As a young boy, Donald H. Miller of Orange Township in Rush County, Indiana had enjoyed digging up arrowheads, military uniform-buttons, and whatever else he could find from the past. It did not make any difference what time-period and apparently it made no difference to him if there was probable ownership or property rights attached to his finds.
Don Miller enrolled in engineering school prior to joining the U.S. Army Reserves in the 1940’s. He was later assigned to a Special Engineer Detachment in Los Alamos, NM, reaching Technician 4th Grade inside the Manhattan Project. But if you think that is an intriguing perhaps fantastical tidbit, wait until the FBI raids, investigates, and uncovers items inside his home-basement and amateur museum in April 2014. They find at least 42,000 rare and not-so-rare historical artifacts from numerous cultures around the globe. His and his wife’s collection included:
- Two (believed) large dinosaur eggs laid in China
- A wooden cowbell from Tibet
- Over 300 arrowheads from the Western United States
- An old dugout canoe from the Amazon River used by indigenous natives
- An 1873 Winchester carbine believed to be used by a Sioux warrior in the Battle of Little Big Horn
- Primitive axes carried by indigenous Indians of New Guinea
- Spent bullet-casings from Civil War battlegrounds
- Pre-Colombian pottery
- Ming Dynasty jade
- An Egyptian sarcophagus
- A 1927 Wurlitzer pipe-organ Don would play for visitors
These were just a few of the artifacts the FBI crime detectives found in Mr. Miller’s home. What they also discovered that was not visible to visitors of his collection were around 2,000 human bones representing about 500 human beings, all of which are believed to be stolen from sacred Native American burial grounds.
Don and wife Sue Miller were very active in their local church and foreign missionary work from the 1960’s into the late 1980’s then becoming short-term consultants for construction-missionary trips abroad. The couple was so serious about their missionary work and giving out Bibles to the locals that they organized Building for God International in 1979 in order to take advantage of America’s tax-exemptions, right-offs and religious traveling expenses. They also would host in their home pastors and their families from the foreign church congregations they had built. Yet, with so much concern about reaching international people in foreign lands with their personal ideology and controversial belief-system, Don and Sue seemed completely oblivious to the ethical and moral, let alone legal implications of filling their Waldron, Indiana home with precious and sacred artifacts and the remains of 500 human beings with family descendants.
Dark Rain Thom, a Shawnee descendant who served on the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission under three governors, said the motives of such collectors vary, and that it’s not uncommon for collections to come to light when an elderly person dies and descendants try to figure out what to do with artifacts.
Often, she said, family members then quietly donate them to museums or arrange to return them to specific tribes — if that provenance can be determined.
Some collectors are motivated by money, as the artifacts’ sale can be lucrative, Thom said. But others with interests in archaeology or anthropology are motivated by a desire to understand the development of a culture through its art items and everyday implements. And others, Thom said, are in it for the thrill of discovery.
— Indystar.com “Thousands of artifacts removed from rural Indiana home” by Diana Penner, accessed March 5, 2019
But the fact remains, Don Miller was not a licensed, professional, or even sanctioned guest archaeologist or anthropologist with any university or society in the world. He was a self-proclaimed historian and museum curator of his own stolen property and appointed by his God as an earnest missionary doing his God’s work. He was not always given proper access or any permission to go into certain sites, much less leave the country with artifacts. This is the mind-boggling, appalling self-perception Donald Miller had of himself.
The FBI have already returned artifacts to Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, New Zealand and Spain to date, and about 360 artifacts have been repatriated to China. In 1979 the Archaeological Resources Protection Act forbade any sales, purchase, exchange, transport, or receipt of artifacts. In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law protecting cultural and natural resources in the U.S. And in 1990 the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was signed into law making it illegal to buy or sell Native American remains. Over the course of his accumulation of items Don Miller purchased many, if not most of his artifacts, as well as illegally obtained and illegally brought them into the United States.
Why would someone who supposedly believes in ‘saving non-American sinners in order for souls to leave our dead decaying human bodies and tombs for eternal life’ want with 2,000 bones of 500 humans? Why would a man who served in the U.S. military and took part in the Manhattan Project that ended WWII consciously and willingly break the very laws he vowed to fight for? What could possibly convince a man that what he was illegally amassing in his “basement museum” was even remotely ethical and meant (in his mind) for human prosperity, let alone his God’s will?
Donald Miller died in 2015 without any repercussions of his illicit crimes; never tried, fined, or punished. The FBI investigation and repatriation of artifacts from Miller’s home continues to this day.
Share your thoughts below about this bizarre man, his integrity, his religious beliefs and activity, and whether or not he provided any lasting legacy for future generations.
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