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Expert says bones are remains of at least three people

By Wilson Ring
Montpelier, Vermont (AP) 11-07

An expert who examined a number of old bones discovered in Brownington, Vermont, that were thought to have come from a Colorado Indian massacre in 1854 said the remains are of at least three individuals.

But the lack of front teeth in any of the jawbones made it impossible to determine immediately the ethnicity of the bones, said the report by David Skinas, a Montpelier-based archaeologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In a brief report, Skinas said the bones should be examined by a forensic anthropologist from the University of Vermont to help determine their ethnic origin.

“Upon completion of the analysis arrangements should be made to repatriate the human remains to the appropriate group(s) in Colorado for proper treatment and reburial as soon as possible,” said Skinas’ report.

But Ralph Swett, the former auctioneer who discovered the bones 15 years ago after clearing out a Ryegate attic and then rediscovered them earlier this year, said no one from Colorado had contacted him to discuss sending the bones back.

“They think I’m going to do just what they tell me,” Swett said of his contacts with Vermont officials.

“It’s between me and them,” Swett said of Colorado officials. “Eventually they’re going to have to talk to me. I ain’t going to talk to no government man.”

Deborah Espinosa, the director of the El Pueblo History Museum, said the situation in Vermont was developing too fast.

“We have no doubt those bones should be brought back to Pueblo,” Espinosa said. “We don’t even know where they’ll be buried. Should there be a ceremony? Should it be quiet and dignified?”

She said the details of returning the bones to Colorado would be left to state archaeologist Susan Collins.

But Collins said no plans could be made until more was known about the origin of the bones.

“I’ve been waiting for the results of the physical analysis,” Collins said. “We’ll proceed from there once we have better knowledge and understanding of what we have.”

Skinas examined the bones on Monday along with Mark Mitchell, the chairman of the state Commission on Native American Affairs.

Swett found the bones in a box that had been among the items he took from a Ryegate attic almost 30 years ago. He didn’t open the box for about 15 years and then put them away and didn’t discover them again until earlier this year.

Writing on one of the skulls says it was dug up in Pueblo in 1888 during construction of a hotel on the site of the raid. About a dozen people, Indians and settlers, were killed during the Indian attack on the trading post that was then on the U.S. Mexican border.

It’s unclear if the bones belonged to American Indians or the settlers.

This summer Swett approached officials in Pueblo about what to do with the remains.

Skinas’ report of the 55 bones in Swett’s possession said there were two nearly complete skulls, a partial skull, three mandibles or jaw bones, and a variety of vertebra, foot, arm, and rib bones.