Sep 9, 2012 / 7:13 am
The remains of a man who died young while touring the world with Buffalo Bill were hidden for more than a century in an unmarked grave some 2,700 kilometres from his South Dakota Indian reservation.
Now Albert Afraid of Hawk is returning home. He'll be reburied Sunday in accordance with Lakota tradition, thanks largely to a curious and persistent Connecticut history buff.
Bob Young uncovered records of the Oglala Sioux member's death at a Connecticut hospital after a bout with food poisoning from eating bad corn. A few years ago, Young pieced the details together and reached out to Afraid of Hawk's family members.
"It's something that should have happened a long time ago, but it didn't," said Marlis Afraid of Hawk, 54, whose father, Daniel Afraid of Hawk, is Albert's last living nephew.
"... Nobody even questioned where he is buried or where this person is. It was left at that."
Afraid of Hawk began travelling with Buffalo Bill's world-famous troupe known as the Congress of Rough Riders of the World two years before he died at age 20.
He was among a rotating cast that helped educate and entertain thousands of spectators eager to hear firsthand accounts of life in the American West.
Last month, Marlis Afraid of Hawk, Daniel Afraid of Hawk and other relatives travelled to Connecticut from their homes on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota to witness the disinterment of Albert's remains.
Young, president of a museum in Danbury, Connecticut, had identified the location of Afraid of Hawk's grave at a cemetery there.
"At the start it was just another research project, but each piece I came up with got me more interested," said Young, who was working at the cemetery at the time of the discovery.
It was a breakthrough for family members, who had been searching for decades. In the 1970s they even travelled to Washington, D.C., to learn more about Afraid of Hawk's death, returning with a picture but little information.
The team in Connecticut also recovered hair fibers, copper beads from an earring, a copper ring and six handles from Albert's coffin. Bellantoni said he was surprised at how ornate the coffin handles were.
Now those remains are in South Dakota, where a wake and funeral will be held to allow Afraid of Hawk to enter the spirit world.
He was born in 1879, the third of seven children belonging to Emil Afraid of Hawk and his wife, White Mountain. His brother Richard was among the survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.
Afraid of Hawk joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West show in 1898 with a childhood friend from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and he apparently sent money back to family members living on the Pine Ridge reservation while performing with the show.
Buffalo Bill, whose name was William F. Cody, regularly employed about 50 Native Americans, mostly Lakota, during the 30-year run of the show from the late 1880s to the early 1900s, said Lynn Houze, assistant curator at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming.
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