SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) _ Legend has it that Yale University's ultrasecret Skull and Bones society swiped the remains of American Indian leader Geronimo nearly a century ago from an army outpost in Oklahoma, and now Geronimo's great-grandson wants the remains returned.
Harlyn Geronimo, of Mescalero, N.M., wants to prove the skull and bones that were purported spirited from the Indian leader's burial plot in Fort Sill, Okla., to a stone tomb that serves as the club's headquarters are in fact those of his great-grandfather.
If so, he wants to bury them near Geronimo's birthplace in southern New Mexico's Gila Wilderness.
``He died as a prisoner of war, and he is still a prisoner of war because his remains were not returned to his homeland,'' said Harlyn Geronimo, 59. ``Presently, we are looking for a proper consecrated burial.''
If the bones aren't those of Geronimo, Harlyn Geronimo is certain they belonged to one of the Apache prisoners who died at Fort Sill. He said they should still be returned.
Harlyn Geronimo sent a letter last year to President Bush, asking for his help in recovering the bones. He figures since the president's grandfather, Prescott Bush, was allegedly one of those who helped steal the bones in 1918, the president would want to help return them to their rightful place.
But Harlyn Geronimo said: ``I haven't heard a word.''
The White House did not respond to messages asking for comment.
Both President Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, attended Yale and joined the elite club. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, is also a Bonesman, as are many other men in powerful government and industry positions.
Members are sworn to secrecy, one reason they won't say whether the club has Geronimo's bones.
``The reason there's all these conspiracy theories around Skull and Bones is because their loyalty to one another goes beyond their public differences,'' said historian and former Yale Alumni Magazine editor Marc Wortman.
Skull and Bones is one of a dozen secret Yale societies, according to Yale spokeswoman Gila Reinstein.
``If it's true about the bones, that's disrespectful and disturbing,'' she said.
John Fryar, a retired Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent in antiquities recovery and a member of Acoma Pueblo, said if the secret society does have remains, they should be returned to Fort Sill.
``To ignore a request like this for the return of human remains is totally uncalled for. Look at our guys going to Vietnam to recover remains. It's the same thing,'' he said.
For Harlyn Geronimo, this is the beginning of what he assumes will be a long fight and he's preparing in a traditional way.
Six months ago, he and a group of fellow medicine men traveled to Fort Sill and to the Gila Wilderness for prayer ceremonies.
Before any major endeavor, Harlyn Geronimo said, it's typical to hold ``a prayer session that will guide us in the right direction.''
Harlyn Geronimo grew up hearing stories about his great-grandfather and other Apache warriors who fought relentlessly against the Mexican and U.S. armies.
After their families were captured and sent to Florida, Geronimo and 35 warriors finally surrendered to Gen. Nelson A. Miles near the Arizona-New Mexico border in 1886. Geronimo was eventually sent to Fort Sill, where he died of pneumonia in 1909.
Harlyn Geronimo has said he wants to the world to know that the famed Indian fighter was also a healer and spiritual leader.
``Yes, he was a great warrior. At one time a quarter of the entire United States Army was after him _ along with 500 scouts and 3,000 men from the Mexican Army _ and they still couldn't find him,'' Harlyn Geronimo said.
``They had their top athletes involved in tracking him but they couldn't keep up. He was a great military strategist. But many people don't know about his spiritual side.''
Harlyn Geronimo wants to create a 12-foot bronze of his great-grandfather to be placed at the warrior's birthplace in the Gila. He also would like to see a new biography of Geronimo that incorporates sound historical research and also mines the wealth of information still available from living family members.
``We have a lot of oral history that has been passed down to us that has never been published,'' he said.