HIS WIFE IS HALF INDIAN, he says, and a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin.
I ask if she owns any Ho-Chunk artifacts.
“It’s funny,” he says. “Indians don’t have anything.”
I take that as a “no.”
So this western Wisconsin resident is here on this Saturday afternoon at the Elks Lodge in Faribault, looking to add to his small collection. He’s managed to successfully bid on some arrowheads, among the 3,000-plus High Plains artifacts from a private collector being auctioned off by Helbling Auctioneers of Kindred, N.D.
As I peruse the merchandise—everything from arrowheads to stone tools, beads, pipes and more—I wonder about the mostly male bidders who have come here from Minnesota and neighboring states to bid on the artifacts found on private land in North Dakota and Minnesota from 1940 – 1965.
I engage several in conversation, like the Wisconsinite and the man from Gibbon who purchased a stone tool used for grinding grain. He tells me initially that he’s from New Ulm, a community which 150 years ago was at the center of the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862. I tell him my mom’s family, the Bodes, are from nearby Courtland, Turns out his grandma was a Bode.
We share a common interest in the U.S. – Dakota War. The Bode family history includes the story of my farmer forefathers who fled to the safety of nearby St. Peter during the war.
Then I meet a man from the Twin Cities area who, with a degree in Native American history, could likely talk for hours on the subject of injustices heaped upon Native Americans. He tells me something so unbelievable, so inflammatory, that I feel my mouth drop open.
“Most people are so blind to things about Native Americans,” he says as I probe, asking why I should believe what he’s just shared. He has friends on the reservation, he explains, friends who have told him of this awful, horrible thing I cannot write about here because I cannot verify the information.
His interest in Native Americans traces back to his mother, who grew up near the Mandan Indian Village in North Dakota. He’s here, this man who regularly takes donations of clothing and other items to northern Minnesota Indian reservations, here sitting alone at a back table observing the auction. He’s purchased 24 arrowheads on this Saturday to add to his collection of arrowheads, beadwork and trading beads from the Sioux and the Ojibway.
Likewise, an Arlington man has picked up a few spear points for his collection.
I ask how long he’s collected Native American artifacts.
“You don’t want to know,” he laughs, then admits to collecting for 60 years.
As I observe and photograph, it is easy to pick out the serious collectors, like the group of men clustered around a table accumulating stacks of boxed artifacts, examining their purchases with an eye-piece magnifying glass.
Or the men with boxes piled at their feet, so intent on the auction they don’t notice me on the floor with my camera.
Or the individuals motioning the auctioneer assistants over for a closer look at artifacts as bidding jockeys between competing buyers.
Or the bidder who pays $250 for a single Paleo point.
Paleo points from 10,000 – 12,000 are the rarest item up for auction, says auctioneer Bob Helbling Jr. who has been auctioning off Native American artifacts for some 20 years with several such sales annually. He also points out a child-size antler scraper and a buffalo bone spoon as rare artifacts.
Saturday marks Helbling’s second Native American artifact auction in Faribault, a location chosen because the auctioneer likes to try out different locales. He had a successful sale here last year in this community conveniently located along Interstate 35 in southeastern Minnesota.
Most artifact collections come from estates, says Helbling, noting that typically the children of deceased collectors just don’t have any interest in the collections.
But it is apparent on this rainy Saturday that many others are plenty interested in history and in collecting Native American artifacts.
DISCLAIMER: Bob Helbling Jr. of Helbling Auctioneers is my husband’s second cousin. Prior to Saturday, the two had never met and my husband and I were unaware of the family connection. That relationship did not affect the writing or content of this post.
© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling