FBI agents searched Poulin’s Antiques & Auctions Inc. at 199 Skowhegan Road in Fairfield in May and confiscated what they believe to be a Native American scalp, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed this week in federal court in Bangor. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

FAIRFIELD — An auction house listed what appears to have been a Native American scalp for sale earlier this year before a tip led the FBI to search the business and confiscate the alleged human remains, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed this week in federal court.

Agents have opened an investigation into the possible illegal trafficking of human remains after the alleged scalp was seized in May from Poulin’s Antiques & Auctions Inc. at 199 Skowhegan Road in Fairfield.

Authorities received a tip from someone outside of Maine that Poulin’s listed an item online as an “Apache scalp,” according to the affidavit on file in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

The listing included a beaded pipe bag and what authorities believe to be a scalp with a tag that read, “Mescallaro (sic) Apache, Scalp. Killed at Johnson’s Run Texas Sent to Frank Owens by Lance Brewington Former Maysville Man Above Told Me By Lance B. At Joplin Mo. 1899 W.W. Gibson.”

The Mescalero Apache Tribe is a federally recognized Native American tribe based in New Mexico. Prior to the reservation period, the tribe members were nomadic hunters and known for being skilled horsemen. They were given the name “Mescalero” because they ate the mescal or agave plant.

Testing is being done to confirm whether the item is a human scalp. Investigators are also working to determine if the case might be a violation of the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.


Joel Casey, a federal prosecutor in Maine, wrote in an email the auction house cooperated in the search.

“There is a process underway to determine whether the item is human, whether it is Native American, and whether, if Native American, the remains are that of a person who was a member of a particular tribe,” Casey wrote. “If investigators determine that the remains are those of a Native American who was a member of a particular tribe, efforts will be taken to repatriate the remains back to the tribe for interment.

“All of these efforts will be taken in consultation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and relevant tribal authorities and conducted in a culturally sensitive manner.”

No charges have been filed. A telephone call Thursday seeking comment from Poulin’s Antiques & Auctions was not returned.

The existence of Native American scalps has a long, tragic history. European and American colonial governments offered bounties for Native American scalps for decades after colonizing North America. Officials would offer bounties for men, women and children in at least 23 states, according to Benjamin Madley in “Reexamining the American Genocide Debate: Meaning, Historiography, and New Methods,” in The American Historical Review.

Many Native American deaths can be tracked through the bounties. Between 1703 and 1704, for example, Massachusetts paid for 208 scalps, according to Madley.


“By demonstrating that body-part bounties — which motivated some or all of this head, hand, and scalp collecting — could be an effective Indian-killing policy, colonists established a lethal, enduring tradition,” Madley wrote.

Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Dana told News Center Maine she hopes people will react to the news of the auction house listing with disgust and a desire to atone for the past.

“It saddens me to think that any human beings would want to celebrate, commemorate and even profit from the violent and tragic legacy of genocide against Indigenous people in our homelands,” Dana told the TV station. “It goes against standards of decency that should exist universally across people of all backgrounds and life experiences.”

Poulin’s Antiques & Auctions is a family-run company founded in the 1950s. The company website lists its extensive auction catalog and highlights from past auctions. It also states that based on annual sales, the company is one of the top specialty firearms auction houses in North America.

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