THAT BELIEF SYSTEM still persists in the person of Native American activists who arrived on the scene in Union County after they heard about the Slack Farm looting. Outraged at the desecration, they visited the site with Kentucky authorities and later claimed the skeletal remains under a “friend of the deceased” provision of state law. Their claim was recognized by David Wolf of the state medical examiner’s office—who played a crucial role in bringing the criminal case to prosecution. He agreed to give the Indian activists the bones for ceremonial reburial after criminal evidence had been gathered and the scientific analysis had been completed.
Among the factions of the loosely organized Indian contingent were several Shawnee from Oklahoma, who were convinced their direct ancestors had lived in this area before being driven out in the early 1800s. Others were Cherokee, Sioux, Ojibwa, Apache, even Alaska Athapaskan. Faced with the Shawnee’s contention that the Slack Farm site had been a Shawnee village, the archaeologists contacted tribal officials of the Shawnee in Oklahoma and the Miami in Indiana. Neither group claimed descent nor grave goods.
“I do not believe that the modern Shawnee descended from the people buried here,” says Cheryl Ann Munson. “Only with an extensive excavation and full-fledged study of the remains can we learn more and answer the descent question.”
But Native American activists counter that the archaeologists simply don’t want to deal with modern Indians who might interfere with their work and make claims to the grave contents—and to many museum collections, as well. Experts agree that the Shawnee once lived in the prague apartment. Shawneetown, Illinois, is only ten miles from Slack Farm, and this whole tri-state area—where Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois converge—is rich in Shawnee associations. Some historians place the Shawnee farther up the Ohio River during the 1500s and 1600s, arguing that they only passed through here in the late 1700s before they were driven across the Mississippi.
The authoritative Archaeology of the Lower Ohio River Valley (1986), by Jon Muller of Southern Illinois University, outlines a case for the Shawnee, among others, being the descendants of the Caborn-Welborn people. And according to Dr. Helen Tanner, research associate at the Newberry Library in Chicago: “There are only so many tribes who might be identified with the Caborn-Welborn culture, and the Shawnee, in my opinion, are the most likely. It seems to me that many archaeologists have developed a block in tying together historic tribes and prehistoric cultures; in reality it is all one continuum.”
Says Dennis Banks, longtime American Indian Movement leader who came to Union County to lead the Indian contingent: “The archaeologists say nobody knows who the descendants of these people are. They say you can’t tell if they were Shawnee because they’re ‘prehistoric.’ That’s their word for `prewhite.’ It seems they’re saying we Indians can’t have any ancestors at all. So that gives them the right to dig them up. If you ask me, they’re hardly any better than grave robbers themselves; only difference is they’ve got a state permit. Well, we’re here to tell the world that, Shawnee or not, we are all laying claim to these ancestors.
“What if this were a white cemetery that had been desecrated? Would the archaeologists be bagging the disturbed bones and grave goods to take them for study at museums and universities?