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ID made on skull found in Arkansas river more than 2 years ago

2014 discovery is 1600s Caddo Indian by Kenneth Heard | February 11, 2017 at 5:45 a.m.

Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton thought he would be solving a mystery when a forensic lab finally identified a skull found on a Red River sandbar more than two years ago.

Two men disappeared within seven weeks of each other near the river in the spring of 2012, and Singleton thought the skull could be the partial remains of one of them.

Instead, a University of North Texas anthropological forensics team determined the skull was that of a 17th- century Caddo Indian, Singleton said.

Now the sheriff is faced with another mystery: How did the skull get there?

Dove hunters found the skull while working their way along the Red River in September 2014. The river was low then, and the group of hunters made their way along the many sandbars jutting up from the riverbed about 3 or 4 miles south of Fulton, Singleton said.

Deputies noticed a metal ring stud in the skull's jaw and assumed it was either dental work or a type of piercing currently used, Singleton said.

They first thought it was the remains of Casey Clark, 31, a Fulton man who was reported missing March 27, 2012. Authorities found Clark's car at the Boll Weevil Liquor Store on the banks of the Red River in Fulton upstream from the skull's discovery.

"We thought it was him," the sheriff said. "We sent the skull to the [state] Crime Lab."

Hempstead County deputies also were looking for Joseph Christopher Cowart, 58, who disappeared from his Hope home May 15, 2012.

Officials at the state Crime Lab in Little Rock forwarded it to the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas in Denton on Sept. 30, 2014, where the university's forensic anthropology department could assist.

Scientists there determined the skull was from a young male Caddo Indian and was about four centuries old. They notified the Hempstead County sheriff's office Thursday of their findings. The Caddo tribe populated southern Arkansas and northern Arkansas in the early 1600s, Singleton said.

The ring -- a metal stud pierced through the lower jaw -- was a common practice in young Caddo Indians, the sheriff said he was told.

"Based on that pierced ring, we thought the skull would be a little younger than 400 years old," Singleton said.

A person who answered a call to the University of North Texas' forensic anthropology lab said he could not talk about the case, nor would he discuss how the lab identifies any remains. He did not give his name.

Hope Assistant Police Chief Kim Tomlin said she had not heard about the skull's identification. Her department is also looking for a missing person. Madeline Tomlin, who is related to the assistant chief by marriage, was reported missing May 20, 2015.

Because the skull was discovered before Madeline Tomlin disappeared, the assistant chief knew it was not her relative.

"At least this gets her name out there again," Kim Tomlin said of the case.

Singleton wonders about the circumstances that led to the young Caddo Indian's death.

"The Red River has taken a lot of people over the years," he said. "We've found cars in the river, four-wheelers, everything else. In the 1930s and 1940s, people tried to cross the river in small wagons and got washed away.

"We waited for a while to get the answer on this [skull]," Singleton said. "Hopefully, we can get some information on the ones who are missing."

State Desk on 02/11/2017

Print Headline: ID made on skull found in Red River

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