American Indian artifacts auctioned for nearly $400,000

A rare Cheyenne shirt and other American Indian artifacts belonging to the Southern Oregon Historical Society sold for nearly $400,000 Monday in an auction in San Francisco.

A representative from Bonhams, a privately owned auction house that sells fine art and antiques, said the company doesn't disclose any details about the buyers, or whether the items were sold outside the country.

The SOHS items brought in a total of $395,700. After Bonhams takes its commission and covers costs related to insurance, the historical society will net slightly less than $370,000.

The Cheyenne shirt, donated to the historical society by Grants Pass resident Benjamin Bones in 1957, was obtained by Bones' ancestor, Marquis Fargo Cutting, at Fort McPherson, Neb., near modern-day North Platte.

The Bones collection sold for $280,000 alone, less than the $300,000 to $500,000 the historical society was hoping to receive.

"We were, of course, hoping for something higher," said Pat Harper, interim executive director of the historical society. "We're relieved it sold." She said she hopes the collector that purchased the items can provide the kind of preservation care they need.

Other American Indian artifacts owned by the historical society also sold at the auction. Those included a Cheyenne mirror stick that fetched $32,000, a Navajo child's blanket for $28,000, a Navajo chief's blanket for $15,000 and a Navajo serape for $10,000.

The historical society doesn't know who purchased the artifacts; the bid on the Bones' collection came in via telephone.

The historical society says the money will be a big help as it deals with ongoing financial difficulties.

Dick Thierolf, president of the SOHS board, attended the auction at Bonhams and said in an email that the historical society had run out of money to maintain its core collection.

"We basically had no dollars to do that before, so it is a giant step in the right direction," he wrote. "We can rely on this money for several years as a foundation to build on."

The money will be used to ensure the SOHS collection of about 1 million artifacts is preserved. The money won't be used for operating expenses.

Cheyenne tribal representatives criticized the sale of American Indian artifacts recently, particularly the Cheyenne shirt, thought to be once owned by Chief Spotted Tail of the Sicangu Lakota.

Made of mountain-sheep hide and strips of buffalo, the shirt features porcupine quills and an intricate design on the chest. Locks of human hair hang from the sleeves. A panel of red wool frames the neck opening. Based on historical analysis, the shirt could have been made in the 1830s to 1840s.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email

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