Feds seize Buddha heads

By Dave Moller, The Union, February 24, 2006

Western Nevada County, CA (USA) -- Federal agents have seized about 230 Buddha heads from a Colfax man who thinks they could date back to the 12th century.

Jim Bowers of Colfax said four agents from the Bureau of Land Management and a Placer County Sheriff's officer showed up at his downtown Colfax store Wednesday and confiscated the pieces. Bowers recently bought them from Hermann Henry of Colfax, who he said found them in a Colfax area riverbed.

The Union was unable to locate Henry.

"I'm a stress case," Bowers said Thursday. "This thing has gotten out of hand."

Bowers said he paid Henry $300 cash and gave him another $2,700 in gold and quartz for the thumbnail-sized Buddha heads. Bowers' said his research into the heads indicated they may be ancient artifacts.

Bowers contacted The Union after his purchase, hoping an article could help him find out if the heads were historic or not. The piece in Tuesday's edition of The Union apparently brought the law instead.

"It's sitting here right in front of me," said BLM Assistant Special Agent Russ Butler. He confirmed the heads had been confiscated from Bowers "Better Than Naked," shop in Colfax's old train station by fellow special agent Raymond LeLoup.

"They had to recover the alleged artifacts because they may have been removed illegally from federal land," Butler said.

Butler said BLM, the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the California State Parks Department are all involved in the investigation, because the heads may have been picked up in the Auburn State Recreation Area, some of which is on BLM and Bureau of Reclamation land.

"We'll probably figure out in the next day or two whose jurisdiction it is," Butler said. "It's more than likely Bureau of Reclamation or state parks."

Donna Turner, the park ranger at the Auburn State Recreation Area said she had no problem with BLM taking custody of the heads until their origin can be established. That's just part of the investigation, she said.

"It's likely they will be returned to Bowers if they are not stolen and if he did not loot a Chinese dig site," Turner said.

Bowers is not so sure. "They didn't give me a receipt or nothing," he said.

However, Bowers continues to try to find out from where the Buddha heads came. His latest theory is that they were washed down river from a home that was flooded out in 1954.

"I'm going to figure out the truth on this," Bowers said. "I want to be able to say 'I told you they were old.'"