Little Big Horn collection for sale

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Little Big Horn collection for sale

MISSOULA - An absolute treasure is within Montana's grasp.

Like most treasures, it won't come cheap, but even at a price of $1.4 million, this treasure is a bargain.

"The whole collection has been appraised for $3.5 million, so it's cheap at this price," said Brad Hamlett, a Montana rancher and art dealer. "It's also priceless."

It is a collection of art, Indian artifacts and interviews involving the Battle of Little Big Horn and the history of the Plains Indians. "This is really a living history," said Randy Gray, a former Great Falls mayor who has joined Hamlett in an effort to raise the money necessary to buy the David Humphreys Miller Collection. "It's an incredible part of our history, all in one place."

The hitch is that while the woman who now owns the collection wants to see it in public hands, she can't afford to simply give it away. If it can't be sold to some public aspect of Montana government, it will likely be sold on the private market.

"The tragedy would be to sell it to a private owner and never have it available to our state again," said Hamlett. "The fact is, it's going to be sold. The question is to whom."

First, a bit of history.

David Humphreys Miller was the son of artists, a teenager in 1930s Ohio when he became obsessed with the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn.

The battle still had an air of mystery to it, and that mystery baffled Miller. If participants of the battle were still alive, why hadn't they spoken?

Those participants were the Indians, of course, who had not been the focus of those who chronicled Custer's demise.

Incredibly, the 16-year-old Miller convinced his parents to let him go west in search of history. They gave him a Plymouth coupe and $100, and extracted a promise from him to return home in time for school.

Miller headed for Pine Ridge, S.D., beginning a journey that would consume him for the next 60 years. By the time the last survivor, Iron Hail, died in 1955, Miller had interviewed all Indian survivors of the battle, and published the book, "Custer's Fall."

That book chronicled the battle from the Indian perspective, but it was the research that endeared Miller to his subjects.

Over the years, Miller interviewed 70 warriors, drew dozens of sketches and painted oil portraits of Indians from numerous tribes.

"They came to trust him because he listened," Hamlett said.

"He learned 12 native languages so he could talk with all of them without a translator," said Gray.

Miller became so accepted by the Indians of the plains that he was adopted as a son by Black Elk, the renowned Oglala Sioux medicine man who had been present at Little Big Horn and the 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee.

Part of Miller's collection is Black Elk's walking stick, adorned by 10 eagle feathers.

"The thing is, Miller wasn't a collector," Hamlett said. "He was given these things by his friends. They were given to him out of fondness and trust."

In all, there are more than 2,100 items in the Miller collection, including photographs, sketches, paintings, notes, interviews and artifacts. One of those artifacts is the war bonnet of White Bull, the warrior who may have killed George Armstrong Custer himself.

Miller died in San Diego in 1992, and the collection passed to a family friend, Sandy Solomon, who lives in San Francisco. It was there that Doug Johns, a sometimes art-dealing partner of Hamlett, learned of the collection.

Solomon, Johns told Hamlett, wanted to see the collection in public hands, but she couldn't afford to give it away because of costs she incurred dealing with Miller's estate.

Hamlett and Johns then set to work negotiating with the Montana Historical Society, a yearlong effort that fell through this spring.

Once that possibility lapsed, Johns and Hamlett began looking elsewhere. Part of the search led to a June show at the Pacific Galleries in Great Falls, where Randy Gray saw the collection for the first time.

"I was awestruck, and realized that I needed to do what I could to help," said Gray.

A retired attorney and managing director of the American Prairie Foundation, Gray reached out to the presidents of the University of Montana and Montana State University.

"What we got from them was a willingness to accept and house the collections, and make them available for research," said Gray. "But the condition is that they need to be paid for before they take them."

And that means Gray and Hamlett need to find $1.4 million and find it quickly.

"Basically, we lost a lot of time with the historical society, so there's a time element to this thing now," said Hamlett.

What's needed first is $75,000, a non-refundable down payment that will secure the collection, provided two future payments are made in December and next April.

Hamlett said he feels a responsibility to both Miller's work and Montana's Indian population to try to keep the collection in-state.

"We've shown some of these drawings and had Native people come up and say, 'This is my relative,' " he said. "I would hate for us to lose all the possibilities that this collection offers."

Published on Monday, September 01, 2008.
Last modified on 9/1/2008 at 12:41 am

Too bad Tallpine does not have this kind of money laying around.

I'm wishing I could afford it myself. I like the way he says "It's worth XXX$ but it's priceless. Now, hold on a minute here... 

Quote from: wmenorr67 on September 02, 2008, 03:09:08 AM

Too bad Tallpine does not have this kind of money laying around.

I could probably come up with $14.00 

Standing Wolf:
Hey. We don't need no stinkin' history. We believe in change. We believe in large orders of fries, too. Next!


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