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Thursday, May 30, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Little Bighorn Battle Site Owner Says Auctioneer Should Have Sold His Town

BILLINGS, MONT. (CN) - Christopher Kortlander says he owns the town of Garryowen, where Sitting Bull camped on the eve of the battle of Little Bighorn, and that he consigned the town and an enormous archive of Custer documents to Heritage Auction Galleries, which failed to sell it, and can't account for what happened to some of it.

Kortlander says Garryowen is the site of Sitting Bull's encampment, and "is certainly the most important battlefield in the West." It included three buildings, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and mineral and water rights.

He claims he also owns an unpublished collection of more than 6,000 Custer family documents, including letters, photos, newspapers, drawings and other manuscripts, known as the Elizabeth Bacon Custer Manuscript Archive. "This Archive is the largest assemblage of Custer-related documents in existence, anywhere in the world."

He also owns a collection of Western photos, rare books, Native American arts, guns and other stuff. He says he consigned it all for sale to Heritage, to be auctioned off on Oct. 31, 2007, for which Heritage was to take 6 percent commission. Kortlander says his collections are worth "millions of dollars."

He says Heritage gave him in exchange a $500,000 line of credit, from which he could draw, against the expected proceeds from the auction.

Kortlander claims Heritage failed to properly auction off his town and his collections. "Many of the sold and unsold consigned items have yet to be finally and properly accounted for," he says. "An accounting is necessary."

He says they made a second deal to auction off the stuff, with a starting bid of $6.5 million for the town and the Elizabeth Bacon Custer Archive - but that auction failed too. He claims Heritage has "done absolutely nothing" to satisfy its contractual obligations, nor has it returned "any of the consigned items."

However, Kortlander states, later on in his 21-page complaint, that Heritage did sell "some of the Plaintiff's items, [but] it only realized slightly more than $225,000."

He demands punitive damages, alleging breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation and conversion. He is represented by Edwards, Frickle and Culver.

George Armstrong Custer and his entire 7th Cavalry were killed by Sioux Indians under Sitting Bull and other leaders on June 25, 1876. Custer, famous as an "Indian killer," was expected to run for president after his expected extermination of Sitting Bull's band of Hunkpapa Sioux.

Sitting Bull sought and was granted political refuge in Canada, but returned to the United States in 1881, where he was assassinated in 1890 while being arrested. The U.S. government feared he would support the Ghost Dance movement, an Indian cultural movement that aimed to rid the country of white men and reclaim the land by dancing.

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