Home againAug 20, 2017 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer
War bonnets laid gently on riderless horses Friday, representing the last ride of 14-year-old Horse, 15-year-old Little Chief and 10-year-old Little Plume as they trotted on 17 Mile Road into St. Stephen's cemetery.
The remains and effects of the boys finally were being laid to rest in the graves they deserved 135 years ago, said Mark Soldier Wolf, an Arapaho tribal elder who also a descendant of the children.
"It means a lot to me," Soldier Wolf said. "But it's also important to all of us."
Soldier Wolf joined the dozens of local and out-of-state visitors who followed the journey of the remains to three cemeteries on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
The remains of Horse, also known as Horace Washington, and Little Chief, also known as Dickens Nor, were exhumed last week were sent by ground to the reservation from the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.
Only artifacts linked to the youngest boy, Little Plume, also known as Hayes Vanderbilt Friday, were found. Remains of other people were found in what was believed to be his gravesite.
The Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office collaborated with the U.S. Army War College to bring the remains home to their family cemeteries. The costs to exhume and transport were covered by the college. This summer, tribal elders, students, staff from NATHPO and other community members visited the site of the boarding school, which now offers a museum dedicated to showing what hundreds of children experienced there. Carlisle operated from 1879 to 1918.
Children from many different tribes were taken from their parents and put on a train for a 10-day ride to Pennsylvania. When they arrived, assimilation was the focus. Their hair was cut, they had to wear uniform clothing, and they were told not speak their tribal languages. To become "good Americans" U.S. governmental policies targeted children, often children of a tribe's chief or others with the potential to be seen as the next medicine man of the tribe.
That's what happened with the three Arapaho boys, said director of NATPHO Yufna Soldier Wolf.
Horse was son of Chief Sharp Nose, an admired warrior and scout of the Arapaho tribe. In 1883, after his son was taken to Carlisle, Yufna said President Chester A. Arthur arrived to Wyoming and asked Sharp Nose to be his guide in an area that is now the Yellowstone National Park.
At that point, Arthur also informed him that his son had died. Sharp Nose asked Arthur why he didn't bring his son back.
"That's a truth we have a hard time dealing with," Yufna said.
Sharp Nose cut his hair soon after, as a symbol of mourning. Yufna explained that losing the long hair means a part of his father went with his son. Sharp Nose had nine children.
"That's the way our life was when I was younger," Mark said. "We lost a lot because of the white man but we're doing the best that we can to hold on to it."
Some tribes believe in letting the remains rest where they were placed, but Yufna said these children and their families had no choice. They were forced to part ways.
Often when children returned home, they wouldn't know who they were or who to be, Yufna said. Families also had a hard time with the children, and this dysfunctional familes resulted. From there, historical trauma emerged.
The Arapaho tribe has attempted to push for repatriation before Yufna came on board but "they didn't listen," she said.
At each cemetery, the riderless horses led by other horses from the Arapaho Ranch and their riders, arrived and performed a "horse nation" ceremony.
All the horses would follow behind each other in a line and circle four times, with accelerated speed. This let the buried relatives know that horses had arrived.
Elders performed a prayer, drum song and singing before continuing with more traditional practices. A direct descendant of each boy accompanied the remains to their cemetery.
Olivia Washington and her son Josiah Washington followed with the Horace Washington coffin; Mark and Yufna followed Dickens Nor and Hubert Friday and Betty Friday followed the artifacts of Hayes Vanderbilt Friday. Fay Ann Soldier Wolf, daughter of Mark, said she cried with happiness. It was a moment for closure and healing for her and her family, she explained. Each boy finally came home, she said, and although the boys came from different parents, they're all one big family.
"The little boy has been put to rest," she said as a cemetery crew shoveled the dirt onto the coffin.
For Mark, it was more a learning moment for children at the ceremonies and on the reservation. Hopefully, they will see the what was done to these children, the lives they lived, and the work and time it took to bring them back.
"That's why we pray so hard and we hope that our kids pick it up and they go on," he said. "That's why we take care of our kids."
All of the boys are seen as war chiefs, Yufna said, which is why they carry war bonnets for them and a color guard leads the way. Several other men and women in war bonnets followed in the procession.
"Without their sacrifices we would not be here," she added. "It's an honor for us to honor them."
Yufna said she would be willing to help other tribes in their repatriation efforts. After the reburial ceremonies at the St. Stephen's, Sharp Nose and Friday cemeteries, families and community members had a feast at the Blue Sky Hall. Additional dancing, singing and giveaways were done.
Yufna said the NATHPO will continue to support the Friday family while working on other repatriation efforts.