Blanding » Federal agents and archaeologists rolled two rented moving vans up the brushy knoll to a convicted artifact trafficker's adobe home here Tuesday to confiscate a trove of Puebloan Indian heritage.
They plucked artifacts from the home (and even ancient ornaments sprinkled along the driveway) of Jeanne Redd and her late husband, James Redd, a doctor beloved throughout rural San Juan County who killed himself after his arrest last month.
A team of 20, roughly split between FBI and Bureau of Land Management agents and Interior Department archaeologists, spent all day and into the evening at the Redd home wrapping and boxing artifacts for shipment to BLM offices in Salt Lake City, BLM Special Agent Dan Barnes said.
Barnes and a BLM ranger guarded the gate that separates the Redd property from a town of 3,200 whose residents have complained bitterly of heavy-handed federal tactics. Armed agents arrested 24 in the Four Corners region last month, alleging they swiped American Indian artifacts from protected federal lands and bought and sold them.
Intermittent cars and trucks slowed down on the back-roads desert south of town for a peek at the white ranger pickups parked at the Redd home. Barnes said he frequently encounters southern Utahns who believe artifact collection or petroglyph vandalism on public lands is innocent fun, although it has been outlawed since the Antiquities Act of 1906.
"The area's just flooded [with artifacts]," he said. "That's why it's so prevalent."
A day after his June 10 indictment, James Redd, 60, killed himself on his Blanding property. On Monday, his wife, Jeanne Redd, 59, and their 37-year-old daughter, Jericca Redd, pleaded guilty to felony artifact trafficking.
Jeanne Redd admitted knowingly taking artifacts from Navajo lands and agreed to turn over her collection -- including any obtained legally from private lands -- to the BLM. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 16.
Officials said Tuesday the collection was partly stored and partly on display in the home. They declined to list or reveal the number of artifacts, although they said the relics included pottery, grindstones and sandals, and that many appeared to have come from ancient Anasazi or Navajo burials.
BLM National Curator Emily Palus said the artifacts were immaculately preserved through hundreds or thousands of years, possibly indicating that they came from traditional graves in the area's sandstone crevices. Whole clay pots, for instance, are rarely found intact except in burials.
"One wouldn't just toss out a usable item," she reasoned.
Palus traveled from Washington, D.C., for the artifact recovery and was impressed by the collection.
"This is Native American heritage, but it's also American heritage," she said, "and when it's locked away in private possession, the people lose."
The team loaded the items into two large moving vans, she said, and would not stack boxes more than two high.
Those boxes will stay at BLM offices in Salt Lake City until officials determine which items may have come from burials or have cultural significance. Federal authorities legally must offer to repatriate such items to the tribes of likely nearest relation, in this case the Navajos, Hopis, Zunis, Utes or Paiutes.
Other archaeological treasures -- say, grindstones, known as metates -- may go to BLM-partnering museums such as the Utah Museum of Natural History or, in Blanding, the Edge of the Cedars State Park.
"We like to curate materials close to their origin," Palus said.
The Redds were among defendants snared in a federal investigation in which an informant known in court documents only as "the Source" bought and sold artifacts alleged to have come from federal and tribal lands. Agents subsequently alleged that, in the course of executing a search warrant, they found computer and journal evidence linking the couple to a Ponzi scheme.
Many Blanding residents remain angry about the raid, although some have mixed feelings about the Redds. This was not the first time agents had busted the family for artifact crimes.
"You had your hand slapped once," Blanding teacher Ron Atkinson said of James Redd, who was his physician. "You should have learned something."
Theft of cultural resources hurts everyone, Atkinson said, partly because it robs family hikes of their magic. He chatted while watering melon plants and cornstalks in his garden Tuesday afternoon, musing about outings years ago when he stumbled on cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.
"It was just like a picture opened up," he said. "You could see the past."
Now he often returns to those same sites and notices where people have robbed graves and chipped away the rock art. "It's defacing property," he said. "Not just federal property, but also the heritage of the area we live in."
But then there's James Redd the man, Atkinson said. His doctor renewed his prescriptions for the next 10 months the night before he killed himself.
"He took the time to do that," Atkinson said. "That's something that shows character. He worried about his patients right up to the end."
Eric Fennell, now living in Davis County, grew up in Blanding and nearby on the Navajo Nation when his dad worked at a coal mine. During a visit here to his grandfather's home Tuesday, he remembered Redd stitching him up and setting his cracked bones.
"I was one of those rough-and-tumble teenagers," he said. "He always took care of me."
Fennell said the feds should have knocked on doors and discussed the crimes instead of storming homes and handcuffing suspects. Still, he said, American Indians have a right to expect peace for their ancient relatives and their sacred belongings.
"They lost a lot of their heritage," he said, "and this is what they have left."
Jeanne Redd, who pleaded guilty to seven felonies this week, was among 24 defendants indicted in a June 10 crackdown on illegal trafficking of American Indian artifacts from the Four Corners region. On Tuesday, agents and archaeologists hauled away artifacts from her Blanding home.