Artifacts Sting Stuns Utah Town It took two years and more than $300,000 before federal agents could arrest 17 people in Blanding, Utah, for selling ancient American Indian artifacts on the black market. Locals are upset about the way in which the shouting, gun-wielding agents arrested the suspects.
NPR logo

Artifacts Sting Stuns Utah Town

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/106091937/106131995" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Artifacts Sting Stuns Utah Town

Artifacts Sting Stuns Utah Town

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/106091937/106131995" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's Howard Berkes has more from Blanding.

HOWARD BERKES: Unidentified Group: (Singing) (unintelligible)

BERKES: Unidentified Woman: And storm into their homes and take artifacts.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

I: Then she hands me a bowl, and I whip out a map and say show me exactly on this map where this bowl came from.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BERKES: That refers to the undercover dealer who had suspects show the illegal origins of their artifacts by pointing to spots on a map. Retired teacher Lynette Adams directs the melodrama.

LYNETTE ADAMS: There are some things that we can laugh at, but there are some things, too, that are given with a little more gusto because there's some pretty strong feelings - not about what people were being accused of, but how they were arrested.

BERKES: Witnesses say the arrests involved screaming, heavily-armed agents in flack jackets shackling neighbors at the wrist, ankle and waist.

ADAMS: These aren't terrorists. They're not rapists and murderers. My dad fought in World War II, and I'm proud of that. But when our federal government agents can come in and do what they did to this community, there's going to be a scar for a long time.

BERKES: Seventeen people in Blanding and seven people elsewhere were indicted for trafficking in ancient Indian artifacts, allegedly taken from federal or Indian land. Three of Austin Lyman's brothers were arrested, along with his friend and physician James Redd, who committed suicide the day after the raid.

AUSTIN LYMAN: The government set it up and entrapped him and killed him.

BERKES: Killed him?

LYMAN: I blame them for Dr. Redd's death. He wouldn't have done it without the shame and the guilt.

BERKES: And some are more forgiving about the federal show of force. Bob McPherson is a former Mormon bishop and former vice president of a college campus in Blanding.

BOB MCPHERSON: You know, for some of the people, you're arresting 78-year-olds, 72- year-olds, 71-year-old - it would certainly seem to be overkill, given the people. But they don't know the people, and you also cannot be selective. And so you follow procedures.

BERKES: And most people in Blanding own guns for hunting, though McPherson says most have never been violent. The region's history includes the hiring of locals a century ago to legally dig artifacts for museums, archaeologists and collectors. Congress later banned digging on federal and Indian land, so some turned to private land. Others did not.

MCPHERSON: It was just a field day. And people would go in there, in some cases even with bulldozers, you know, backhoes and, you know, shovels and this type of thing. It would be fair to say that there was a feeling of us-against- them, and it's our land and our forefathers were here and, you know, we had this right.

BERKES: But that was then. Now, McPherson insists, a relative few illegally dig, collect and sell. After all, he says, the two-year federal sting turned up just 17 suspects from Blanding.

MCPHERSON: That's not going on now. This does not define Blanding. And I haven't heard anybody in Blanding say if these people are guilty, that there should not be a punishment.

BERKES: But a sense of entitlement lingers, given thousands of square miles of ruins and artifacts, says farmer and county commissioner Bruce Adams.

BRUCE ADAMS: There's artifacts all over this county. There's artifacts in every farmer's field. There are artifacts on every trail. Somebody saw half of a pot out of the ground, most of them would dig it up and take it home 'cause it's a treasure and they found it.

BERKES: Howard Berkes, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And you can see a feather sash, pueblo pots and other artifacts from the area at our Web site at npr.org.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.