Turkey Tayac, the last full-blooded Piscataway Indian chief, got his final wish yesterday when he was buried in a historic Indian burial ground on the banks of the Potomac River in Prince George's County.
Burial of the chief, who died last December at 83, had awaited congressionalcongressional action to permit a burial in Piscataway Park, part of the national park system where burials ordinarily are prohibited.
More than 300 friends and relatives walked and helped carry Tayac's coffin a mile down a muddy road to the river bank opposite Mount Vernon. The Piscataway tribe, which hasn't been active for nearly two centries, once had its largest village and burial ground on the site.
The ceremony, conducted in tents and a teppe, was interrupted by some of the late chief's seven children and other Piscataway descendants who attempted to break up the ordination of Tayac's son Billy as the new chief of the Piscataways.
More than a dozen relatives and their friends chanted, "Billy's not chief," and "Billy's a fraud," until U.S. Park Police intervened andd asked the dissidents to leave the 4,000-acre park.
The burial and ordination ceremonies were conducted by Bill Eagle Feather, a Dakota Indian chief and friend of Turkey Tayac, who had spent the last several days this week living in a tent by the burial site.
In leading the trek to the river bank, Eagle Feather stopped frequently to praise Tayac, to seek support from "the red power in the north . . . in the east" and to admonish the crowd to put aside their earthly dispute disputes.
After singing and chanting, mourners stepped forward to let Eagle Feather slice tiny bits of flesh from their hands or arms to place on the grave as tokens of their love for the fallen chief. The dakota Indian removed his shirt and took a slice of his own arm with a razor. He then declared the 43-year-old Billy Tayac chief of the Piscataways, whichh touched off a shouting match across the freshly covered grave.
Billy Tayac declared himself chief after his father died of peneumonia contracted from a late-fall swim in the Potomac. His succession has been challenged in a suit filed by relatives in Prince George's County Circuit Court.
Some historians have questioned Turkey Tayac's to be called chief, although he was thought to be the last full-blooded Piscataway and the last person to speak the tribal tongue. He was a knowledgeable herbalist and was considered an important Indian figure in the Washington area of decades.
In his later years, Tayac carried on a campaign to be buried in the historic burial grounds that were the scene of an archeological expedition in the late 1930s. The late chief participated in the digs, which turned up thousands of Indian artifacts and the bones of more than 1,500 Indians in four locations.
Some of the bones, which were disinterred last week in the preparation of Tayac's grave, were dated by archeologist Jill Elmendorf, who said they were nearly 500 years old.
National Park Service officials had resisted Tayac's repeated requests to be buried in the park. After his death, his body was kept in a mausoleum in Suitland while Rep. Glays Noon Spellman (D-Md.) and other members of the Maryland congressional delegation prepared legislation to grant the chief's wish.
Tayac was the fourth person to be buried in a national park since the park system was established in the last century, according to National Park Service officials. Other acts of Congress have authorized the burial of the late Rep. Goodle E. Byron (D-Md.) at Antietam National Battlefield last year, and a World War I veteran's wife there the year before. A Park Service ranger killed in the line of duty was buried several years ago at Grand Canyon National Park.