Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thriller Thursday - Held Autopsy On Squaw While Men Held War Dance

Clovis Evening News-Journal
Clovis, Curry, New Mexico
Saturday, February 16, 1935
Clovis Physician Tells Club Of Harrowing Experiences In Early Days In Indian Region
-Held Autopsy On Squaw While Men Held War Dance -
Court Had Ordered Probe Of Death of Woman Who Was Thought Murdered
(The following is an interesting reminiscence related to the New Mexico club at its luncheon yesterday, by Dr. F. A. Dillon, former government Indiana physician.)
     When one can hardly turn a corner in New Mexico without encountering something which would make an interesting subject for our club, I feel a little like apologizing for offering a personal experience.  Yet I know that our club "will little care nor long remember this."
     Some 18 or 20 miles up the Rio Grande from Albuquerque is the little Indian village of San Felippe, or at least it was there some 25 years ago when I had the adventure of which I am to relate.  The Indians of this village were sullen and backward and slow in adopting the white man's ways.  They resented the schools and the white teachers and all the efforts made by our government to better their condition.  Their wish was to be let alone, that they might  --- as their fathers had lived before them.  However, they had ---- at school
. . . Rio Grande at this time was high from the melting snow in the mountains.
     Arriving at the school house, we found that all of the able bodied men were up the river some four or five miles working on the ditches and the village was deserted, save for the old men, women and children.  A few of the old men were rounded up and informed of our mission.  They retired to a nearby house and after some time sent a spokesman to say that if there was any digging in the graveyard, someone would die.  Right then I began to wish that I were in Dixie.  I was just then on the the eve of a glorious career and I had no desire to have some bad Indian nip it in the bud.
     The sheriff explained that we would take up the body only for examination; we would then replace it, and fill the grave as we had found it.  They would hear to none of this and grew more sullen and defiant.  We had spent much time without getting any place.  The sheriff told them that he was a servant of the court and must obey his orders; that he had a court order to take up the body for examination and that he was going to follow his instructions.  The sheriff then called upon the school teachers to designate the grave and ordered his diggers to make ready with the shovels.  Business picked up, but only momentarily.  The teachers were unable to be sure about the grave; said it might be this one or that one, and finally they could not say, with any degree of certainty, which one it might be.
     ------- degree of protection should the hostilities conclude to descend upon us.  We found a few boards and made a table and spread out our instruments and awaited the coming of the body.  We were surprised at the short time that it took those diggers to resurrect the body and place it on our table.  The body was wrapped in a heavy Navajo blanket and, upon unrolling it, several loaves fell out.  One of the Mexican grave robbers said, "Ugh!  Pretty soon hungry."  The two teachers were called in and identified the body and business for us then picked up.
     Under favorable circumstances we could have done the autopsy in one hour, but under those which were forced upon us, it took nearly three hours.  The last hour was by candle light.  The Indians withdrew to the nearby hills and started the most unearthly war dance that I have ever experienced.  All during the autopsy the beat of the tom-toms and drums and the weird shrieks of the dancers dinned in our ears and made us the more nervous.
     We found the woman's neck broken and many body discolorations and port-mortem settlings all of which might have been post-mortem as the body was dumped into a deep grave and the dirt pounded down with heavy stones.  It was necessary that we make a careful examination as the results were likely to be court evidence.  So far we had found only a broken neck which we could hardly expect a New Mexico court to hold as sufficient cause for death.
     Upon removing the skull cap we found a most interesting brain tumor the size of a hen's egg together with a brain hemorrhage.  The hemorrhage alone could have accounted for her death.  According to the evidence in the case as it later developed, there was probably an ordinary family fuss such as might develop in a Presiding Elder's home.  The man struck his wife on the head with a stick of wood and she fell dead in her tracks.  The brain hemorrhage was doubtless the direct and immediate cause of death and under the circumstances, a slight blow might have been all that was necessary to cause death.
     Darkness was upon the face of the deep when our work was finished.  We turned the body back to the grave robbers and gathered our instruments together.  The grave robbers spent little time in replacing the body and refilling the grave.  By the time we were ready to depart we were conscious that the whole village was filled with Indians.  Eyes were peeping around every corner.  I wasn't in shape to reason then, but since I have thought that they sent men to watch us, to see that the body was replaced, and to see that we did not carry away any part of it.
     Everything ready, we started for the footbridge.  Dr. Keck carried a grip with instruments, and a cloth bag containing a pair of scales and a few other things.  As I think of it now, the cloth bag may have looked a little suspicious and they probably thought it contained some of the woman's anatomy.  The Indians followed us so closely that I could feel their hot breath on the back of my neck.  The bridge that had offered so much trouble in the morning was taken with a hop, skip, and a jump, and I would have been glad had it been burned behind me.