CASPER — A piece of skull found this week east of Evansville could be from a person who was buried along the Oregon Trail, Natrona County’s coroner said Thursday.
A worker found the skull fragment Tuesday while digging a hole to repair a water line, Coroner Connie Jacobson said. The aged bone came from a child or teenager.
“Since it is a historical burial, we don’t know much more about it,” Jacobson said.
The skull fragment was found below about 4 feet of earth on private property right along the Oregon Trail, the roughly 2,000-mile route 19th-century settlers took between Missouri and the Pacific Northwest.
An archaeologist who assisted the coroner’s office felt fairly confident the remains were part of an Oregon Trail burial site, Jacobson said. Scientists have excavated other burial sites in the area.
The fragment formed part of the skull around the right eye. Jacobson said the piece was small, but large enough for investigators to know it belonged to a human.
No other remains were found, and this week’s snow and cold kept authorities from excavating the area further.
“Because of the weather conditions, we are just going to secure the site until the summer,” Jacobson said. “We are not going to go out there again.”
The remains are being held by the coroner’s office, but Jacobson said she would probably release them to the University of Wyoming at some point. She expects a crew from the university will visit the site in the summer.
It’s not uncommon for burial sites to be discovered along the Oregon, California and Mormon trails, according to Rick Weathermon, senior research scientist with the university’s Department of Anthropology. He can recall about a dozen such discoveries being reported to the university during his roughly 15 years with the school. Many more don’t get reported, he said.
“Just in terms of the number of people buried along those trails, it’s actually surprising more of them don’t turn up,” he said.
Some settlers were buried where they died along the trail, Weathermon said. Other times, bodies were carried for a few days so they could be buried next to other graves.
On some occasions, someone in the wagon train would build a coffin, but other times, the body might have been just rolled up in blankets and buried.
“It’s just highly variable,” Weathermon said.
Contact Joshua Wolfson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-266-0582.