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Friday, March 13, 2009

Geronimo and the Order of Skull and Bones

"For decades, mystery has surrounded an elite secret society at Yale University called the Order of Skull and Bones. One of the organizations most storied legends involves the skull of Apache warrior Geronimo, who died in 1909 after two decades as a prisoner of war at Fort Sill, Okla.

"As the story goes, nine years after Geronimo's death, Skull and Bones members who were stationed at the army outpost dug up the warrior's grave and stole his skull, as well as some bones and other personal relics. They then sprinted the remains away to New Haven, Conn., and allegedly stashed the skull at the society's clubhouse, the Skull and Bones Tomb.

"To make matters even more intriguing, legend has it that the grave-robbing posse included Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. and grandfather of George W....

All of this is speculative; Skull and Bones members swear an oath never to reveal what goes on inside the Tomb." (Diane Orson, NPR, "Mystery of the Bones: Geronimo's Missing Skull," All Things Considered, March 11 2009)

Skull and Bones , a secret society is based at, but not formally affiliated with, Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The society's alumni organization owns its real property while overseeing the organization's activity. Skull and Bones was said, in 1903, to be formed in 1832 as a result of a dispute among Yale's debating societies. Long after Yale became coeducational in 1969, Skull and Bones remained all-male until the Class of 1991, when seven female members were "tapped" for entry.

Skull and Bones and other Yale societies have a reputation for stealing, often from each other or from campus buildings; society members reportedly call the practice "crooking" and strive to outdo each other's "crooks." Besides Geronimo, legends say the society possesses the skulls of Martin Van Buren and Pancho Villa.

Famous members include the Bushes, U.S. Ambassador Averell Harriman, Presidential Nominee John Kerry, Time Incorporated Founder Henry Luce, United States Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, Chief of the CIA James Jesus Angleton, Senator David L. Boren, and Economic Advisor Austan Goolsbee.

Given the society's history as a meeting place for rising generational elites, it is not surprising that a susceptible "barbarian" -- the Bones term for a nonmember -- has long seen the society as a point of mystery, wealth, and conspiracy.

Geronimo's descendants have sued Skull and Bones claiming that its members did indeed steal the remains of the legendary Apache leader decades ago and have kept them ever since. Geronimo's great-grandson Harlyn Geronimo, 61, wants those remains and any held by the federal government turned over to the family so they can be reburied near the Indian leader's birthplace in southern New Mexico's Gila Wilderness.

Secret society? Rituals? Pranks? Stealing? All of this seems like pretty juvenile behavior to me. In my eyes, whatever the power, prestige, or sense of mystery derived from belonging to such an elite organization lowers the esteem of its members. Maybe the worst behavior of Skull and Bones is a hoax, but the very idea that the extremely limited membership continues to exist deserves question.

I hope Harlyn Geronimo gets his day in court. In respect to this Native American, I believe the justice system should uphold his rights and serve his noble heritage by finding out the truth of his claim.

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