By Jomay Steen
The Rapid City Journal
March 31, 2005
PIEDMONT -- Moses Starr prayed on a hilltop cemetery Wednesday morning to put to rest the remains of four Southern and Northern Cheyenne American
Starr, a representative of the Kit-Fox Society from Weatherford, Okla., sang
several traditional songs in his native language after four small, wooden
boxes containing the bones of tribal members of the Cheyenne & Arapaho
Tribes of Oklahoma and the Northern Cheyenne of Montana were lowered into a single, hallowed grave.
"They're going home now," Starr said.
Gordon Yellowman, chief of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, and Dog Soldier Society headsman Chester Whiteman of Geary, Okla., participated in the traditional Indian ceremony.
"We're very appreciative of the collaboration and cooperation of the
Piedmont community," Yellowman said.
For four years, Yellowman and his group worked through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a federal law in which museums and federal agencies return human remains and sacred relics to lineal
descendents and culturally affiliated tribes in order to bring the remains
to South Dakota for burial.
"It makes me feel good that these ancestors are home next to our sacred
mountain and ancestral home," Yellowman said, referring to Bear Butte and
the Black Hills.
Renee Boen, repository manager of the South Dakota State Historical
Society-Archeological Research Center, said Yellowman had contacted the
organization last summer wanting help in finding a place to bury the remains
near Bear Butte.
Boen suggested John Honerkamp, a member of the Piedmont Cemetery Board.
"The state of South Dakota has a plot here, where we bury non-native remains
that are found in unmarked graves that are accidentally disturbed," Boen
The community was willing to accept the remains, she said.
"It's not the first reburial of Native American remains in South Dakota. It
may be the first of the Southern and Northern Cheyenne," she said.
The remains of the four individuals being repatriated and reburied were
formerly stored at Concho Agency Bureau of Indian Affairs in El Reno, Okla.;
Illinois State Museum in Springfield, Ill.; American Museum of Natural
History in New York City; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha,
Scott McCorkle, deputy superintendent at Concho Agency in El Reno said the
remains of a 25-year-old Cheyenne male arrived at the agency in August 2002
after a man found the bones among the personal affects of his father. The
remains were kept in storage until officials knew what could be done to
Packed with the bones was an identification label with a museum-type number. Faintly inscribed in pencil on the back of the tag was the name Dull Knife 1879, McCorkle said.
"We immediately contacted the Southern Cheyenne," he said.
Bill Billeck, program manager of the Repatriation Office of the National
Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian, said the bones belonged to one
of the tribesmen who had escaped in the 1879 Fort Robinson breakout in
Pursued by the U.S. Army, a number of the Cheyenne were killed near the
fort. The bones then became a part of the Army Medical Museum in 1880, where they had been acquired from Fort Robinson, Billeck said.
Since 1982, the Smithsonian has repatriated more than 3,000 individuals, he
The remains of the three other Cheyenne were collected from North Dakota's
Ransom County in 1959 and a road embankment in Montana in the 1960s and were confiscated in 1993 from a shop in Platte.
Jim Jandreau, Bear Butte State Park manager and member of Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, said burial would not be allowed at the sacred mountain.
"Bear Butte is used for living ceremonies," Jandreau said.
The South Dakota landmark is one of the most sacred sites of the Cheyenne.
Tribal members from Lame Deer, Mont., often stop on their trips to Oklahoma
to offer prayers, he said.
"All of their teachings and life ways come from Bear Butte," Jandreau said.
Yellowman found Piedmont Cemetery to be an appropriate resting place for his relatives.
"It's a beautiful day today. It's been over four years, but today, we've put
our ancestors on their journey," he said.