Silas Narcomey died Feb. 3, 1978, the victim of a hit-and-run driver on a rural Oklahoma road, but in 15 months neither the man nor the court case has been put to rest.
The 66-year-old Semonole Indian was decapitated in the accident and an extensive search for the head was unsuccessful.
Family members held a brief burial ceremony but were torn by Indian traditions which hold that if the body is not complete the soul of Silas Narcomey will wander, appearing to people from time to time, especially to family members.
A traditional wood frame house constructed over Seminole Indian graves could not be built until the body was intact, Seminole tribe leaders declared.
Last week, a farmer cutting fence pots discovered a skull about 10 miles from the accident scene and the Oklahoma City medical examiner's office is trying to determine whether the skull belongs to Narcomey.
"It appears to be a human head and we've only lost one human head in Seminole County in the last couple years," a spokesman from the district attorney's office said.
But settling the religious issue will not quiet a current of unrest among members in the Indan community who are disturbed that the man charged in the death has not come to trial.
Officials charged Tommy D. Williams, 41, of Wolf, Okla., reportedly a wealthy independent oilman, with first-degree manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. He pleaded innocent at the preliminary hearing. A trial date has not yet been set.
Doug Parr, a staff attorney for the Native American Center, contends that the 15-month lag in bringing Williams to trial is an example of discrimination against Indians.
"They say they don't have a strong case," Parr said. "A police officer at the preliminary hearing testified that Williams told him he never stopped when he hit Silas and he found the head in his car when he got home. The officer said Williams told him he headed for Davis, Okla., and disposed of the head along the way.
"We are concerned this is an incident of discrmination. It is a pattern of problems for Indians in courts across the state."
However, Grover Wamsley, an assistant district attorney in Seminole County, disputes the charges.
"We have a problem with a big case load," he said, while acknowledging that the last criminal case in the county was tried a year ago. 'But I imagine this case will be on the next docket in the near future."
Setting the trial date is further complicated because William's attorney is a state senator tied up in legislative proceedings.
Meanwhile, the family is awaiting word from the medical examiner who will be able to make only an approximate identification. Because the teeth and jaw are missing, dental charts will not be of use.
If it is believed the skull belongs to Narcomey the tribe will probably build a burial house the length of the grave and about four feet tall. A favorite item of clothing or food is often placed in the structure.
"He was just an old Indian man walking home from visiting his sister. If this skull is his, at least part of the problem is solved," Parr said. "We'd like to see it go to trial and clear everything up."