Stolen Native American Knife Sheath Recovered by Wisconsin Historical Society

Posted on December 7, 2010


From my new hometown of Madison, the Wisconsin State Journal reports on Native American artifact theft and repatriation:

A Native American artifact stolen in the 1990s by a disgraced Wisconsin Historical Society museum curator has wended its way back to the institution’s collection, nurturing a faint but persistent hope that other stolen artifacts might follow.


The sheath is the first to be returned of 116 — now 115 — items listed as still missing and stolen by David Wooley, a curator in the Native American ethnographic and archaeological collections who was convicted of stealing more than $100,000 worth of Native American artifacts. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2001, and the thefts took place during his employment as a curator at the museum in the 1990s.


In January, a dealer in artifacts from Montana called the museum to report he saw the sheath on the museum’s website — which lists the stolen items and includes photographs of 12 of the items — and recognized it as “recalling distinctly this piece in a transaction that occurred several years ago in New Mexico,” said Bourcier.

The dealer knew what happened to the sheath after that, and directed Bourcier to the website of a private New York museum, which had its Native American artifact collection images online.

“I looked at the two images on the screen and immediately knew that was it,” he said.

Read the full article: Artifact returned to Historical Society