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Seized artifacts returned to Montana museum

By: MATTHEW BROWN
March 31, 2014 Updated: March 31, 2014 at 6:16 pm
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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Federal officials have returned a trove of artifacts seized from a Custer-themed Montana museum during a criminal investigation that never led to charges, the museum's director and its attorney said Monday.

Custer Battlefield Museum Director Christopher Kortlander said he has agreed not to pursue further claims against the government in return for the artifacts.

The museum is in the small town of Garryowen, near the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn and within the Crow Indian Reservation.

The war bonnets, medicine bundles and other items were confiscated in 2005 and 2008, during a Department of Interior investigation into whether Kortlander was selling artifacts illegally.

The criminal probe was dropped in 2009 with no charges filed.

But federal officials for years resisted returning some artifacts — including those with feathers from protected eagles — and questioned whether they had been acquired lawfully.

Kortlander insisted throughout that the items were possessed legally.

Several medicine bundles previously reported as stolen were not returned to the museum, according to museum attorney Penelope Strong. There was never any allegation that Kortlander was involved in the thefts, but Strong said he agreed to give up the items out of respect for their original owners.

Court records show the case was settled in late February. Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad declined to comment beyond what was in the court record.

Most other items seized during the raids — including 7th Cavalry memorabilia, other American Indian artifacts, firearms and thousands of pages of documents — had been previously returned.

Kortlander has struggled for any kind of legal retribution. He sought $188 million in damages from the dropped investigation through an unsuccessful tort claim. He also went after the federal agents who led the criminal probe, but that lawsuit, too, was dismissed.

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