Departments of the Interior and Veterans Affairs Honor Fort Craig Soldiers and Civilians
Media Contact: Mary Perea Carlson, 505-462-3576
For Release: July 28, 2009
The United States Departments of the Interior and Veterans Affairs today joined together to host a repatriation ceremony honoring the 64 soldiers and civilian men, women and children who were buried at Fort Craig Cemetery in the 1800s and exhumed in 2007 due to criminal looting at the cemetery.
After undergoing extensive analysis to identify the remains found in unmarked graves, 61 of the unidentified bodies were buried in late June at Santa Fe National Cemetery. The three soldiers who were identified as United States Army Privates Levi Morris, Thomas Smith and David Ford received full military honors at today's ceremony and were reburied following the ceremony. July 28th was selected as the reburial date because it is National Buffalo Soldier Day and all three identified soldiers were Buffalo Soldiers.
"The decision to exhume these bodies wasn't easy for the Department of the Interior. But, unfortunately, there has been criminal looting at the Fort Craig cemetery and its isolated location made it impossible to properly protect these remains. We had to take immediate action to ensure their protection from further looting and to give them burial in a proper cemetery with the honor and respect they deserve," said Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle. "We are grateful to our partners at the Department of Veterans Affairs for finding this space at the beautiful Santa Fe National Cemetery and helping us ensure these soldiers received the honored resting place they deserve." The remains of the 61 unidentifiable people were buried in June following a committal service and the site was marked with a historical monument.
"The event that took place here was the final step these brave and courageous individuals took," said Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Steve Muro. "After more than 100 years, they are finally recognized for their gallant and honorable service to this country."
The situation of criminal looting at Fort Craig was brought to light in late 2004 by a historian who came to the Bureau of Reclamation with the story of a mummified Buffalo Soldier he had seen on display in the home of a friend in Peralta, New Mexico. The Bureau of Land Management led the criminal investigation into the looting report, but the main suspect died before the case advanced. The skull of Thomas Smith was recovered by federal agents through an anonymous drop.
Numerous additional law enforcement agencies including the FBI, New Mexico State Police, Sierra and Bernalillo County Sheriff's Departments and the U.S. Attorneys Office in New Mexico assisted with the investigation.
After finding evidence that bodies remained in the cemetery at Fort Craig, which had been exhumed twice in the late 1800s, Reclamation determined the only way to protect these remains was to relocate them. The bodies have been examined extensively at Reclamation and at the Smithsonian Institute. Through that analysis, the skull of Private Thomas Smith was matched with one of the bodies exhumed from the cemetery.
"Through today's repatriation efforts, Private Thomas Smith can now rest in peace," said John Poland, Albuquerque Area Office Manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.
Military records show Smith was from New Market, Kentucky and was part of the Army's 125th Infantry Company A.
Private Morris was identified through medical records. He had received a distinct axe wound to the back that ultimately led to his death at Fort Craig. Enlistment records show he was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi and was in the Army's 9th Calvary Company B.
Private Ford was born in Taylor County Kentucky, according to his enlistment records. He was part of the 38th Infantry Company C.
Of the 64 bodies exhumed from Fort Craig, 35 were adult males. Eleven of those adult males, including the three identified soldiers were Buffalo Soldiers. Four of them were women and 25 were children.
The memorial marker created by the Department of Veterans Affairs and placed with the bodies of the unknowns reads:
Dedicated to the men, women and children who perished at Fort Craig, New Mexico in the late 1800s. Soldiers stationed there conducted military campaigns against the Apaches and Navajos, and during the Civil War, engaged the Texas Army in the Battle of Valverde in February 1862. Here lie the brave men who fought and died in those campaigns, along with their families who died of disease and other causes. These graves were not exhumed when most of the Fort Craig post cemetery was moved to National Cemeteries in Santa Fe in 1878 and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1886. The Bureau of Reclamation discovered the graves in 2007 and recovered the remains of 64 individuals. Of these, the identities of three persons were documented, the others remain unknown. May they never again be forgotten. Rest in peace. July 2009.
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