Obstacles hamper return of Native American remains to Buffalo

By Don Springer
Charleston Gazette, November 15, 2001

This is the first of five articles dealing with the return of 664 Native American remains to their original burial sites near Buffalo, Putnam County

For many years farming on the Wells farm upriver from the town of Buffalo, Putnam County became an unintentional archeological dig. Each time a plow entered the soil to develop furrows it would unearth Indian relics -some were human bones. How much of this occurred and what became of the relics removed is a part of our unknown history. Between 1930 and 1964, 664 Native American remains were removed from this site. The property ceased to be a farm years ago and was sold in the first half of the 20th century to Union Carbide Corporation. The current owner is American Electric Power. Efforts are being made to have AEP donate a portion of this large tract it owns between the Pliny Bridge and Buffalo for the reburial. Should the reburial take place, it is believed it would be the largest known Native American burial site in the United States.

The "Buffalo Site" is an archeological site placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The known excavations have occurred on three different occasions with the largest and best known being in 1963-64. It was found to include ancient villages and remains dating from the late Archaic Period (1920-250 B.C.) to as recent as the 1600s.

The 1960s work was done under the direction of the state's first archeologist, Dr. Edward V. McMichael. McMichael then worked in the Geological and Economic Survey office in Morgantown and took the better part of two years removing remains from the site.

Permanent Villages
From approximately 1500 to 1650 A.D., there were at least two permanent villages on the site with many remains unearthed. It is possible many more remain. Most of those human remains removed have been stored in boxes at Ohio State University for several years, after making at least three previous stops.

Transporting the remains from Ohio State to Buffalo for reburial sounds simple enough. However, it isn't. Before this can he done, a number of problems must be solved. Proper Native American approvals and assistance is required, property transactions must come about, the feelings and concerns of Native American descendants must be considered, agreements with Ohio State must come about, funds for the reburial must be raised, and, most importantly, laws enacted under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act must be observed.

The effort is also complicated somewhat because there are no federally recognized Native American tribes in West Virginia.

Many Involved
There are however, several individuals and organizations working diligently on this effort to make it happen. Some are providing research and legwork, others are providing, or pledging, financial or "in-kind" support, and others are providing moral and verbal support. Together they are dedicated to seeing that "returning the remains" comes about.

One individual who has dedicated hours upon hours working on the project is Mrs. Basil "Maggie" Crawford. Maggie, like her husband, has Native American ancestry. Basil has some Shawnee ancestry and Maggie descends from the Nanticoke Tribe. The remains now resting at Ohio State are believed to be mostly Shawnee. Over the past few years there have been few meetings at the local, county, or state level that has not had Crawford as one of the participants. Some of these meetings were called by her. When one discusses the "Buffalo Site," everyone involved seems to know Maggie Crawford.

Society and Town
Another having extensive involvement is Mark Harris, president of the Buffalo Historical Society and a Buffalo town councilman. Like Crawford, Harris sees the returning of the remains "the right thing to do." Through the leadership of Harris and others in the Buffalo area, the Historical Society and the Town of Buffalo are providing whatever support they can to bring this project to fruition.

Others having some responsibility or interest in this project include community, industrial and state organizations as well as out-of-state archeologists, anthropologists and historical scholars. The list includes but not necessarily limited to: AEP, the West Virginia Culture and Arts Commission, State Historical Preservation Office, the Ohio State University, including Dr. Paul Sciulli, a professor of Physical Anthropology who currently is responsible for the care of the remains, the Economic Development Authority of Putnam County, the Methodist Church in West Virginia, and Dr. Seamus Metress of the University of Toledo. Metress had responsibility for the remains for several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

For many years the remains have been referred to as the "Buffalo 600," with 562 remains being removed in the early 1960s. Sciulli reported a few weeks ago he currently has 664 remains under his care, not 562.

While doing research for this series, no one indicated they believed the remains should not be returned and reburied. There are some disagreements but they are in the area of "how" rather than "if" the event should develop.

© 2001 Don Springer. All rights reserved. Used with permission
Don Springer may be reached on the Internet at touchlife@worldnet.att.net

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CWVA's Introduction to the Buffalo Village Series
Part 1: Obstacles hamper return of Native American remains to Buffalo
Part 2: Many hands involved in excavating remains
Part 3: Remains transported state to state for study
Part 4: Local woman labors to bring back ancestors' remains
Part 5: Buffalo pastor, councilman strive to bring back remains
Part 6: Positive and negative feedback on the 'Remains' series