RAPID CITY – In the lead-up to the first anniversary of the momentous post-mortem repatriation of Rosebud Sioux Korean War POW-MIA Army Sgt. Philip James Iyotte, the 2018 Annual West River History Conference Oct. 11-13 featured an account evoking the Lakota warrior’s French fur-trader heritage.
Simultaneously, Iyotte’s cousin and Korean War survivor Army Sgt. James O. Aplan, a collector and co-proprietor of Tilford-based Antiques & Art, received the prestigious Herb Blakely Award, named after the founder of this conference launched in 1993.
At the Ramkota Convention Center meeting, Rapid City-based lecturer Donovin Sprague Hump earned an award in the “Stories of the Land” category for his 2017 conference presentation on “French Fur Trade in Lakota Country.” He offered a lecture on “The Lakota-French Fur Trade from the Missouri River.”
Conference Board President Shebby Lee bestowed the awards and other honors during an Oct. 12 luncheon at the event named “A River Runs Through It” in reference to the Missouri River and the tributaries that drain through Lakota Territory into it.
The proprietor of Shebby Lee Tours based in Rapid City, she delivered a reading entitled “Follow the Rivers” about early traders’ navigation of the Missouri, drawing on guide talks from her Lewis & Clark Trail excursions.
Antiques & Art Co- Proprietor Peg Aplan, a conference board member, contributed a history paper called “A Warrior’s Return” tracing Sgt. Iyotte’s lineage to the fur traders of the 1800s, who included Sefroy Iyott, great-great grandfather of the fallen war hero, as well as of her husband and business partner James O. Aplan.
The Aplans were already well into expanding their mixed European and Native American genealogy project when they got word of the ceremony for the return of Iyotte’s remains to the family plot at the Two Kettle Cemetery near the town of White River in Mellette County, they told the Native Sun News Today.
Iyotte was among the first of hundreds of previously unidentified Korean War POW-MIA casualties whose families were only able to begin securing their returns beginning in 2017, more than half a century after their loss.
The Aplans were not prepared for the overwhelming outpouring of tribute displayed during Oct. 24-25, 2017 commemorations all along the 160- mile stretch of processions that accompanied Iyotte’s casket from Kirk Funeral Home in Rapid City to the little old burial grounds on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation.
Peg Aplan had never been to an Indian funeral before, for that matter. As a tall red-head of German descent, she felt out of place, she said. Then her husband’s relatives invited them to sit right behind the closer family members at the ceremony. “We shook hands with 300 people,” she said.
She was further impressed that representatives of every branch of the military were on hand and there was “that much respect for somebody who passed away 60-some years ago.”
Her research paper tells the story: “Military lined the walk way up to the family plot. Prayers were then said. There was a 21- gun salute and the playing of taps. As the casket was lowered, a
Black Hawk helicopter came out of the sky. It hovered over the casket. It was a powerful feeling.
“Philip was wrapped in his buffalo robe. He had a beautiful pair of burial moccasins, and lots of wasna (crushed berries and buffalo jerky) was included for his next journey. Two bald eagles flew over his grave as it was covered.
“Sgt. Philip James Iyotte is home, a warrior who was never forgotten,” she wrote.
Adding this description of the ceremonies to information collected in the genealogy, Peg Aplan told the conference-goers she tried to relate “what the families go through when they don’t know” where a loved-one has vanished. “I just thought that was something that needed to be in our history books,” she said at the end of her talk.
After listening to the 20-minute presentation, President Lee responded, “That was very moving.” Peg Aplan has won three awards for her research at the conference in previous years. This time around, her work is not eligible for an award, because she is currently on the board of directors.
(Contact Talli Nauman at email@example.com)