Lovelock Cave

Sarah Winnemucca (public domain)

The story of a strange red-haired people was told by Pauite scholar, Sarah Winnemucca in her book, Life Among the Piutes.  She wrote that her tribe, tried to interbreed with a red-haired tribe that lived near the Humboldt River in Nevada.  They could not get along and she claimed that this tribe of about 2600 people, was exterminated by her people after a fierce 3-year war. She wrote her book and published it, in 1883.  Sarah died in 1891.  

In 1911, two bat guano miners (David Pugh and James Hart) were excavating for bat guano in a cave near Lovelock, Nevada and they found red-haired mummies and artifacts in the cave under the bat guano.  Many of the mummies and artifacts were taken by private collectors and some destroyed by a fraternity before two archaeologists from the University of California and the Heye Foundation were able to get out to the cave and retrieve any remaining mummies and artifacts.  The two anthropologists were Llewelyn Loud and Michael Harrington.  They recovered dozens more mummies and artifacts and split the recovery between the University of California and the Heye Foundation.

These mummies remain hidden and no one has ever done a proper DNA test of these mummies.  After several years of research which included a visit to the cave, author Rita Jean Moran tracked down these mummies and found a set of 54 to be at the Phoebe Hearst Museum and 1 set at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City, Nevada.  The Heye Foundation collection of mummies and artifacts was transferred to the Washington DC Smithsonian Museum.  Rita Jean Moran contacted all museums involved and requested permission to examine and DNA test these red-haired mummies. She found out that the set of mummies at the Smithsonian are now missing and the museum has claimed (in email) that their share of the mummies were repatriated.  To whom they went to is unknown.  Of the remaining 55 mummies, Rita Jean Moran was told that the DNA testing had to be approved by the Bureau of Land Management (in Nevada).

Rita Jean Moran asked for inspection of the Phoebe Hearst Museum mummies and was denied after about a 6 month application process.  She also requested the BLM allow DNA testing be done by an accredited lab on the mummies at the Phoebe Hearst Museum.  She was also denied in this request that also lasted about 6 months.

Not giving up, Rita engaged in legal action in October 2016 to compel the BLM to allow DNA testing to be done and was unsuccessful.  After losing in court recently, she spoke with the office of Senator Tammy Duckworth regarding current NAGPRA laws and the Lovelock Cave situation in April of 2017.  So far, there has been no action from Senator Tammy Duckworth in regards to the situation.  A request with documents was sent to President Trump regarding the situation and several phone calls to White House were made, but to no avail.  Congressman Peter Roskam never replied and neither did Senator Dick Durbin.

But Rita Jean Moran is not giving up on this case.  As further development occurs, updates will be made as appropriate.


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