Smithsonian unearths Buffalo Soldier's story

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He was little more than a teenager, about 19 or 20 years old. Small and slight for warfare on the frontier, he had the delicate facial bones of a boy and had likely once been a slave.

He was a Buffalo Soldier: one of the legendary African American members of the U.S. Army who served at remote military outposts in the years after the Civil War.

But his grave outside an abandoned New Mexico fort had been violated. His bones were scrambled. And investigators think his skull, still with most of its hair, became a relic hunter's trophy before it was returned to authorities in a paper bag.

Last month, experts working at the Smithsonian Institution matched the young man's skull with a skeleton exhumed from the fort's cemetery, solving a gruesome mystery of looted graves, purloined artifacts, and life and death on the frontier.

It was part of a project of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and federal land, water and law enforcement agencies looking into the decadeslong ransacking of the cemetery outside Fort Craig, in New Mexico.

Federal officials shipped 39 sets of well-preserved remains last month from New Mexico to Washington. Scientists pored over the bones with microscopes, CT scanners, X-ray machines and digital measuring devices for insights into the lives of the fort's dead.

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