112 Years Later, Sioux Indian Is Freed From an Unmarked Grave
Mr. Afraid of Hawk, a performer with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, was traveling through Danbury when he became ill and died at age 20 in Danbury Hospital.
He was buried across the street at Wooster Cemetery in an unmarked grave — until Wednesday, that is, when the state archaeologist, Nicholas F. Bellantoni, dug down into the six-foot grave and had “a eureka moment.” He had unearthed the performer’s skull, to the cheers and tears of four of Mr. Afraid of Hawk’s family members who had come from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota for the disinterment.
“It was a moment of joy unlike any other,” Dr. Bellantoni said on Thursday as he continued to gingerly sweep away dirt in search of more remains. “To know Albert is still here and will be going back to his rightful home gives you goose bumps.”
Marlis Afraid of Hawk, 55, a grandniece, wiped her tears and gave gifts to the people involved in finding her beloved ancestor. She said no one in the family had known the whereabouts of Mr. Afraid of Hawk’s remains until Bob Young, president of the Danbury Historical Society, reached out to them.
Mr. Young found documents in 2008 in the cemetery’s archive mentioning Mr. Afraid of Hawk and became determined to discover his history.
“I used to work here at the cemetery, and we were trying to get accurate maps of things,” Mr. Young said.
In the 110-acre graveyard, there are still thousands of unmarked graves. Mr. Young tracked down the records of Mr. Afraid of Hawk’s burial and the purchase and location of his grave. Then, using a census that said the performer had lived in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, he was able to contact the family. “All of these little pieces serendipitously fell into place,” Mr. Young said.
Mr. Young said he was amazed to learn that Mr. Afraid of Hawk’s father, Emil, fought with Crazy Horse at the battle of Little Big Horn. In 1898, Mr. Afraid of Hawk was hired as a rider in traveling shows run by Buffalo Bill, whose name was William F. Cody. The show popularized the American frontier image for the settled states of America.
“We are all so deeply grateful,” said Wendell Deer With Horns, 56, a distant cousin who lives in Watertown, Conn.
“You can feel Albert’s spirit right here,” he added, handing out rocks from Mr. Afraid of Hawk’s grave. “This is his eternal energy.”
Ms. Afraid of Hawk shared pizza with her relatives and Mr. Young, Dr. Bellantoni and the workers whom she called her “newfound family in Connecticut.” She gave Mr. Young a quilt designed with stars as a symbol of fulfilling his promise.
“He accomplished what he promised to, and we are forever grateful,” she said, adding that she was also grateful to her reservation, which paid for her family’s expenses to come to the disinterment. Mr. Young and Dr. Bellantoni donated their time.
She gave Dr. Bellantoni a rock and a special Indian name: “He Looks for Good.”
“Somehow along the line of my life, somebody’s been missing,” Ms. Afraid of Hawk said. “Now I feel lighter, like a feather.”
Earlier in the day, the family had a ceremony with a peace pipe, burning sage, drumming and chanting.
John Afraid of Hawk, a grandnephew, blew an eagle-bone whistle, and Ms. Afraid of Hawk looked up. “There was a hawk,” she said. “That symbolizes to me that he has completed the journey, that he is free.”
By Thursday evening, the scientists, using delicate bamboo chopsticks, had also found Mr. Afraid of Hawk’s pelvis and six handles of his coffin. They planned to watch over the site overnight and, hopefully, finish their work on Friday.
The family will take Mr. Afraid of Hawk’s remains to South Dakota and bury them at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Dr. Bellantoni said he was surprised to find the remains because the soil had a high acidity, and remains did not usually last long under such conditions.
“What I would like to think is that he was waiting for the family to come back to get him,” he said. “There are some things that even science can’t explain.”
Posted by John William Tuohy