known to be in life,” DiGangi said, based on “internationally accepted growth and development standards.”
The U.S. Interior Department has started combing through records in hopes of identifying past boarding schools and the names and tribes of students.
The completion of this year’s disinterment project comes as the federal government has promised a more intensive historical review of the turn-of-the-century boarding school system for Native American children.
The effort is being championed by U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, herself a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe of New Mexico. Haaland’s great-grandfather went through the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a history she recalled to The Sentinel in 2019, when she was then a congresswoman and the keynote speaker at the U.S. Army War College’s Jim Thorpe Days celebration.
Located on the grounds of what is now the barracks and War College, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School was one of a number of boarding schools for Native American children established by the federal government in the 19th century.
The schools were an attempt to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children into white American culture. Students were given European names, clothing and haircuts, and often subjected to corporal punishment for speaking their own language or acting in ways that their instructors believed were uncouth.
A common motto at the school, as Haaland and other historians have recalled, was “kill the Indian, save the man.”
School records indicate a number of Indigenous children died while at Carlisle, typically attributed to disease, although causes are often unclear, according to historians.
According to Yates, 150 marked graves of Native American children are still at the Carlisle Barracks cemetery; another 14 unmarked graves also exist and are believed to be affiliated with the Indian Industrial School.
The 10 children whose remains were identified and returned this month are Sophia Tetoff, an Alaskan Aleut; Dennis Strikes First (Blue Tomahawk); Rose Long Face (Little Hawk); Lucy Take the Tale (Pretty Eagle); Warren Painter (Bear Paints Dirt); Ernest Knocks Off (White Thunder); Maud Little Girl (Swift Bear); Alvan, known as Roaster, Kills Seven Horses, and One That Kills Seven Horses; Friend Hollow Horn Bear; and Dora Her Pipe (Brave Bull), all Rosebud Sioux.
Reflecting that the project is much bigger than any one individual involved, DiGangi said, “it’s something we’re doing for our nation, something we’re doing for the world, and the enormity of that over the years has really struck me.”