Springfield man admits removing soldier remains

Posted November 15, 2012 at 11:27 am

David M. Ketchmark, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Springfield man has admitted to removing human remains from the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

Coy Matthew Hamilton, 31, of Springfield, must pay $5,351 in restitution to the National Park Service and perform 60 hours of community service as conditions of avoiding federal prosecution.

“It’s a serious offense to disturb an archeological site and to remove remains or artifacts,” Ketchmark said. “We hope this incident will serve to educate the public about the laws that protect our priceless archaeological resources.”

Hamilton admitted that on Feb. 27, 2011, he and a friend found the remains while canoeing down Wilson’s Creek, through the National Battlefield, looking for archaeological artifacts. Recent heavy rains had eroded parts of the riverbank, and during the early afternoon, Hamilton saw a bone sticking out of an eroded embankment by the creek. Hamilton attempted to remove the bone, breaking it in the process. He then began digging into the embankment, removing additional bones. Ten days later, Hamilton, through an intermediary, turned the bones in to the National Park Service, which administers the National Battlefield. He was identified during the ensuing investigation.

“Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield was established to preserve and commemorate this important event in our nation’s history,” remarked Superintendent Ted Hillmer. “Hamilton’s actions were contrary to the core purpose of the battlefield. National Parks and other federal lands are for the public to use and enjoy, however, the protection of archeological resources, which are irreplaceable, is of special importance to us.”

In April 2011, Dr. Caven Clark, cultural resource management specialist with the National Park Service, performed an emergency restoration and repair of the excavation site and authored a report on the find. According to Dr. Clark’s report, the skeleton (which was only 29 percent complete) was that of a person at least 20 years old at the time of death. Gender could not be determined. During the excavation of the remaining skeleton, eight handmade, machine-tooled, bone buttons were found next to the skeleton’s ankles. These buttons were manufactured between 1800 and 1865. The buttons determined the age of the site, and are consistent with buttons used during the Civil War. The buttons appear to be attachments for instep tabs typically used by mounted troops during that period.

The date of the Civil War battle was Aug. 10, 1861. The remains were found in a location that would have been in an area of intensive fighting. Mounted, infantry, and artillery units were in and near the vicinity of the find, which was just north of a road crossing the creek. The shallow grave suggested an expedient but respectful interment, head to the west in concert with Christian practices of the time. Finally, differential disposal of the dead following the battle suggest that this individual was part of the Confederate forces killed during the battle and quickly buried thereafter.

Hamilton signed a pretrial diversion agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in which he admitted that he disturbed an archeological site and removed human remains from federal lands managed by the National Park Service. This conduct could have been prosecuted as a violation of the Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA), a federal law providing criminal penalties for excavating, damaging or removing any archaeological resource located on public lands or Indian lands without a permit, and for trafficking in archaeological resources removed in violation of ARPA. Under federal law, Hamilton could have been subjected to a prison sentence of up to two years, and a fine of up to $20,000.

Hamilton agreed to pay $5,351 in restitution, which reimburses the government’s costs of restoration and repair of the site. Additionally, Hamilton will perform 60 hours of community service under the supervision of the National Park Service.

The federal pretrial diversion program is an alternative to prosecution which seeks to divert certain offenders from traditional criminal justice processing into a program of supervision and services administered by the U.S. Probation Service. In the majority of cases, offenders are diverted at the pre-charge stage. Participants who successfully complete the program will not be charged or, if charged, will have the charges against them dismissed; unsuccessful participants are returned for prosecution.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven M. Mohlhenrich. It was investigated by the National Park Service, Investigative Services Branch.