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The head bone's connected to ... Bush?

Saturday, September 23, 2000

One expects, from a family of politicians, a certain amount of skullduggery. But that is a term of art. It should not involve the actual digging of skulls.

So begins one of the odder political stories of recent years. It involves allegations that George W. Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush, late of the United States Senate by way of Connecticut, had joined a midnight foray 82 years ago into an Oklahoma graveyard whence he emerged with the mortal skull of Geronimo, the Apache warlord who spent his final years as a tourist attraction and, it would seem, part of his afterlife as a souvenir.

The story unfolded when Apache tribesmen from Arizona debated whether to have Geronimo exhumed and brought back to his native soil. They received, unsolicited, a letter advising them that Geronimo's head had taken up residence in New Haven, Conn., home to Yale University and its secret Skull and Bones Society.

"He sent a photo," said Raleigh Thompson, a tribal council member. It showed a skull, remnants of a bridle and a photo of Geronimo.

"The only people who dig up bones are the witchcraft people," Thompson shuddered.

His group later obtained what purported to be an internal history of Skull and Bones that included this account: In 1918, Prescott Bush and two companions crept into the cemetery near Fort Sill and pried open the grave of Geronimo.

The head was taken out, spiffed up and forwarded to New Haven, where it was given pride of place for goofy rituals that have been attended by generations of Bushes and a veritable army of powerful types.

That there is a Skull and Bones Society is beyond doubt. The group keeps the ugliest house on High Street. In ceremonies, members dress up as skeletons, wizards, even the pope. That the society has skulls on hand is also beyond doubt, according to those who have penetrated the great tomb.

Thompson, two other council members and tribal attorney Joe Sparks traveled to New York three times to meet with Skull and Bones officers, their lawyer and Jonathan Bush, brother to the then-vice president.

"They said 'We have a skull that we call Geronimo,' " Thompson said.

Then they offered up a skull. Thompson and Sparks said it didn't look like the photo.

"They said it was the remains of a young Indian child, as if that made things better," Sparks said.

Sparks said he confronted them with a Skull and Bones history, dated 1933, that purported to tell of the grave raid.

"They said we were in a lot of trouble for having it," Sparks said. He suggested they might be in a bit of trouble for having a head not currently attached to a neck.

There it ended.

The impasse is gaining attention among the conspiratorial set who classify Skull and Bones with the CIA and the Trilateral Commission. That the elder George Bush has belonged to all three doesn't help.

Nobody seems to have explored two important questions.

The first is what a group of college students is doing with anybody's skull, whether it belongs to Geronimo or Geronimo's gardener. Just because somebody's not using it at the moment doesn't make it a souvenir. I am not using my television just now, but I had better not go downstairs and find Prescott Bush in my living room.

The second question is whether such a theft was possible. A spokesman at Fort Sill doubts the robbery could have taken place, because Geronimo's grave is covered by a concrete footer, with granite stones implanted, and the whole affair is topped with a stone pyramid.

"There is no way to really disturb that site," said spokesman Daran Neal.

Sparks says the stones were placed long after 1918, and insists there is a base report referring to what authorities thought, at the time, was an attempt by Geronimo's kin to retrieve his bones.

Given the current fashion for exhuming the famously dead, it is a matter of time before someone gets a court order, opens Geronimo's grave and counts the heads.

One would be the correct number -- a bit of ethical math that might have been missed one night, long ago, by some frat boys from New Haven.

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