SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The remains of a man who died young while touring the world with Buffalo Bill were hidden for more than a century in an unmarked grave about 1,700 miles from his South Dakota Indian reservation.
Now Albert Afraid of Hawk is returning home. He’ll be reburied today in accordance with Lakota tradition, thanks largely to a curious and persistent Connecticut history buff.
Bob Young uncovered records of the Oglala Sioux member’s June 1900 death at a Connecticut hospital after a bout with food poisoning. A few years ago, Young pieced the details together and reached out to Afraid of Hawk’s family members.
It’s something that should have happened a long time ago, but it didn’t, said Marlis Afraid of Hawk, 54, whose father, Daniel Afraid of Hawk, is Albert’s last living nephew.
Nobody even questioned where he is buried or where this person is. It was left at that.
Afraid of Hawk began traveling with Buffalo Bill’s world-famous troupe known as the Congress of Rough Riders of the World two years before he died at age 20.
He was among a rotating cast that helped educate and entertain thousands of spectators eager to hear firsthand accounts of life on the unruly terrain.
Performers who died during the show’s run were often buried in the city where they died, said Lynn Houze, assistant curator at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo.
Last month, Marlis Afraid of Hawk, Daniel Afraid of Hawk and other relatives traveled to Connecticut from their homes on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota to witness the disinterment of Albert’s remains.
Young, president of a museum in Danbury, Conn., had identified the location of Afraid of Hawk’s grave at a cemetery there.
At the start, it was just another research project, but each piece I came up with got me more interested, said Young, who was working at the cemetery at the time of the discovery.
It was a breakthrough for family members, who had been searching for decades. In the 1970s, they even traveled to Washington, D.C., to learn more about Afraid of Hawk’s death, returning with a picture but little information.
The team in Connecticut also recovered hair fibers, copper beads from an earring, a copper ring and six handles from Albert’s coffin. Now those remains are in South Dakota, where a wake and funeral will be held to allow Afraid of Hawk to enter the spirit world.