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Two men are accused of robbing burial site
Posted by Mikola 18 to NDN AIM
November 21, 2002
By PETER SHINKLE
Of the Post-Dispatch
"Robbing the graves of American Indians is lucrative, illegal and almost
impossible to stop, since the crime generally occurs in remote areas far
from police patrols.
But federal and local officers responding to a telephone tip did catch two
men in the act near Wappapello Lake in southeastern Missouri three months
ago, setting up a rare prosecution that could bring the pair 10 years in
Cynthia Jackson, assistant operations manager for the Army Corps of
Engineers at the lake, about 100 miles south of St. Louis, said other parks
and Corps regions across the country have problems protecting archaeological
"Every district in the nation has burial sites that are getting dug up,"
Jackson said in a recent interview. "We're the only ones who caught someone.
The anonymous call came Aug. 15 to the Corps, which manages the lake as part
of a 44,000-acre park in Wayne and Butler counties. Corps rangers, joined by
a Missouri conservation agent and Wayne County sheriff's deputies, drove to
a remote area near the lake and hiked a half mile through hilly terrain.
There they discovered the two men digging up an archaeological site, said
Alan Dooley, spokesman for the Corps. The officers arrested Steven S. Tripp
and William T. Cooksey as the two prepared to leave.
The men had about 15 arrowheads and artifacts in their possession, and Tripp
had several items in his shoes, said LeeAnn Summer, an attorney for the
Corps. The men had discovered human remains as they dug, but "they didn't
want those for some reason, so they put them in a pile out of their way,"
Both were indicted Oct. 24 on charges of destroying archaeological resources
on federal land and damaging federal property. The former charge carries a
maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $20,000 fine; conviction of the
latter carries a possible 10-year term and $250,000 fine.
Cooksey, 53, of Union, appeared in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau,
posted a $10,000 bond and pleaded not guilty. He could not be reached for
comment for this story. His attorney, Terry Flanagan, declined comment.
Tripp, for whom no age and address were available, remained at large, a
prosecutor on the case said.
The charges relate to the artifacts only, and would apply regardless of the
presence of the bones, officials said.
Corps officials placed a value of $14,000 on the damage they blamed on the
Summer said it was not determined from which culture the artifacts
originated. About 10 American Indian tribes, including the Cherokee, are
known to have lived near the lake, she said.
The destruction of archaeological sites nationwide occurs constantly, said
Patty Wright, assistant professor of anthropology at University of
The black market for artifacts is booming here, and they're popular in
Germany and Japan also, she noted.
A host of state and federal laws, including the U.S. Native American Grave
Protection and Repatriation Act, make it illegal to destroy graves or move
artifacts. It is legal to collect arrowheads and some other artifacts on
private property, Wright said. But it is illegal to disturb graves - whether
on private or public property - without first obtaining permission from
The laws have had little effect, she said.
"The problem from an archaeological standpoint is that you take them out of
their contexts, so you can no longer interpret anything about them or the
people who made them. You just wind up with the artifact itself," she said.
Since the illicit dig at Wappapello Lake was discovered, the Corps has
filled in the holes. But it has not put up signs warning people not to dig
there, out of fear of attracting attention to the site, Jackson said.
"We're checking it daily," she said.
"We take this seriously."
[Reporter Peter Shinkle:
E-mail: [email protected]
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