A team of Army officials and anthropologists is working in Cumberland County to exhume the remains of three Native American boys from the Northern Arapaho Native American Tribe.

The boys died in the 1880s, at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School — part of a program that separated native children from their families to forcibly assimilate them into American culture.

But they’ll soon be laid to rest back at home — for good.

The school in Carlisle has long been closed. Its former campus is now home to the US Army War College, but its cemetery—the final resting place of Native American children who died there—remains.

This week, it’s closed to the public and surrounded by tall, black fencing.

Art Smith, the Army’s project manager, said that is in deference to the Northern Arapaho tribe members and elders who made the trip from Wyoming to observe the disinterment.

“We are doing this process with the utmost dignity and respect for the tribe,” he said. “We honor their privacy.”

The three boys — Horse, Little Chief and Little Plume — are among 181 natives buried in the cemetery.

Conditions were harsh at the school; most likely died from infectious disease.  

Susan Rose, author of a book about the Carlisle School, noted the disinterment dredges up memories of the profound cultural loss “Indian schools” caused across the country.

“They were not allowed to speak their language, they were put in military uniforms. Their traditions and their cultures and beliefs — it was an attempt to really eradicate those, and eradicate their Indian-ness,” she said.
“As in wartime, where [soldiers] may not talk about their experiences because they’re too painful — that was the case also for many of the students who were at Carlisle.”

The exhumation is being done with shovels and no machinery. Anthropologists are on-hand to analyze the remains.

When the process is finished, tribe members will transport the boys back to the Wyoming tribal land where they were born. They’ll be re-buried at the Wind River Reservation.