Man punished for removing remains from Wilsons’ Creek

From the Kansas City Star:

Springfield man admits taking bones from Civil War battlefield
Springfield man to pay $5,351 after taking battlefield bones.

By Brian Burnes

These days, it’s rare to find bones on a Civil War battlefield.

It’s rarer still when a visitor pilfers those remains.

But that’s what happened last year at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield near Springfield, authorities said Wednesday. A collector of Civil War artifacts riding a canoe down Wilson’s Creek spotted a bone jutting from an eroded creek bank and stopped for an impromptu — and illegal — dig.

On Tuesday, Coy Matthew Hamilton, 31, of Springfield, signed a diversion agreement to avoid federal prosecution. He promised to pay $5,351 in restitution and perform 60 hours of community service. He’ll work alongside National Park Service rangers at Wilson’s Creek, site of the Aug. 10, 1861, battle — a Confederate victory considered the first major engagement in the Civil War’s western theater.

Hamilton couldn’t be reached for comment. But Michelle Law, an assistant federal public defender who represented Hamilton, said he was eager to make things right.

“My client has every intention of following through with the agreement he’s made with the federal government,” she said.

Hamilton admitted to investigators that he found the remains while canoeing with a friend in February 2011.

Described in case documents as an “avid, self-taught amateur archaeologist who routinely spends his free time hunting for artifacts,” Hamilton set out in the canoe after recent heavy rains, as he “knew from experience that this could reveal archaeological artifacts.”

On the afternoon of Feb. 27, Hamilton and a companion spotted a bone sticking out of an embankment. “Hamilton excavated two femur bones and pieces of a pelvis,” according to a report.

His companion urged him to stop, “but Hamilton’s enthusiasm was too strong.”

Several days later, Hamilton sent the bones, through an intermediary, to the National Park Service, which administers the battlefield.

Investigators soon figured out who he was….

Mike Calvert, president of the Civil War Round Table of Western Missouri, has heard anecdotal stories of possible trench graves or unmarked burial sites connected to Civil War actions near the Little Blue River in eastern Jackson County.

But he’s never heard of any local incident like this.

“It definitely should not be done,” Calvert said, referring to such scavenging. “Not just because it is a National Park Service site, but there is also such a thing as the consecrated dead.

“This man should have known better.”

Mr. Hamilton indeed got off with light punishment, all things considered. He set out to find something, selecting a time when he expected things to surface. Although he later returned the remains, the fact is he removed them. Could professional archeologists have determined more if the site not been disturbed? There’s no way to tell.

There are many old taboos that are broken as routine. Disturbing the resting place of the dead shouldn’t be one of them.