Buffalo pastor, councilman strive to bring back remains

By Don Springer
Charleston Gazette, December 13, 2001

This is the last of five articles dealing with the return of 664 Native American remains to their original burial sites near Buffalo, Putnam County
A sixth article dealing with reactions and subsequent events was added after this piece was published. It is linked below.
There it stands, all alone, looking rather forlorn in this large track of bottomland. We are speaking of one huge tree that once was surrounded by the graves of nearly 700 Native Americans. All were removed between 1930 and 1964.a few to unspecified places and a fate unknown today But 664 remain in crates at Ohio State University waiting to be reburied.

A number of people in the Town of Buffalo and its environs are working to make that happen sooner - not later. Among those are Mark Harris, a town councilman and president of the Buffalo Historical Society, and the Rev. Jay D. Parkins, pastor of the Buffalo United Methodist Church. Each, in his own way, is working on a problem associated with the reburial of these Native Americans.

Parkins has been most successful thus far in the financial area. Through his efforts the United Methodist. Church of West Virginia and its national organization have set aside $10,000 ($5,000 each) for the purpose of assisting in satisfying the costs associated with transferring the remains from Columbus, Ohio, to Buffalo and then returning them to Mother Earth. Parkins put a resolution before his fellow Methodists at a meeting several months ago and it was approved in late June. "The money is there when we need it," said Parkins.

AEP & Conservancy
That is not the only area in which he is providing leadership. The Buffalo minister is also working to bring the American Electric Power Company and the National Archeological Conservancy in Columbus together in an effort to acquire the acreage needed. AEP owns the property and the Conservancy is responsible for acquiring and protecting significant archeological sites across the country. The track record of the Conservancy has been good in acquiring the needed tract of land. He believes he is close to getting representatives of the two groups together around a table for discussions.

Meanwhile, Harris finds himself working on the problem from two perspectives. First, as a Buffalo councilman, he sees this effort as something his community should be involved in "because it is the right thing to do." Second, he sees it as not only a social justice issue but something his community can bring to a successful conclusion with pride.

As president of the local historical society, he sees it as another important accomplishment for this historical town, with historical buildings and now a historical burial site (it would be the largest of its kind in the country).

"The Buffalo Site was a massive community in the late 17th century" he reminds. "As plans move forward to develop an inland port (another project in the works by the Putnam County Economic Development office) which will consume 292 acres from the town to the village site, we hope we will be able to acquire the land and develop it to honor these people that once lived in our area."

Harris' Vision
He continues. "We would like to build an educational building next to the highway to tell the story of the Native Americans and their village. We would like to develop a memorial park and return the remains from Ohio State and place any other bodies that might be found during the development of the port back into their sacred ground. We wish to work with the archeological community to study and learn more about these ancient people and develop this into something more than just a historical marker alongside the road."

"Will this happen?" he was asked.

"As president of the Buffalo Historical Society, I know our group can handle these goals. I know the Town of Buffalo and the local government is enthusiastic about the plan. Yes, it will happen," he concluded confidently.

Researched Since June
Work on this series began through a simple conversation with a few participants in the Native American Pow-Wow in St. Albans last June. First it was to be a single article, then a couple of articles and then this series.

It also became a tangled web that offered me a challenge on an interesting subject. The research took me through four states and discussions with perhaps three dozen people. There were dozens more out there I could not reach.

My research would indicate there is little reason to believe the reburials at Buffalo will not take place. The effort being put into the project will make it happen. Also, many tests have been run on these remains and it is hard to believe others are needed after 40 years of work. When it does happen, the emotions will let loose. Some will feel relief the issue is gone and they won't have to deal with it any longer. Others will just be glad it is over, as they are tired of hearing about it and working on it. Still others will feel great joy in seeing a project for which they gave so much come to a successful conclusion. Some will feel a little disappointed that "we didn't get all we wanted." A few detractors will simply fade away.

But the greatest emotion will be felt by one Nanticoke descendent who will probably be sitting alone, tears of joy running down her face. Go ahead and cry, Maggie Crawford, that day will be yours!

© 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