Is a PA Farmer Digging Up a Native American Burial Mound?

Richard Hertzler/LancasterOnline / A bulldozer removes trees from Donny Witmer's land, which is part of Conestoga Indian Town, on Monday, April 6.

Is a PA Farmer Digging Up a Native American Burial Mound?

Activists thought they were victorious and done protecting Conestoga Indian Town in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, when they stopped a natural gas pipeline from being built through it. But now, a local farmer has taken a bulldozer to a hill on his property, which some historians and Native activists believe is a Native American burial mound, reports LancasterOnline.

“We fought the pipeline but now it’s turning into this, and we’re all sitting back wondering what to do,” David Jones, who has done work documenting Native American sites in the area, told LancasterOnline.

The farmer, Donny Witmer, is clearing the area to plant grass and produce hay, and may have the law on his side.

Even though Conestoga Indian Town—which may be on Witmer’s land—is regiestered with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, “It’s (Witmer’s) property and he’s doing it with private funds, so he can do whatever he wants, whether it’s recorded or not,” Howard Pollman, the commission’s director of external affairs, told LancasterOnline.

This Conestoga Indian Town marker is near the site where Witmer is bulldozing.

Activists and historians feel that the history is not something that can be replaced and want Witmer to stop.

“There would be a huge outcry if someone were to bulldoze the pyramids, but this is kind of the same thing,” Darvin Martin, an amateur historian who has written several books about local history.

There is still debate over whether the hill on Witmer’s land is a burial mound or not though. Martin told LancasterOnline that there is “pretty strong evidence” that it was. He pointed to 1714 records that show Conestoga Chief Togodhessah, or Chief Civility, telling state government leaders that “our old queen,” Conguegos, was buried there. Martin also said the chief is thought to be buried there, but there isn’t any hard evidence of that.

Witmer disagrees: “It’s way too rocky to bury anyone up there,” Witmer, who also said he’s never heard anyone refer to the mound as “Chief’s Hill” until recently, told LancasterOnline. “My grandmother was born” there, he said. “No one called it that.”

According to LancasterOnline, activists will try to use the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to get Witmer to stop work on the mound, but it may not apply to private land, or citizens. The NAGPRA website says it applies to federal agencies, and public and private museums that have received federal funds. The site also says that “if the burial ground is not on Federal or tribal land, then the excavation and inadvertent discovery provisions of NAGPRA do not apply.”

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