Three days before rare Nez Perce artifacts were to be shipped to Ohio, tribal officials struck a last-minute deal Tuesday to keep the collection in Idaho.
“It stays where it’s at for now,” said Ann Frazier, spokeswoman for the Ohio Historical Society, which owns the artifacts.
At a meeting with historical society officials in Columbus, Ohio, Nez Perce leaders reached a tentative agreement to buy the artifacts. The collection, which includes clothing, baskets and a saddle, was valued in 1993 at $583,100.
The decision halted shipping preparations by the National Park Service, which displays the objects at a Spalding, Idaho, visitors center. A Boston fine arts firm was awarded the $17,000 shipping contract. The park service still must pay for several thousand dollars worth of special shipping containers the firm had already assembled.
“It’s a necessary expense,” said Frank Walker, superintendent of Nez Perce National Historical Park, headquartered at Spalding. “We’re just extremely pleased that the collection doesn’t have to leave.”
Details of the agreement were unclear. Frazier said neither side wanted to reveal the specifics until their governing bodies voted on the deal. In late November, the tribe offered to pay $583,100 by June 1996.
This fall, the tribe attempted to raise money to buy the collection, but came up with only $2,000.
“It’s difficult to fund-raise when you’re not sure if the objects are even for sale,” Samuel Penney, chairman of the tribal executive committee, said recently.
The artifacts were purchased in the 1840s from tribal members by a Presbyterian minister from Ohio - Henry Spalding. Spalding gave them to Dudley Allen, an Ohio physician.
In 1930, Allen’s descendants gave the collection to Oberlin College. The college turned the collection over to the Ohio Historical Society in 1942. The objects have been on display at the Spalding center for 16 years.
This fall, the historical society told the Park Service to return the artifacts by Dec. 31. Society officials said in a written statement that they wanted to inspect and care for the items, then “store them for some time, because they have been exposed to light for an unusually long period. This is common practice in the museum world.”
Tuesday’s agreement was a relief to tribal members, who in late November held a “farewell ceremony” for the artifacts.
It also was a relief to workers at the visitors’ center, who have been feverishly photographing, sketching and examining the artifacts in the past two weeks.
“It’s wonderful,” said curator Bob Chenoweth. “We were running out of time.”
He said tribal elders, traditional craft workers and university researchers had visited in droves in recent days to examine the artifacts.
Chenoweth said the tribe’s plight attracted a lot of support in the region. Many people called the center to get the historical society’s address, he said, so they could write protest letters.
“Our phone’s been ringing off the hook,” he said.