Published: April 9, 2008
Working in secret, federal archaeologists have dug up the remains of dozens of soldiers and children near a Civil War-era fort in south-central New Mexico after an informant tipped them off about widespread grave looting. The exhumations, conducted from August to October, removed 67 skeletons from the desert soil around Fort Craig — 39 men, 2 women and 26 children, according to two federal archaeologists who helped with the dig. They also found scores of empty graves and determined that 20 had been looted. The government kept its exhumation of the unmarked cemetery near the historic fort out of the public’s eye for months to prevent more thefts. The investigation began with a tip about an amateur historian who had displayed the mummified remains of a black soldier, draped in a Civil War-era uniform, in his house. Investigators say the historian, Dee Brecheisen, may have been a prolific looter who spotted historical sites from his plane. Mr. Brecheisen died in 2004, and although it was not clear whether the looting continued after his death, the authorities exhumed the unprotected site to prevent future thefts. The remains are being studied by Bureau of Reclamation scientists, who are piecing together information on their identities. They will be reburied at other national cemeteries.