April 08, 2013

Buried History: “Hear Me, My Chiefs”


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(L to R) Naiche (Natchez, 1857-1921) and Goyathlay (Geronimo, ca. 1825-1909) of the Chiricahua Apache during their imprisonment at Fort Bowie, shortly after their surrender in August 1886. (NMAI Archive Photo P06727)


Nestled behind the capitol and the Anacostia River is a quiet cemetery almost as old as Washington D.C. Founded in 1802, Congressional Cemetery was nicknamed for the U.S. Congressmen who were buried there, even though this tradition stopped shortly after it began.

This unassuming cemetery also contains the remains of the first woman to run for president, the first director of the FBI and 36 Native Americans who came to the nation’s capital to negotiate on behalf of their people. These Native leaders died far from home and family. They traveled thousands of miles to speak with federal politicians in hopes of making life better for their tribal nations. Chief Taza of the Chiricahua Apache was one of these who made the cross-country trip to D.C. Tragically; he was only in leadership for a few short years before he passed away at the age of 36. His story, like many in Native history, is complex and contested.

Born in 1842, Taza was the eldest son of famed Chiricahua Chief, Cochise. Cochise raised his eldest son Taza to lead. He was well educated and groomed to be a great chief. Cochise had great influence over the other Chiefs in the four bands of Chiricahua Apache. Through his influence, a peace treaty was signed in 1852 with the United States. Taza would have held the same influence as his father. Cochise taught Taza about their nation’s land in the desert of the Southwest. He showed Taza the locations of all the springs and the mountains passes. Cochise even passed down his medicine to his oldest son.

Cochise intentionally did not give his 2nd son, Naiche this same training because he didn’t want power disputes between his sons. Taza grew up in a time of war. Despite many battles with the U.S. and Mexico, Cochise supported peace. But in these tumultuous times, peace was not easy. His people were fighting to protect their existence as a sovereign people. They were also fighting for the right to exist. In this time of “Indian Wars,” it wasn’t unusual to hear generals publicy proclaim, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

Taza inherited a nation with an uncertain future. Cochise negotiated with General Howard to create the Warm Springs Reservation. The reservation was created by an executive order in 1871. It read in part as follows:

Having personally inspected the country and condition of the Apache … and finding the Indians to be, in considerable numbers, destitute and in a starving condition … their country overrun by hunters who kill their game, and not unfrequently kill the Indians—gold prospectors and others …I have concluded to declare… that portion of country … to be an Indian reservation … Apache Indians are to be protected, fed, and otherwise cared for, and the laws of Congress and Executive orders … unless otherwise ordered by Congress or the President.”

Department of the Interior, Camp Verde, Ariz. October 3, 1871

Apache map of territories overlay (2)
Apache Map for Chiricahua Bands provided by Fort Sill Apache Nation of Oklahoma.


Four years later, though, following Cochis’s death, the reservations were closed:

"All orders establishing … Indian Reservation, in the Territory of Arizona … are hereby revoked and annulled; and the said described tract of country is hereby restored to the public domain."

U.S. GRANT, 1875

Ranching and mining interests had lobbied for years to close the Chiricahua reservation for their own financial gain. The entire tribe was blamed for an altercation resulting in the death of a US citizen. The altercation appeared to be an excuse for closing the reservations and Chiricahua removal to another reservation. The removal also benefited Indian Agent John Clum by placing all the Apaches under his jurisdiction. Additionally, Chiricahua rations were reduced. Taza’s people were homeless and hungry. His only recourse was to visit Washington. Indian Agent Clum offered to make arrangements. According to Herman Viola of the Smithsonian, the position of Indian Agent did not pay well and one of the few perks of the job was occasional travel to Washington. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Clum had a fiancé in the east he was eager to marry.

Because of a lack of travel funds, Clum financed the trip by having Taza and his delegates perform in little theaters along the way. This occurred right after the Battle of Little Bighorn, which Apache Historian Michael Darrow refers to as the “Custer debacle.” Anti-Indian sentiments ran like a hot fever throughout the West. These performances would have been viewed as an exotic sideshow act by most American audiences. By today’s standards, the idea that the leader of any Nation should pay their way by dancing across the country as an oddity is unimaginable. Taza wouldn't have been able to negotiate for his people had he not made this decision.

But just a few days after Taza arrived in Washington, he suddenly passed away. The official cause of death was recorded as pneumonia. He was given a grand burial service that included a silver-handled coffin transported to Congressional Cemetery in a glass carriage. Many people came to pay their respects to the Chief in his final resting place. In blatant disrespect for Apache, Agent Clum wrote a letter stating:

 “[His] … illness and passing were not devoid of beneficial results … They afforded the Indians in our party an opportunity to observe the civilized methods and customs of … preparing the dead for burial as well as our funeral rites and ceremonies.”

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Taza's grave marker in Congressional Cemetery (Photo by Rachael Cassidy, NMAI)

 Clum, in a hurry to marry his fiancé, left promptly after the service and never bothered to place a marker on Taza’s grave. When the Indian Agent returned to the Chiricahua community, he was pressed for information about their leader’s death. Clum’s details were vague. Many Apache suspected that Taza had not died of pneumonia, believing he may have been poisoned.  This inflamed the tense political relationship between the Apache and United States. Taza’s younger brother, Naiche, became a Chief. Naiche did not have the same influence over the other chiefs the way his father and brother did. The reservation was closed. These events led to Victorio’s War and late Geronimo wars. A decade after Taza’s death, the entire tribe of Chiricahua became prisoners of war in Florida, Alabama and Ft. Sill Oklahoma for 28 years. Some children grew into adulthood never knowing freedom. In 1913, the tribe was split and some returned to the Southwest. One year later the remaining were allotted land in Oklahoma. These descendents are the Fort Sill Apache Nation of today. It’s interesting to think about how history might have been written differently for the Chiricahua if Taza had returned home.

Taza’s grave remained unmarked until the American Indian Society of Washington designed a marker bearing his image and erected it in 1971. At the time, the image was thought to be Taza. Today, there are no known photographs of Taza and the image used for the marker is not the leader.

—Rachael Cassidy (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma)

Rachael Cassidy is a Cultural Interpreter at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.



  1. Chiricahua perspective and historical expertise provided by Michael Darrow, Tribal Historian for the Fort Sill Apache Nation in Oklahoma with April Darrow, Director of Cultural Programs
  2. Diplomats in Buckskin by Herman Viola (1995)
  3. “Hear me my Chiefs” quote from a speech by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce
  4. Encyclopedia of Native American Wars and Warfare (2005)
  5. Cochise by Melissa Schwarz (1992)
  6. Indian Affairs Law and Treaties; Pt 3 Executive Orders Relating to Indian Reserves. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/kappler/Vol1/HTML_files/ARI0801.html#az
  7. Interpretation and historical insight provided by Ramsey Weeks, NMAI Cultural Interpreter.

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January 04, 2013

Introducing "Buried History"—Edition 1: Foul Play

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An early photo of Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Senate.gov)

Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., contains 55,000 burials, or “residents” as they are affectionately known by cemetery staff. Here, people who have shaped our nation in various and colorful ways are buried beneath roughly 10,000 tombstones, meaning most of the interred do not have individual markers. Many people are buried under large family markers or don't have any identification at all.

The cemetery was founded in 1807, two miles behind the Capitol. Before refrigeration and embalming techniques were invented, people had to be buried close to where they passed away and quickly due to health concerns. American Congressmen were among the first to be buried in the cemetery because of its proximity to the Capitol building. The most famous tombstone there is the “cenotaph,” used to mark more than 100 plots that were reserved for the country’s first lawmakers. At the time, some Congressmen joked that the idea of being buried beneath the hideous cenotaphs made death “that much more terrifying.” Nevertheless, the name “Congressional Cemetery” has stuck even after most congressmen were no longer buried on its grounds.  Now privately maintained, it still holds evidence of great U.S. history. The cemetery accepts burials today; though it almost always takes an act of Congress.

Lesser known inhabitants include the 36 Native American leaders, diplomats and tribal members who reside on the cemetery grounds, many of whom ended up there after falling ill during visits to the nation’s capital to fight for rights, negotiate treaties or settle debts owed to them. But two of the cemetery’s residents died under mysterious circumstances, most likely homicide. These two cases remain unsolved, reminding us of the tension between Native Nations and the federal government in the 19th century. Washington D.C. was a hostile environment for Native peoples in the 1800s.


Portrait of Kangiduta (Scarlet Night, also known as Scarlet Crow or Scarlet Raven; Dakota [Eastern Sioux]), Washington, D.C. February 1867. Photo by A. Zeno Shindler. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P00589).


Scarlet Crow (Kan Ya Tu Duta) of the Wahpeton Sisseton Sioux Tribe is one of the unsolved murder cases. Crow was adamantly against the treaty his nation was in Washington D.C. to sign. On Feb. 24, 1867, he disappeared from the barracks where his delegation was staying on New York and 19th streets. His fellow tribesmen were immediately concerned and requested an official search. An ad was placed in the lost-and-found section of the Washington Chronicle containing his description and a reward for information leading to his return. Two weeks after his disappearance, his remains were reported in the woods near the Aqueduct Bridge (today the Key Bridge) in Arlington, Virginia. According to the papers published by the University of North Dakota in 2006, his remains were found by a man named John Birch and a boy named Joseph Golden who were searching for a lost cow. They reported the body to a county officer who claimed the reward and reported it to Indian Agent Joseph Brown. (Read Senator Byron L. Dorgan's tribute to Scarlet Crow).

Crow appeared to have hung himself from a branch with a strip of his own green, three-point blanket. Agent Brown on the scene noted that the knots in the blanket were not the kind used by Native people. The rest of the blanket was tucked in around Crow’s body, suggesting someone else had been there. Additionally, the branch couldn’t support the weight of a small child. He appeared to have been well-fed and only recently deceased. The Indian Agent suspected that people who had reported the body were responsible and advised against paying the reward. The Agent didn't want to set a precedent of paying rewards for dead Native delegates, but he also did not want to accuse them without evidence so the reward was paid. The short-lived investigation ended, and suicide remains the official cause of death. Scarlet Crow’s son, Sam Crow, petitioned Congress for a headstone in 1912. Congress finally placed a marker on his grave in 1916 -- 49 years after his death. (Read Crow's obituary).

An photo of Ut-Sin-Milikan’s barely legible tombstone in Congressional Cemetery. Ut-Sin-Milikan’s killer remains unknown. (Photo courtesy of Flickr).

Buried next to Scarlet Crow is a second murder case: Ut-Sin-Malikan of the Nez Perce Nation. The soft earth caused the headstones sink over time. The top of his headstone now barely pokes up through the marshy ground; his namely is nearly illegible. Ut-Sin-Malikan signed Treaties with the U.S. in 1855 and 1863. He was against the further division of Nez Perce land when he arrived in Washington in 1868. He became ill and was shoved to his death from his hotel window.

These are a few of the stories that show a long political relationship between Native Nations and the U. S. government. It is appropriate that the evidence of this history is buried in one of the oldest cemeteries in Washington D.C. These leaders are buried alongside Congressmen, the first woman to run for president, and the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They remind us as a nation that we come from many backgrounds, perspectives and cultures. This is the history that made America the country it is today. These men deserve to be remembered as part of that history.


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A recent photo of the Congressional Cemetery's infamous cenotaphs. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

Often in U.S. history books, the Native story is untold, or buried beneath a shuffle of images and brief comments. This ongoing series hope to bring some of these stories to light.

Future editions of Buried History will explore: Chiefs buried on the site, 14 Cherokee who are buried according to their political beliefs, and stories about some of the Native children resting on the site. Share your thoughts with us on the comments below. What are some of the buried stories where you live?

—Rachael Cassidy (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma)

Rachael Cassidy is a Cultural Interpreter at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.


Washington Chronicle Newspaper, February 1867

Congressional Cemetery Records: www.congressionalcemetery.org  

Rebecca Roberts, program director, Congressional Cemetery 

Diplomats in Buckskin: A History of Indian Delegations in Washington City, Herman J. Viola,1995

Garcia Papers, University of North Dakota, 2006

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I would like to know who killed Ut-Sin-Malikan, and if the killer was brought to justice.

Fantastic work. I cannot wait for the next installment.

Actually, anyone can be buried at Congressional, and it certainly doesn't take an Act of Congress. As we like to say, we are open to Presidents and Residents alike. Many thanks for an interesting piece!

Hello Quinn. Thank you for your question! Most of the historical accounts simply state that Ut Sin Malikan died because he was ill. Accounts that cite the murder include a book called "Hear Me My Chiefs," as well as tribal and family history. My understanding is there wasn't much of an investigation. We don't know why this killer was not brought to justice. Here are a couple of possible reasons: At this time in history, Native people were not considered human beings. It wasn't until the trial of Standing Bear, in 1877, that Native people were declared human. Additionally, Native people were not U.S. citizens. There were complications around conducting murder trials for non-citizens. There isn't much else known about Ut Sin Malikan. The Nez Perce people do make a point to visit his grave. He is remembered and honored by his people. I am glad that you found his story interesting and hope that his memory will honored by all Americans.
~ Rachael Cassidy, NMAI

March 01, 2011

The Osage Murders: Oil Wealth, Betrayal and the FBI’s First Big Case


Osage Dance Hall
The Osage Indian Reservation was founded in 1870. When the Osage Tribal Roll was closed on July 1, 1907, there were just 2,229 residents listed. (Photo courtesy of the FBI)


One of the most dangerous places in the United States in the early 1920s was the Osage Indian Reservation in eastern north-central Oklahoma. During a two-year stretch beginning in 1921, at least two-dozen Osage Indians died in increasingly peculiar ways, from suspicious suicides to explosions. Among the Osage, it came to be known as the “Reign of Terror.”

This black chapter in U.S. history is an incredible story of oil, greed and murder. The Osage Indians went from poverty to prosperity when huge petroleum reserves were discovered on a corner of their reservation. But the sudden wealth also brought great misery. Perhaps the most gruesome was the crime spree known as the Reign of Terror – one of the first homicide cases for the fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation. By the Bureau’s own account, the investigation into the Osage Indian murders remains one of the agency’s most complicated cases.

Anna Brown, a wealthy Osage Indian of Gray Horse, Okla., whose death in 1921 led to one of the first and most complicated investigations in the FBI’s history. (Photo courtesy of the FBI)

It began in May of 1921, when a group of hunters discovered the badly decomposed body of Anna Brown, an Osage woman, in a remote ravine in Osage County. At first, police chalked up her death to alcohol poisoning. Later an undertaker found a bullet wound in the back of her head. The same day the body of Charles Whitehorn, also Osage, turned up nearby. Two months later, Brown’s mother, Lizzie Kyle, died unexpectedly, her death blamed on bad whiskey.

Then in February 1923, Brown’s cousin Henry Roan was shot to death. The following month, Brown’s sister, Rita Smith, and her husband were killed when their house exploded. One by one, Osage people in the area died from violence or suspicious causes. As grief for the victims subsided, panic set in.

While it became increasingly clear that the deaths were homicides, local police seemed unable – or unwilling – to solve the crimes. Officers routinely overlooked unusual details when an Indian passed away. Even the local coroner seemed complicit. One victim’s body was mutilated so grotesquely during the autopsy that the cause of death could not be determined.

By the spring of 1923, the Osage community had developed such intense distrust of local authorities that the Tribal Council wrote to the FBI, an organization in its infancy, to ask for help.


Rita Smith, the Osage wife of W.E. Smith, photographed here with the couple’s servant, Nellie Brookshire. On March 10, 1923, a bomb explosion beneath the Smiths’ home killed Rita and Nellie instantly. Four days later, W.E. Smith died in the hospital. (Photo courtesy of the FBI)

When agents arrived at the reservation in the spring of 1923, they found a community so fearful that some residents had begun stringing lights around their homes, burning them from dusk until dawn, as if to ward off the evil that seemed to be menacing the tribe. The evil, it turned out, was closely connected with what might have seemed a great stroke of good fortune for the tribe. Oil was discovered on the reservation in the late 19th century, and by 1923, the reservation was dotted with 8,579 oil wells that annually netted $27 million, enough to make the region the richest oil-producer in the country. An act of Congress in 1906 gave each Osage person a “headright,” or share of the reservation’s natural resources, and in less than three decades, the Osage people had become among the wealthiest in the world. 

The tribe’s newfound affluence often prompted envy and disdain. “Osage Indians did not always ride in limousines, squat in blankets among Grand Rapids furniture and generally give a pathetically good imitation of nouveaux riches the world over,” Time magazine reported in 1932. In the bestselling 1929 novel Cimarron, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edna Ferber wrote about members of the tribe driving limousines and leaving them where they crashed.

The ravine at Three Mile Creek near Fairfax, Okla., where a hunting party discovered the body of wealthy Osage Indian Anna Brown in May 1921. (Photo courtesy of the FBI)

The Osages’ wealth also attracted the worst kind of settlers: conmen, schemers and thieves. To prevent swindles on the Osage people, the government appointed guardians to people deemed “incompetent” to handle their finances. But the guardians were sometimes no better. Some 93 percent of tribal funds held in government trust went toward the costs of administering the guardianship system. A government study estimated that by 1924 nearly 600 guardians had swindled some $8 million in Osage oil funds.

And with its dense forests and vast stretches of inaccessible canyons, Osage County – which is about the size of Delaware – became an ideal hideout for criminals on the run. According to the FBI, one Oklahoma prison inmate would later recall a gathering in the early 1920s during which more than thirty notorious bank robbers and train bandits met to swap stories and tricks of the trade. Lawyers flocked to the reservation offering underhanded contracts; entrepreneurs sought dubious business loans and single men came looking for love.

William K. Hale refused to talk with the press about the charges he faced, telling a New York Times reporter in 1926, “I will try my case in the courts and not in the newspapers.” Meanwhile, even from his jail cell in Guthrie, Okla., Hale tried to destroy the prosecution’s case by bribing, intimidating and even murdering the government’s witnesses. (Photo courtesy of the FBI)

William K. Hale, christened the “King of Osage Hills,” was one of thousands of white ranchers who flocked to the area during the Oklahoma Land Rush that followed the passage of The General Allotment Act of 1887. The legislation removed reservation land from communal ownership and allotted parcels to individuals within each tribe. (The bill also permitted giving any “surplus” land to non-Indians.) Government officials had hoped land ownership would help Native Americans to assimilate. Instead it resulted in the loss of millions of acres of tribal land through leases given to white settlers like Hale, who, according to legend, earned his fortune by insuring his 30,000-acre plot and then ordering his ranch hands to torch it. Though Hale portrayed himself as a pillar in the community, he had developed a reputation for corruption and became an early suspect. Hale’s nephew, Ernest Burkhart, was married to Anna Brown’s sister, who had inherited nearly $2 million in oil rights following the untimely deaths of family members. Moreover, less than a week after Henry Roan’s death, Hale tried to cash in on a $25,000 life-insurance policy on Roan’s life. Incredibly, Hale served as one of Roan’s pallbearers.

From 1923 to 1925, the FBI interviewed more than 150 people, and four special agents worked undercover on the case. Much of the evidence they gathered, however, was unsubstantiated rumor. Despite FBI declarations about explosive revelations, the fledgling agency seemed to be as interested in attracting attention to boost their budget as they were in catching a killer. The investigation dragged on for months. At one point local newspapers reported that the agents had actually left town.

Finally, in January 1926, authorities took Hale’s nephew into custody. At gunpoint, Burkhart revealed his uncle’s elaborate scheme to consolidate the oil rights of Burkhart’s Osage in-laws. Hale had also devised an elaborate scheme to consolidate and inherit Osage headrights. First, he convinced his nephew Ernest Burkhart to marry an Osage woman, Mollie Kyle. He then arranged for her family – Anna Brown, Lizzie Kyle, Rita Smith and Henry Roan – to be dispatched one by one so that she and Burkhart would inherit the family’s wealth.


The ranch of William K. Hale, whose worth at the time of his arrest was said to be half a million dollars. According to author Dennis McAuliffe Jr., Hale earned much of his fortune by insuring his Osage pastureland for $1 an acre and then ordering his ranch hands to torch 30,000 acres one night. (Photo courtesy of the FBI)

The plot included a local bootlegger and a convicted burglar who was released from jail by bribed guards to commit several murders. He then secretly returned to his cell, creating the perfect alibi. Special agents also discovered that Burkhart had been slowly poisoning his wife all along. If she had passed away, Burkhart would have inherited the Osage family’s entire fortune. And, of course, in the event of Burkhart’s death, Hale would have been next in line. Hale was tried four times before a Federal District court finally convicted him in 1929. For the dozens of murders he allegedly orchestrated, Hale was found guilty of just one – the death of Henry Roan – and he was paroled in 1947. The rest of the homicides remain cold cases. 

Burkhart was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the murders of the Smith family. He was paroled in 1959. In 1965, the governor of Oklahoma, Henry Bellmon, granted Burkhart a full pardon. The Osage Nation would ultimately pay the FBI $21,509.19 for the bureau’s investigation.


Molly Stephey is a Senior Writer for American Indian magazine and a Public Affairs Producer at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

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one of the greatest mystery in FBI history.