Vergennes drug bust nets stolen Bixby artifact

VERGENNES — Bixby Memorial Library officials held out little hope of recovering a valuable Native American spearhead when it was stolen from the organization’s museum last October.
But thanks to a vigilant public and some good police work, the spearhead has been located and is on target for return to the Bixby’s museum within the next few weeks. And soon after it does, the spearhead and the rest of the museum’s thousands of artifacts will be formally catalogued to give Bixby officials a more polished picture of the little-known treasure trove of historical artifacts that has reposed for generations in a non-descript, second-floor room in the historic library.
“The Bixby Library is thrilled and impressed,” library Director Jane Spencer said of the recovery of the Shoshoni ceremonial spearhead by Vergennes police. Police on July 17 cited Susan J. Curavoo, 46, of Vergennes, for possession of stolen property after executing a search warrant at her home. Vergennes police Chief George Merkel said the spearhead — around a foot long and colored black on one side, red on the other — was found safely ensconced in bubble rap. He said Curavoo is scheduled to answer to citations for possession of stolen property and possession of marijuana at the Addison County Courthouse on Aug. 27.
It was last fall that someone unscrewed a hasp and removed a padlock to get into the glass display case that housed the spearhead. The culprit ignored other, potentially more valuable items in the same display case, Merkel noted. The spearhead is part of an expansive collection of Native American artifacts from throughout the country donated to the Bixby by the late Ernest Bilhuber, a former summer resident who was a friend of the late Lois Noonan, former longtime Bixby director.
The thief made a clean getaway, in part due to a very trusting access policy for the museum. That policy has since been tightened, as library personnel must now supervise museum visits.
“It is a shame that something that was open to the public… now has to be monitored because of the thoughtlessness and disrespect of someone,” Merkel said.
Months went by with no news on the spearhead. That changed earlier this month thanks to a tip, Merkel noted. That tip led to Vergennes police executing a search warrant at the Curavoo residence on July 17, Merkel said. Authorities uncovered the spearhead, along with some marijuana and drug paraphernalia, according to Merkel.
“There may be more charges pending as we continue this investigation,” Merkel said.
Bixby officials are thrilled to know the spearhead is going to be returned, and see the theft and its aftermath as an opportunity to take new stock in the entire museum collection.
“The burglary pointed out how much we needed to do an inventory,” Spencer said.
Indeed, it is a collection oft-viewed but not well chronicled, Spencer acknowledged. Featured items include artifacts from the old Monkton Ironworks, powder horns, cannonballs, a Civil War canteen and a broken axe purportedly from the fleet of Capt. Thomas Macdonough, whose Navy forces defeated the British on Lake Champlain during the Battle of Plattsburgh, a defining U.S. victory during the War of 1812.
There are also geological displays, including fossils, minerals and interesting rocks.
But headlining the museum’s collection is the vast array of Native American arrowheads, tomahawks, bowls, pots, moccasins, headdresses and other items from tribes who has settlements from the Northeast to Oregon.
Spencer recently reached out to resident Aaron Robertson to appropriately enough “spearhead” an inventory of the Bixby’s museum collection. While he currently works as a financial advisor with Edward Jones, Robertson is no stranger to artifacts. He was a professional archaeologist for 15 years, primarily in Alaska. Robertson also served as head of outreach for the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks.
“I am an expert in 80 percent of their collection,” Robertson said.
Plans call for the training of several volunteers — to possibly include Vergennes Union High School students — to assist Robertson in the inventorying project. It is a process that will include measuring, weighing, photographing and briefly describing each item. This will lead to assigning a value to the museum items, some of which are suspected to be worth several thousands dollars.
Ultimately, Bixby officials would like to share this inventory information on-line.
“It is important to know what we have and to make sure to safeguard this property,” Spencer said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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