The buckskin shirt has been owned by a Medal of Honor winner and an Eastern Shore college. Now the FBI is trying to determine if it first belonged to the legendary Sioux warrior Crazy Horse and if it is decorated with human scalps.
Agents in New York have halted completion of the sale by Sotheby's Auction House until experts and tribal leaders can examine the tattered, beaded garment.
Washington College and Sotheby's, which sold the shirt May 21 for $211,000, deny it was the Indian leader's -- though it was displayed for decades in the college library in Chestertown with a sign saying it was "believed to have been owned and worn by Crazy Horse."
Robert Gough, a lawyer for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota and the Crazy Horse estate, filed a complaint with the National Park Service in June, alleging that the sale violated the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which prohibits trafficking in Indian remains and certain artifacts.
Gough said the shirt will remain in New York until Sioux officials conclude their inspection. He said he had no idea when the examination would take place.
"What we've been instructed is that a procedure will be put in place for an examination of the shirt," Gough said.
Matthew Weigman, a Sotheby's spokesman, confirmed that the shirt is being held pending the FBI investigation. He declined to identify the buyer and referred other questions to a New York agent he said was assigned to the case.
Spokesmen for the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in New York declined to comment on the case.
Hugh G. "Sam" Ball, an archaeologist with the National Park Service, said the shirt also must be checked to see if the hair that decorates the front came from human scalps, another violation of the protection and repatriation act.
The 1990 law prohibits the sale of human remains, including human scalp hair," Ball said. "If it's scalp hair, it's a violation of NAGPRA whether or not the shirt belonged to Crazy Horse." The law allows exemptions for the sale of clothes or other artifacts with hair that were "freely given" by Indians as a show of support, he said.
The law subjects those who illegally sell artifacts to fines of up to $100,000 and a year in jail.
College officials said they did not violate any laws, obtained legal advice before selling the shirt, and have not been paid for it.
"We've been advised that there's an investigation going on and that the transfer of the money is being withheld because of it," said Meredith Davies Hadaway, a college spokeswoman.
The shirt was part of a collection of artifacts owned by Capt. George Albee, a frontier Indian scout and Medal of Honor winner. The collection was donated to the college in the 1930s.
School officials said the sign in the library display case linking the shirt to Crazy Horse was based on inaccurate accounts and that research failed to find a link to the chief, who was at Little Bighorn in 1876 and is buried in a secret location at Wounded Knee, S.D.
Sioux leaders ask why a collector would pay $211,000 for a shirt appraised at $60,000 to $90,000.
"It may not have belonged to Crazy Horse," Gough said. "We never said it did. But we just want to make sure."
Pub Date: 12/12/96