This summer, as rattlesnakes bask in the rocky heat of central Wyoming and the sun withers the grass, Little Chief will come home.
The Northern Arapaho boy was taken in 1881 and died two years later. For 135 years, his remains have laid beneath the invented name, Dickens Nor, at the site of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, now the Army War College.
Little Chief was one 10,600 children forcibly taken from Native American homes and sent to Carlisle. Forbidden from speaking their language, their hair shorn, the kids were part of an inhumane experiment.
“Kill the Indian to the save the man,” the school’s founder, former cavalry officer Richard Henry Pratt, once said.
The children’s descendants are after a modest justice, the return of the remains.
Little Chief’s great-niece Yufna Soldier Wolf first tried to bring him home some 10 years ago. It was a difficult and defeating process, she told the Star-Tribune last year.
Soldier Wolf is the director of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office in Riverton, where she works to repatriate Northern Arapaho remains and artifacts to the tribe. When she first sought her great-uncle’s remains, she was only 24.
Two years ago, she began again.
Other Northern Arapaho boys buried at Carlisle will also be returned to their descendants later this month. Little Plume and Horse will leave behind the Anglo names printed on their headstones at Carlisle: Hayes Vanderbilt Friday and Horace Washington.
With the help of an archeological team, the Office of Army National Military Cemeteries begins disinterment of the three boys on Aug. 8. It expects to finish by Aug. 17. The Army is paying for the transport and burial costs for the three boys.
“The Army is grateful to have the opportunity to help the Northern Arapaho families find closure by reuniting them with their relatives who were buried at Carlisle Barracks Cemetery more than 100 years ago,” Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries, said in a statement.
It is unclear what complications will arise from the exhumation. The graveyard of Native American children and Revolutionary War soldiers was moved in 1927 when the Army base expanded, potentially complicating identification of the graves.
There are nearly 200 Native American children buried in the cemetery, and other tribes have sought remains in recent years.
The Army has no other disinterment planned at this time, but the cemetery agency expects multiple to take place over the next few years. It is contacting all Native American tribes that had children at Carlisle between 1879 and 1918.
Little Plume, Horse and Little Chief, thanks to his little brother’s granddaughter, will be the first to leave.