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The publications and research of Catherine Holder Spude.
The Human Remains at Fort Union






  In 1958, a backhoe operator scraped up three human skulls while leveling the ground for the construction of employee housing at Fort Union National Monument, north of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Each skull had a bullet hole in the forehead. When the government archaeologist finished his excavations, he had uncovered the skeletons of four young males, all executed after being badly beaten, buried in a shallow grave, and their stories lost to history. 

On April 6, 1862, Sgt. Darius Philbrook was executed by firing squad at Fort Union for disobeying the lawful command of a superior officer. Witnessing the execution was the entire garrison, including the New Mexico volunteers guarding three Apache prisoners and other soldiers serving various sentences in the guardhouse. The Apaches grew alarmed at the harsh penalty. A passing soldier remarked that the Apaches better be good or they'd be next. When the soldiers opened the door of the cell the next time, the three Apaches tried to escape. Slamming the door in their face, their guards three in two fused bombs. Opening the door a few minutes later, they reported only severed heads, legs and arms. A "Mexican" (e.g. Hispanic) soldier was also in the cell at the time. The event was reported in a newspaper article in the Denver Rocky Mountain News on April 29, 1862. The U.S. Army did not see fit to mention it in their official reports.

TRUE STORY: In 2006, the National Park Service, under the auspices of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, turned over four sets of human remains to the Jicarilla Apache tribe. All four bodies had been recovered from a mass burial found at Fort Union National Monument in April 1958. This was done under the recommendation of a graduate student hired by the National Park Service, despite the fact that no DNA studies had been undertaken, no history studies were conducted, and on the spurious fact that three of the skeletons had shovel-shaped incisors, a morphological characteristic common to many Hispanics. This, also despite the fact that all anthropologists who had  examined the human remains had stated that one set was not Native American; and that two sets only had Native American ancestry, a trait of every Hispanic person in the American Southwest today. In fact, only one set of remains could unequivocably be classed as Native American, or assigned to a Native American tribe; and its claim by the Jicarilla Apache was probably inaccurate.



On-Going Research:

During its formal Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation (NAGPRA) Study between 1995 and 2006, the National Park Service and its contractors dismissed  any connected between the Carleton letter and the four bodies it found in 1958. Dr. Spude and forensic anthropologist Doug Scott, Ph.D. are voluntarily conducting the historic investigations that the government failed to do. In the process, they are making some surprising discoveries about ethnicity in the New Mexico volunteers of the 1860's; the frequency of desertion during the Civil War (an offense that could draw a sentence of execution); and the way in which the government does or does not consult appropriate authorities when doing its NAGPRA Studies.

Most importantly, the National Park Service did not do any study of the numerous historic and military records available at the time, and they ignored the fact that three of the five anthropologists who examined the skeletal remains found a set of remains that was probably not Native American. It was of mixed race, or Hispanic. Dr's. Spude and Scott have discovered the probable identity of the four individuals in the grave using historic records and revisiting the forensic and archaeological record. The one Hispanic set of remains was probably a New Mexican Volunteer not associated with three Apache prisoners who were killed during an escape attempt. These men, all killed on the day of a the legal execution of an Anglo Colorado volunteer, could have been identified with appropriate multidisciplinary studies.

A formal, peer-reviewed scientific study is forth-coming in 2012 by Drs. Spude and Scott.

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