Up and through the 20th century, it had been common practice to collect and “museumize”** remains and artifacts of America’s native people–excavated bones and funerary artifacts included. If we saw a Mayflower passenger’s mummified remains in a glass case at Plymouth, Massachusetts we would be horrified. One has to wonder why we not have the same sense of dismay when it comes to the American Indian.
In 1989 the United States Congress passed the National Museum of the American Indian Act (NMAI). While transferring more than 800,000 objects to the Smithsonian Institution, it required Smithsonian museums to “identify, and CONSIDER for return, if requested by a Native community or individual”–Native People’s (American) “remains and funerary objects.” An Amendment to this law in 1996 added provisions for the repatriation (return) of unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony.
This past December 15th, 2007 was the 117th Memorial anniversary of the death (some call it assassination) of Tatanka Iyotaka, more commonly known as Sitting Bull. At his death in 1890 an Army doctor obtained a lock of his hair and his wool leggings and in 1896 sent them to a museum.
The enactment of the NMAI now meant that these objects needed to be returned. After five years of searching, it has been determined (through genealogical research) that Ernie LaPointe of Lead, South Dakota and his family are Sitting Bull’s closest living relatives (Ernie being his great-grandson). The famous chief’s personal items were returned to him on December 5, 2007
A Washington Times article notes that Mr. LaPointe was to hold a ceremony on December 15th, with a medicine man to decide what to do with these artifacts. His family may want his remains to be interred at Little Big Horn. This is significant because there is controversy over Sitting Bull’s memorial. The family also want to move his current gravesite.
**Note: I don’t believe “museumize” is an actual word. I used the term to denote the action of gathering objects or artifacts improperly or inappropriately (at least by today’s standards), and displaying them in either a private or public collection, grouped with like or somewhat similar objects.
P.S. You may be wondering if there is a “New Hampshire” tie-in. Reportedly one Captain Horace Quimby, a New Hampshire native was the regimental quartermaster at Fort Randall in the Dakota Territory when Sitting Bull and the Lacota were transported there in 1881. Quimby’s wife Martha (Smith) Quimby aka “Jennie” developed a friendship with Sitting Bull and his family, and received several sketches drawn by him. These sketches are now on display at the Fort St. Joseph Museum.
–CAPT. HORACE B. QUIMBY was the son of Moses Aldrich Quimby (1806-1902) and Martha A. Howland (1807-1903)
–grandson of Joshua Quimby (1766-1844) and Mehitable Kenison (1769-1848)
–great-grandson of Samuel Quimby (1718-c1798) and Elizabeth Stevens (c1720-c1728) of Amesbury MA, Weare NH and Kingston, NH
–2nd great-grandson of William Quimby (1693-1750) and Hannah Barnard (1678-1728)
–3rd great-grandson of William Quimby (1660-1694) and Sarah George (1669-1696) of Amesbury and Salisbury MA
–4th great-grandson of Robert Quimby (1622/23-1677) and Elizabeth Osgood (c1643-1694) of Farnham, Surry, England and Amesbury MA.
–MARTHA “JENNIE” (SMITH) QUIMBY was the daughter of John P. & Mary Smith of Wayne, Wayne County, Indiana.
Editor’s Note: Photographs and links updated January 2017.