Moving the dead

While the rest of Private Smith’s remains were still missing, it occurred to Reclamation archaeologists that there more bodies could still be in the Fort Craig cemetery. It was a good hunch.

Using ground penetrating radar, the investigators discovered what they estimated to be about two dozen undisturbed graves, presumably containing human remains. Those initial estimates, however, would prove to be low. While the graves were left unmolested for nearly a century, this forgotten cemetery was still vulnerable to looting. Upon discovering the inhabited graves that so far had been untouched, the Bureau of Reclamation initiated an ambitious project to excavate the graves to move the remains to a more secure burial place.

For six weeks, government and private archaeologists worked ten-hour days in 100-plus degree heat to carefully retrieve the remains and related artifacts found in their graves. As the researchers dug, their painstaking work yielded clues of the hardship and violence the Fort Craig inhabitants endured on this 19th century frontier outpost. In the end, the excavation would yield over sixty sets of remains. The dead included soldiers, but also men, women, and children – obviously civilians who lived at or near Fort Craig.

After careful analysis and documentation of these remains, they were reinterred in more secure surroundings. Among the repatriated remains were those of Pvt. Thomas Smith and two of his fellow buffalo soldiers. In July of 2009 these African American servicemen received a long overdue tribute in a military ceremony at the National Cemetery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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