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Small skull found southwest of Burley likely from a pioneer child, officials say

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A small skull found this spring at a gravel pit southwest of Burley, is likely that of a pioneer child.

BURLEY — A small skull found at a gravel pit south of town may be that of a pioneer child.

Cassia County Coroner Craig Rinehart said the skull was found March 21 at a gravel pit at 1200 S. 900 W. by dairy workers at a gravel pit that has been open about two years.

“It was muddy and the worker was excavating gravel for the roads. When he lifted a load there was a skull sitting on top of the loader bucket,” Rinehart said. “He dumped it out and called 911.”

The skull had top soil inside of it and appeared to be quite old, he said.

Cassia County Sheriff George Warrell said detectives were sent to the site and help was requested from the Oakley Canal Company, which provided excavation equipment.

“We needed to move the dirt out and keep all of the bones together,” Warrell said.

Rinehart said three arm bones were also located.

The remains were sent to the FBI’s Anthropology Laboratory for testing.

Some of the results have come back and indicate they were likely from a 4- to 5-year-old Caucasian girl.

“They are still doing carbon dating but it is likely they are from a child who was buried along the trail as the pioneers came out west,” Rinehart said.

The carbon dating may take up to eight months to complete.

Both the Oregon Trail and California Trail crossed Cassia County.

“Although the bones appeared to be quite old we did an investigation like we would for any human remains found,” Warrell said.

The owners of the gravel pit will also be on the lookout for other bones, he said.

Warrell said the sheriff’s office estimated the bones were at least 100 years old and from a pioneer child who died on the trail or from a child whose family was settling in the valley.

It is impossible for investigators to know if anyone went missing from the area back then because those records do not exist, he said.

“We have no records that go that far back,” he said. “If an incident wasn’t criminal back then, it simply wasn’t tracked. We now have systems that track missing persons and unattended deaths.”

Warrell is aware of several graves outside of cemeteries in the county, including a marked child’s grade near Cottonwood Creek.

He does not know what will happen to the remains after testing is completed but their care should fall to the county.

“We’ve never dealt with anything like this before,” Warrell said. “I’m sure as our area continues to grow and areas in the county start to be developed, we’ll see more of this.”

Rinehart is also unsure of what will ultimately happen to the remains.

“But,” he said, “we’ll keep them safe.”


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