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SOHS repatriates Native American remains

It's taken 27 years but the Southern Oregon Historical Society finally has repatriated the last of its artifacts and remains taken from Native American graves.

SOHS last week turned over the human teeth and nearly 400 other artifacts from its so-called "Snavely Collection" taken in 1952 from a gravesite along the Little Applegate River near Buncom and given that year to the historical society.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians put in a claim for the collection two years ago as part of a federal process designed to repatriate such items to tribes. Tribal representatives last week traveled to Medford and took possession of the collection, according to SOHS.

"It's certainly a landmark," says Tina Reuwsaat, SOHS' associate curator of collections. "It's been sitting on the shelves so long and I wanted to get it off the books."

The items were discovered by O.N. Snavely while mining on private lands. In addition to the teeth, there were nearly 367 associated funerary objects, most of which were shells or beads.

The funerary items included a stone on which grain was ground, two metal cow bells, metal powder flask, rusted frying pan, copper cooking pan; a white saucer, a wood knife handle, a large knife with a curved blade, two tablespoons, pieces of a pocket watch, two bullet molds, seven small bells, a knife blade with beads attached, an elk tooth with a drilled hole, two gold rings, four uniform buttons, six small glass medicine bottles, more than 100 shells, 96 thimbles, 86 white shell beads and five separate bags of beads.

The funerary items were "reasonably believed" to have been placed with or near individual human remains at the time of death or later as part of a death rite or ceremony, according to a 2012 notice published in the Federal Register.

A study by archaeologist Ted Goebel, an assistant professor of anthropology at Southern Oregon University, determined the remains were Native American.

The collections was "deaccessioned" from the museum's collection in 1987 as required by a new state law and the society began to repatriate it and other items associated with Native American graves under 1990's Native American Graves Protection and Repatration Act.

The collection ended up in SOHS's storage facility in White City.

"They were put away and forgotten about," Reuwsaat said.

Over the years, a the historical society tried several times to offer the collection for repatriation, but for varying reasons SOHS and a willing tribe had never been put together, Reuwsaat said.

"Changes in staff, a lot of paperwork, lots of hoops to jump through and tribes not responding," she said.

That was until the 2012 Federal Registry publication ended up getting the Siletz tribe involved..

"Up until this last go-around, no one's ever claimed them," Reuwsaat said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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One large knife, rusted, curved blade, is part of the Snavely collection, found , in a grave on the Little Applegate River near Buncom at the mouth of Carberry Creek. Photos Courtesy of The Southern Oregon Historical Society.
97 dentalia shells are part of the part of the Snavely collection, found , in a grave on the Little Applegate River near Buncom at the mouth of Carberry Creek. Photos Courtesy of The Southern Oregon Historical Society.