Earl K. Shumway is a snitch, a burglar and a pothunter.
And he's back in court, charged with disturbing yet another Anasazi Indian gravesite. If the latest allegations against Shumway are true, then he apparently hasn't learned his lesson, despite having barely beaten the system 10 years ago."Earl's a fairly well-known character in southeastern Utah," said state archaeologist David Madsen. "He used to claim he could outsmart anybody and that he'd never get caught doing it."
On Oct. 19, Shumway got caught, according to an indictment issued last week by a federal grand jury.
The indictment charges Shumway, 37, and Peter G. Verchick, 24, both of Moab, with violating two sections of the federal Ar-chae-o-log-i-cal Resources Protection Act.
The charges accuse Shumway and Verchick of excavating an Anasazi alcove in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Cedar Mesa Special Management Area in San Juan County. Anasazis were pre-Columbian Indians who lived in the Four Corners Area from about 1000 to 1300 A.D.
BLM investigator Bart Fitzgerald said a law enforcement officer observed two individuals in the North Whiskers area of Cedar Mesa and tracked them to the alcove, which had been extensively damaged.
"They essentially had dug into Anasazi burials and other ruins," Fitzgerald said.
Investigators later arrested Shumway and Verchick and served a search warrant at Shumway's residence in Moab, seizing a number of items. Fitzgerald would not say what was seized.
In addition to the archaeological charges, which carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison, Shumway was charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, namely a .22-caliber rifle.
Shumway, a native of Blanding, San Juan County, is no stranger to those who enforce laws protecting the nation's cultural resources.
In November 1984, he was indicted on two counts of pothunting and two counts involving theft and destruction of government property.
The charges accused him of removing 34 ancient Indian baskets and assorted jewelry from national forest land 15 miles northwest of Blanding. Investigators estimated the black-market value of the artifacts at $110,000.
After pleading guilty to one of the charges, Shumway became a flagship case for Brent Ward, former U.S. attorney for Utah, who crusaded against Anasazi looting. In a much publicized press conference, Ward displayed many of the baskets that Shumway pilfered from Anasazi sites.
Two months later, in March 1986, Ward's bubble was burst when U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene put Shumway on probation, noting that the pothunter was already serving a Utah State Prison term for an unrelated burglary.
The incident prompted the Deseret News to editorialize that the sentence was a "slap on the wrist" and that Shumway "was essentially let off scot free this time."
As part of his plea bargain, Shumway apparently agreed to help federal prosecutors in other looting cases. He was released from prison in July 1986 and two months later testified against Buddy Black, the son of the late San Juan County Commissioner Cal Black. Buddy Black was eventually acquitted.
In the trial, attorneys referred to Shumway as a "raider ex-tra-ord-i-naire" of Indian artifacts. In testimony, Shumway boasted of once using a bulldozer to excavate an Indian ruin. He also said he lost count of the number of sites he has looted but that it is "in the thousands and thousands."
Though not all Shumways are pothunters, the practice appears to run in his family:
- His grandfather, A. Shumway, made a living off collecting Indian artifacts and selling them to the University of Utah.
- His cousin, Casey Shumway, was the first person in San Juan County prosecuted for pothunting. He was fined $700 and put on probation.
- His uncle, Devar Shumway, has one of the most exquisite Indian artifact collections in the Four Corners area.
- Another relative, Madge Shumway wrote a letter to the Deseret News in 1986, criticizing Ward's handling of federal raids on San Juan County residences suspected of containing Indian artifacts.
Federal efforts are panning out
Thanks largely to federal efforts, pothunting and the desecration of Indian ruins have decreased dramatically on public lands in Utah, said state archaeologist David Madsen.
Professional pothunters, however, still carry on a brisk business, he said. Ancient Indian relics are worth hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars per item on the black market in the United States. They are worth even more in Europe and Asia.
In addition, there's a certain allure to the business, said Bart Fitzgerald, an investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
"It's treasure hunting," Fitzgerald said. "It's a kick to look for stuff and find it, regardless of whose grave you may be digging up."