|By Jim Rutledge
WALDRON, Ind. — Thousands of rare and historic American and foreign artifacts, including Civil War and military memorabilia, have been seized from an Indiana farm by teams of FBI agents and cultural artifacts experts in what may be the largest collection of artifacts ever scooped up by federal agents.
Agents confiscated nearly 4,000 items from the rural Rush County farm house of 91-year-old Don Miller, who friends have described as their own “Indian Jones.” Miller has amassed collections of extraordinary anthropological and archaeological items over the past 80 years from throughout the United States and several foreign countries.
“You can’t call it a raid. It was more organized. No guns were drawn and there was no SWAT team,” FBI special agent Andrew Northern said, as he described the seizure to AntiqueWeek. “We’re collecting and analyzing (the items) with a goal of repatriation,” Northern said.
The large family size farm house was surrounded for a week by FBI SUV’s; a special FBI communications van; and other large specialized FBI trucks, some connected to large enclosed tents set up by agents and powered by large portable electrical power trailers. The tents were used as the first process of identification and packing items onto trucks. Waldron is located 35 miles southeast of Indianapolis.
The FBI was quick to point out that no charges have been brought against Miller, and Northern added, “Dr. Miller was cooperating and assisting the FBI.” It was too early in the investigation to determine if any laws had been broken, agents said. The seizure was conducted because agents suspect some of the items may have been obtained unlawfully.
Thousands of artifacts were in an underground, makeshift museum with lighted-glass showcases lining the walls on three sides of a cavernous basement and through a tunnel connecting adjoining buildings. Hundreds of items were found throughout the main living quarters where Miller resided with his wife.
The collections as a whole may be priceless, but agents say they have not placed a value on the artifacts.
Among the various artifacts confiscated and described by Miller were Native American Indian items and hundreds of arrowheads from the Western U.S.; a life-size Chinese terra-cotta figurine (on the front porch of his home); an authentic Egyptian sarcophagus; a dugout canoe used by a South American Indian who paddled down the Amazon River; an 1873 Winchester carbine obtained from a Sioux Indian who believed his ancestor had fired the weapon at the Battle of Little Big Horn; and a wooden cowbell from Tibet.
Also seized were shrunken heads and Ming Dynasty jade; spent bullets detected by a metal detector at Civil War battlefields; primitive “Celts,” axes; dozens of fossils, including two large eggs believed to have been laid by dinosaurs in China that a CAT scan showed still revealed bones inside (the other egg had been hatched); and a chunk of concrete that, Miller said, was from the bunker in which Adolf Hitler committed suicide toward the end of World War II.
One agent said Miller made every effort to maintain his massive collection well. Agent Northern declined to identify specifically what was taken, and it was not clear if every item would be seized, including Miller’s personal, large, 1927 Wurlitzer organ that can be played manually or electronically, with pipes extending to the second floor of the house.
“I have never seen a collection like this in my life except in some of the largest museums,” said Larry Zimmerman, a professor of anthropology and museum studies at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. “Frankly, overwhelmed,” the special consultant to the FBI told AntiqueWeek. “I can’t tell you anything. I’m under a confidentially agreement with the FBI.”
Zimmerman is joined in the investigation by other college professors and experts of anthropology and archaeology, as well as museum curators, Northern said.
“I have confidentially agreements with a variety of experts,” Northern explained to AntiqueWeek. None of the experts came from any other federal agencies or the nation’s top Washington, D.C.,-based museums.
The FBI says Miller had acquired his collections over decades and gathered at sites from China, Russia, New Guinea, Haiti and possibly others. Once labeled, the thousands of items were loaded onto trucks and transported to unidentified locations where the items will be studied further, photographed, catalogued and numbered. Other experts will determine if provenance can be obtained and, if warranted, items may be returned to the country of origin.
Agent Northern says the inventory process could take several months.
Robert Jones, FBI special agent in charge of the Indianapolis field office, would not say what sparked the investigation, which began several months ago.
According to reports, Miller started searching and finding arrowheads on his family’s farm at the age of 10, and through the years, expanded. It’s been reported that Miller and his wife often traveled and worked as missionaries throughout the world in their 52 years of marriage. During part of his life, Miller worked at the Naval Avionics Center in Indianapolis where he enjoyed six weeks of vacation each year that he used for his travels.
One of Miller’s trips in recent years was to Haiti where he tried to take a few lemon-size cannonballs he acquired on the plane ride home. He was stopped at the airport, and the items were taken from him. In the late 1990s, Miller and his wife took a trip to Australia, where he reportedly drove 11,000 miles in 56 days.
Another interesting aspect of Miller’s life started after he finished studies at Tri-State College (now Trine University) in Angola, Ind., when he enlisted in the Army Reserve. It’s been reported that he joined a special training program that led him to a special assignment at Los Alamos, N.M., where he participated in working on the Manhattan Project, which developed and tested nuclear bombs during World War II.
Attempts by AntiqueWeek to reach Miller at his home for comment were not successful. His telephone is either not working or may have been disconnected within the house. It also could not be determined if Miller had retained an attorney.