Last week federal agents, armed and suited out in flak jackets, surrounded the home of a 60-year-old doctor in rural Utah. They arrested his wife and then picked up Dr. James Redd when he returned from his morning rounds. They were part of what the U.S. Department of Interior calls the largest bust of those who take Native American artifacts from sacred burial sites on public lands. The day after his arrest, Dr. Redd killed himself, and that has set Blanding, Utah, into turmoil.
Nearly 1,000 people came to Dr. Redd’s funeral Tuesday (photo above), writes Los Angeles Times reporter Nicholas Riccardi, approximately one third of the population of Blanding. The reaction in the area (at least among the Anglo residents) is that the federal agents went too far and acted to harshly. “Eighteen vehicles surrounded the Redds’ house,” San Juan County Supervisor Bruce Adams said in an interview. “Do we do that with child molesters? With murderers?” He added, “I haven’t seen a piece of pottery or an artifact that’s worth a human life.”
Even supporters of the arrest wonder if the federal agents went too far. “The whole point they wished to make is gone,” said Winston Hurst, a Blanding native and archaeologist who has long fought against the digging up of ancient graves, a practice known locally as pot-hunting. “It’s completely swamped by the ridiculous imagery of people in their flak jackets taking some old sucker, shackled hands and feet, and shuffling him into the slammer.” It did take more than ten hours to remove all the stolen artifacts from the Redds home.