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Medora bones to be reburied: Human remains date back to the late 1800s

The human remains found Saturday a quarter mile west of Medora city limits are believed to be two Euro-Americans with possible ties to the Little Missouri River community more than a century ago.

The remains date back to between 1879 and 1886, said Paul Picha, North Dakota State Historical Society chief archeologist.

"North Dakota code requires they were left in place and law enforcement was called in case there was a need for a criminal investigation," he said. "The historical society was also contacted and went out Monday, along with the Department of Health. In the case that the remains were Native American, we also brought in the North Dakota Intertribal Reinterment Committee, but it was determined they weren't."

A contractor working on a project for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation unearthed the remains when relocating sand to another location.

The remains have since been released to the Billings County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Dave Jurgens confirmed.

The department and the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation will be responsible for reinternment of the remains in an unmarked cemetery.

"I can't tell you when the remains will be reburied," Jurgens said. "We want to make sure there are no more questions about the remains, so it may take time."

But he said it's unlikely that more than the nationality of the individuals will ever be known.

If the remains do harken back to the Little Missouri River community, though, they would be an important piece of Medora's history, said Medora Mayor Doug Ellison.

"The Little Missouri community is kind of a precursor to how Medora started," he said. "A lot of early day Medora businessmen moved over from the Little Missouri community. Eventually, in the 1880s, as Medora grew, the Little Missouri community disappeared. Medora would be a much different community without the Little Missouri community, but there's nothing of the Little Missouri community left above ground, except what the local museums reference about it."

Now the public knows there may be more remnants of the Little Missouri community below the surface, but Pica suggests they stay there until there is an investigation of the area.

Randy Hatzenbuhler, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, said there are no plans to disturb the sandy area where the remains were located.

"A contractor was just moving things from the sandy area and picked up the bones, and we didn't know they were out there because it's not an area anyone really goes to," he said. "We have no plans to do anything in that area that would disturb the land."

The most that could be done would be the placement of a marker to identify the land as an unmarked burial site.

"It's still so new and we probably will try to do some kind of identification, but there is no road or anything that will take people to it," Hatzenbuhler said. "Over time, as we have a chance to think about it, we might work with the state historical society to maybe put up rail fence around it and some simple signage to identify it as an unmarked, unnamed burial site from about 135 years ago."

He said this is the first burial site he's aware of on the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation's land.

"People have found artifacts while walking around in Medora, especially a little further west where they may pick up old wagon wheels or old shell casings, but to the best of my knowledge there has not been a discovery of a burial site like this made here before," Hatzenbuhler said. "This site is different, and we want to treat this area with respect and not disturb the site again."