Skull and Bones

From Academic Kids

This article is about a secret society. For the pirate flag see Jolly Roger; for the international poison symbol see skull and crossbones.
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Emblem of the Skull and Bones society

Skull and Bones is the most well known of the so-called secret societies based at a university. It was founded in 1832 by William Huntington Russell and Alphonso Taft, two students who were not admitted into Phi Beta Kappa at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. [1] ( The first Skull and Bones class, or "cohort", was in 1833. Skull and Bones is known by many names, including The Order of Death, The Order, The Eulogian Club, and Lodge 322. Initiates are most commonly known as Bonesmen, Knights of Eulogia, and Boodle Boys. The females who have recently been permitted to become members would be known as Boneswomen, Ladies of Eulogia, and Boodle Girls.

In public, its corporate name is the Russell Trust Association. In 1999 it had assets of $4,133,246. Skull and Bones is the only secret society to have a summer home and its own private island. This private island, in the gray territorial area between the United States and Canada, was given to the Order by one of its early mysterious benefactor families who was associated with the secret society.


Differences between Skull and Bones and other fraternities

Skull and Bones is different from other semi-secretive fraternities and sororities on several points. First, its membership rosters are a secret and its activities are secret. Second, it is what is called a "senior society," in that only upcoming seniors are inducted into the secret society only for one year prior to graduation. Third, members have a history of committing crimes to further The Order, whether these crimes are part of the initiation or simply as a mutual encouragement of peer pressure, is unknown. For instance, grave-robbing has been committed on several occasions. The Skull and Bones Tomb was rumored to hold Geronimo's skull, which inspired Native American activist and Apache chief Ned Anderson to try to force a search and a DNA test. The FBI refused to enter the fray unless Anderson removed himself from the investigation and turned over any evidence he had, an offer Anderson refused. Anderson then claimed, with several pieces of evidence, that he had met with Jonathan Bush, the brother of then-Vice-President George H. W. Bush, who presented the infamous skull. The skull was impossibly small, and is assumed to be of a child. Anderson then publicized the meeting, adding that the skull was not the one of Skull and Bones fame. A bonesman was quoted as saying about the incident, "We still call it Geronimo". Fourth, The Order inspires occasionally a fanatical loyalty. Members have been known to stab the Bones insignia into their flesh to keep it on them while showering or swimming. Both John Kerry and George W. Bush are members of Skull and Bones. They both refused to talk about their common membership in Skull and Bones, despite being asked on television about it.

Bush: "It's so secret I can't talk about it."
Interviewer: "What does that mean for America?"

Bush refused to answer that question. In another interview, when Kerry was in turn asked what could he reveal about Skull and Bones, Kerry said: "Well not much, because it's a secret... Sorry, I wish there was something I could manifest..." [and then he quickly changed the subject]. Bush has appointed over 10 Skull and Bones members to his Administration in only his first term.

The U.S. branch of a German Secret Society

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The Order has a private group portrait taken for every new cohort of fifteen. It is always posed in the same manner, showing human bones and a grandfather clock at 8 p.m.

Skull and Bones is distinctly an outward-viewing secret society. It has a view outside Yale University because it is a senior society. It also has an international outlook. Some people say that Skull and Bones is a U.S. chapter of an early 1800s German secret society. Those who have broken into the Bones "Tomb" (or those members who are disaffected from the Bones experience and wanted to report on them), describe many German-language pictures and themes on the walls and in daily use--from pictures of skulls, to swastikas, to the use of Hitler's silverware and table settings, obviously pilfered out of Germany after WWII.

Founder of the order, William Huntingdon Russell spent some time studying in Germany. It has been suggested that while he was there he was initiated into a secret society with a skull and bones for its emblem. Some even claim that he was initiated into a continuation of the Illuminati. Official material from Skull and Bones supports this theory. An invitation to a thirteenth-anniversary describes a Jubilee Commemoration of the History of Our Establishment in New Haven. A historical address that has found its way from the tomb states The Eulogian Club: An Historical Discourse Pronounced before our Venerable Order on the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Foundation of our American Chapter in New Haven July 30th 1863 Thursday evening. By Timothy Dwight of 1849 A 1933 Bones document refers to the birth of our Yale chapter. It is also suggested that when Bonesmen refer to the order as Lodge 322 they are acknowledging that they are but a chapter of a secret society.

Bonesman Socialization: Core Families of "Knights" Versus "Barbarians"

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The Skull and Bones tomb

Starting in 1833, each year one of the responsibilities of the cohort of fifteen seniors is to select fifteen new junior members to replace them. This is called being "tapped" (selected) for the society. To be tapped for Skull and Bones is seen by many Yale students as the highest honor that can be attained, though some occasionally refuse. For a year, Bones members meet at least weekly and conduct long self-analysis of each other and critique. This is aimed at creating a long term bond between them as they leave the university instead of during their stay at the university. Within the Bones 'tomb' are rooms which some believe to be used for Satanic worship or other occult practices. Kris Millegan writes that the room is uncannily arranged like a room arranged for an entrance into an higher level of the Bavarian Illuminati 1 ( There are innumerable human skulls and bones in the 'tomb,' which of course is illegal under Connecticut law. Bones members are reported to be forced to reveal their innermost secrets and their "sexual biography" to one another. It has been suggested that this may be used for blackmailing. In the tomb with each other for one year, members dine off Hitler's china set and silverware consuming expensive gourmet meals cooked for them by their own private maid/chef. Members are given new code names. Plus, the members call themselves "Knights," and simultaneously call everyone else in the world at large "barbarians." The Order encourages members to view the world outside of Skull and Bones in a desensitized fashion and in a dissimulating fashion. Another dissociation is that clocks in the Bones 'tomb' run intentionally five minutes fast from the rest of the world, to give the members an ongoing sense that the Bonesmen's space is a totally separate world--and a world just a bit ahead of the curve of the rest of the "barbarians" outside.

Partially, "tapping" is a response to visible or anticipated excellence, thus it could be considered meritocratic. However, since a great many members of the membership in this secret society are drawn over and over from the same families as the "core" of the group, it is a typical nested secret society with "porch brethren" on the outside making a power network for those in the inner administrative levels of the secret society. The top repetitive families in Skull and Bones are known because in 1985 a disgruntled Skull and Bones member leaked rosters to a private researcher, Antony C. Sutton. Many people believe that the membership of Skull and Bones had been totally secret. However the membership for each year is held in the Yale University archives.

The membership rosters cover the years 1833-1985, with some additional years. This original leaked 1985 data was kept privately for over 15 years, as Sutton feared that the xeroxed pages could somehow identify the member who leaked it. The information was finally reformatted as an appendix in the book Fleshing out Skull and Bones by editor, researcher, and writer Kris Millegan, who published it in 2003.

The data shows that certain families have been well represented, and that these happen to be related to each other as well—such as the Cheney family, Taft family, Whitney family, Walker family, and Adams family. Other subordinate members are often related to these families. Other core family names are common. However, not all initiates in these families are as interrelated as the above group. This second category of core families covers such names as Smith, Allen, Brown, Clark, White, Day, Johnson, Jones, Miller, Stewart, Thompson, Cheney, Taft, Williams.

For an example of the predilection of certain core families being embedded in Skull and Bones (or vice versa), here are the top 15 families in Skull and Bones with 10+ Members (over 1833-1985, with occasional later years available):

  • Smith (15)
  • Walker (15)
  • Allen (13)
  • Brown (13)
  • Clark (12)
  • White (12)
  • Day (11)
  • Johnson (11)
  • Jones (11)
  • Miller (11)
  • Stewart (11)
  • Thompson (11)
  • Cheney (10)
  • Taft (10)
  • Williams (10)

This is only a list based on instance of names appearing in the index. Further research would have to be done to provide the links between them. However, first, it can be said that even with this cursory glance, for many surnames it is clear from the biographies that they are an ongoing line of Yale/Bones attendees. Second, many of these surnames are actually middle names--a marker?--of many other subordinate lineages, which may be a route for further research.


On an initiates first day in Bones they are assigned a name, which they will be known as for the rest of their life. Names that are regularly used are: Magog, which is assigned to the initiate with the most experience with the opposite sex; Gog, which is assigned to the least sexually experienced; Long Devil, for the tallest; Boaz; for varsity American football captains; and Little Devil for the shortest. Bonesmen have often assumed names of mythological and legendary figures.

Bones names of selected Bonesmen

Deer Island

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Aerial view of Deer Island, in the St. Lawrence River between Canada and the United States; the retreat's facilities today are reportedly dilapidated
Deer Island is a privately owned island retreat owned by Skull and Bones's Russell Trust Association. It is on the Saint Lawrence River two miles north of Alexandria Bay. Among the island's facilities are two tennis courts, two houses, a bungalow, a boathouse, and an amphitheater. It serves as a getaway for the present members of Skull and Bones, and is often used to host reunions to which family members of Bonesmen are welcome. It can also be hired out for personal use, but membership of Skull and Bones as well as upkeep is required. The island is governed and maintained by the Deer Island Club, membership of which is only available for initiates of Skull and Bones. They say in their articles of association, the purpose of the club is:
to promote the social intercourse of its members, and to provide for them facilities for recreation and social enjoyment; and to this end, to purchase, hold and convey any property, real or personal, which may be necessary or convenient therefor; to maintain a Club House for the use and benefit of its members; and to adopt by-laws and generally to exercise all the usual powers of corporations not prohibited by said statues

According to Skull and Bones researcher (and member of Scroll and Key, another secret society at Yale) Alexandra Robbins, who interviewed many Bonesmen in her book about the group:

The forty-acre [162,000 m²] retreat is intended to give Bonesmen an opportunity to "get together and rekindle old friendships." A century ago the island sported tennis courts and its softball fields were surrounded by rhubarb plants and gooseberry bushes. Catboats waited on the lake. Stewards catered elegant meals. But although each new Skull and Bones member still visits Deer Island, the place leaves something to be desired. "Now it is just a bunch of burned-out stone buildings," a patriarch sighs. "It's basically ruins." Another Bonesman says that to call the island "rustic" would be to glorify it. "It's a dump, but it's beautiful." [2] (

One factor which may explain the change would be the arrival of increasingly widespread airplane travel by the 1930s. Thus, there was an increase of spatial choices given for 'escaping from the summer heat'. However, in the mid 19th century through the early 20th century, it was certainly a much more prevalent and elegant Bones 'getaway' private island. There are many pictures of the island and its buildings in Kris Millegan's edited book Fleshing out Skull and Bones (2003).

Skull and Bones members

The Skull and Bones published membership lists until 1971, which were kept at the Yale Library. The following list of Bonesmen (as members are often called) is compiled from those lists.

Cultural References

In 2000, Universal Pictures released The Skulls starring Joshua Jackson and Paul Walker as rising seniors at Yale who were inducted into the secret society. After witnessing a cover-up of a murder, one character tries to defect from the group. The society apparently has intergroup tensions, cover-ups, lavish lifestyles, and corrupt business deals. The movie received horrible reviews and the fictitious nature of the film hardly needs to be disputed.

Further Reading

  • Millegan, Kris, ed. Fleshing Out Skull and Bones: Investigations into America's Most Powerful Secret Society. Walterville, OR: Trine Day, 2003. ISBN 0972020721
  • Sutton, Antony C. America's Secret Establishment: An Introduction to the Order of Skull & Bones. Walterville, OR: Trine Day, 2003. ISBN 0972020705
  • Tarpley, Webster, et al. George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography. Washington, D.C.: Executive Intelligence Review, 1992. ISBN 0943235057. Available free on the web:
  • Robbins, Alexandra. Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power. Back Bay Books, 2003. ISBN 0316735612

This article contains content from the Hierarchypedia ( article Skull and Bones (

External links


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