Kaw nation forensic scientist Crystal Douglas performed a ground penetrating radar survey of the Bassett Grove Cemetery on Tuesday, August 25.
The survey took about three hours and Douglas was able to locate nineteen unmarked graves.
The cemetery had originally been located in a lower portion of land that is now covered by Grand Lake; the graves had been exhumed and moved to the new location above the bluffs.
The ground penetrating radar or ‘GPR’ unit that Douglas used was originally purchased for $4000. A replacement new model would run close to twice that amount.
The GPR scans a six-foot radius and fifteen feet deep as she pushes the three-wheeled transport across the ground.
Douglas began working for the Kaw Nation in 1998 when she worked on relocating Washunga Cemetery. Washunga was the last hereditary chief of the Kaw Nation, formerly called the Kanza tribe, the tribe for which the state of Kansas is named. He died in 1909.
Before beginning the August 25th survey, Douglas informed onlookers that anyone wearing steel-toed boots must walk behind her, as steel toes are the one outside influence that interferes with the readouts on the machine.
Prior to starting, she walked around the cemetery to take note of places that she suspected might contain unmarked graves.
A volunteer to followed her and place flags in the areas where she found unmarked graves.
Burial information on the cemetery has not been updated since 1969.
Some headstones located in the graveyard were not on the roster provided by the BIA to Sherry Mead of the Seneca Cayuga tribe’s environmental department.
Mead is hopeful that family members will be able to assist in the identification of the unmarked graves.
Several large trees grow in the center of the graveyard. Only one gave Douglas pause and she ran the GPR around it twice to be certain of her findings.
A cedar tree at at least 25 feet tall was growing out of the center of an unmarked grave; an orange flag was placed at the wide base to mark the gravesite.
Douglas was not shy about letting anyone interested in her work learn how it is done.
She laughed as she explained why she wears the pink framed glasses that have earned her some good-natured teasing from FBI agents and points out that the pink tinted lenses make it easier to see the screen in the sunlight.
She said her mother once asked her why she didn’t dress up when she knew that she would be filmed while working.
While the unit is stationary, the display shows straight lines of blue, green, red, yellow and black, when in motion, it shows disturbances in the ground caused by digging, large tree roots or in this case, coffins. Steel or copper coffins show up as a much bigger ‘bubble’ than do wooden coffins.
Douglas wears many hats. She is a Native American Graves Repatriation Act representative for the Kaw Nation of Kansas and the director and curator of their museum located in Kaw City, Kansas.
She is a graduate of Northeastern Oklahoma College and Wichita State University with bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. After graduation, she attended the British School of Archeology and took part in digs on the islands of Crete and Santorini, as well as in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
She has worked for many Indian tribes, the FBI and the DEA.
In one case she worked on for the DEA in Kingfisher, she discovered the remains of a woman and her children who had been killed after they stumbled on a drug lab. The bodies had been buried in a convertible that was also buried.
The largest site Douglas has worked on was at Ft. Gibson.
The story goes that a local Indian woman was to be married there to one of the men stationed at the fort.
The groom, family and friends were dressed in formal wear and the bride’s family had also worn their best traditional wedding finery. During the ceremony, a fight broke out between two Indians that culminated in the deaths of the bride and her entire family, the groom, his father and four of his commanding officers. The victims were all buried at the fort. Their graves were discovered when a survey was being done before a new building project was begun.
While digging that site up, Douglas and her team discovered a mass grave of over 400 bodies that were later found to have been victims of a typhoid outbreak at the fort.
Douglas said her job is never dull.