The FBI is investigating whether a Fairfield auctioneer was selling a Native American scalp.
An FBI seal is seen on a wall on Aug. 10, 2022, in Omaha, Nebraska. Credit: Charlie Neibergall / AP

Federal investigators are determining whether an item purported to be an Apache scalp seized from a Fairfield auctioneer is authentic and should be returned to the tribe, according to federal court documents.

The FBI obtained a search warrant in May for Poulin’s Antiques & Auctions Inc. on Route 201 in Fairfield after the agency received a tip from outside of Maine that a Native American item had been listed for sale on the business’ website.

Selling Native American human remains is a federal crime, but no charges have been filed in the case.

Documents pertaining to the search warrant were made public in U.S. District Court in Bangor on Wednesday.

The owners of the business did not immediately return a request for comment.

The search warrant was executed without incident and with the cooperation of representatives of the auctioneer, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

The item was advertised as being in a “pipe bag 30 inches long including rawhide fringe.” It was decorated with red, blue and green geometric designs, according to court documents.

A yellow tag attached to what was described as a “Mescalero Apache scalp” said that the person was killed at Johnson’s Run, Texas, but did not say when. The tag said that it was sent to Frank Owens by Lance Brewington in 1899.

The Mescalero Apache Tribe is a federally recognized tribe based in south-central New Mexico in the Lincoln National Forest. Its traditional hunting territory spanned from the Rio Grande Valley to the panhandle of Texas west to what is now Sante Fe and south into northern Mexico. Its reservation was created in 1873 by President Ulysses S. Grant.

The FBI is working in consultation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to determine if the alleged remains are authentic, U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee said.

“There is a process underway to determine whether the item is human, whether it is Native American, and whether, if Native American, the remains are that of a person who was a member of a particular tribe,” she said. “If investigators determine that the remains are those of a Native American who was a member of a particular tribe, efforts will be taken to repatriate the remains back to the tribe for interment.  

“All of these efforts will be taken in consultation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and relevant tribal authorities and conducted in a culturally sensitive manner,” she said.