EFFIGY MOUNDS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Iowa -- A former National Park Service Superintendent of Effigy Mounds National Monument pled guilty to stealing ancient Native American remains.
Thomas A. Munson 76, of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin was sentenced on Friday, July 8, for taking the remains of more than 40 Native Americans. The charges and investigation have been long-running. While serving as the Monument’s head ranger he "voluntarily, intentionally and knowingly removed prehistoric skeletal remains," said Iowa's Northern District US Attorney's Office.
During the sentencing, the judge noted that "there can be no explanation for what (Munson) did." Munson took the remains in 1990, concealing them in his garage for more than two decades. A large portion of the remains (2,135 whole and fragmentary human remains) were severely damaged during their time spent in Munson’s garage. Munson had them stored in bags and boxes. The remains are expected to be restored and returned to the tribes affiliated with Effigy Mounds National Monument, as appropriate (see list below).
The elderly Munson was sentenced to one year of house arrest, 10 consecutive weekends in jail, 100 hours of community service, $108,905 in restitution and a fine of $3,000.
Munson served as the Monument Superintendent for more than 20 years, beginning in 1971. “As an NPS employee he was entrusted with preserving and protecting this site, considered sacred by many affiliated Native American tribes.” The National Park Service said in a press release.
"It is a very sad day when a public official betrays the public's trust," said US Attorney Kevin Techau. "This was a serious crime and the betrayal was compounded by a violation of the most sacred trust placed in Mr. Munson as the Superintendent of Effigy Mounds National Monument."
Area tribes, many of whom consider the monument to be sacred, were shocked to learn of the charges and treatment of their ancestors. "These are people," said Iowa's state archaeologist John Doershuk, "and there are living peoples who care deeply about these remains, just as most modern Americans would about their ancestors."
The monument protects over 200 mounds. The mounds are between 700 and 2,500 years old and are perhaps best known now for their shapes (representing animals and birds). It is thought they were constructed to honor the dead, or for other purposes yet to be discovered.
Tribes which are affiliated with Effigy Mounds National Monument:
Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
Flandeau Santee Sioux
Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska
Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma
Lower Sioux Indian Community
Ponca Tribe of Nebraska
Prairie Island Indian Community
Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska
Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma
Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa
Santee Sioux Nation
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of Minnesota
Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Upper Sioux Indian Community
Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska
Yankton Sioux Tribe