BILLINGS, Mont. — A two-person Montana town near Custer’s famous “last stand” at Little Bighorn goes up for public auction Wednesday, with bids starting at $250,000 for an eight-acre site on the doorstep of one of America’s most famous battles.
Garryowen is being sold by Christopher Kortlander, who came to Montana from California almost 20 years ago.
About 50 miles southeast of Billings, within the Crow Indian Reservation, he built an 18,500-square-foot, Custer-themed compound on a frontage road along Interstate 90. It includes a post office, residence, museum, Subway shop and tomb of the unknown soldier, and counts Kortlander and a property manager as its only residents.
Also being auctioned is a trove of manuscripts from Custer’s wife, Elizabeth. The manuscripts and town are being auctioned separately or as a package by the Tulsa, Okla.-based auction company Williams and Williams.
The Custer Battlefield Museum, a collection of Little Bighorn and American Indian artifacts, is not for sale. Kortlander, the museum’s director, said whether the museum will stay depends on who buys Garryowen.
“I’ve taken this as far as I can personally go as far as my personal resources,” he said. “We are committed to carry this legacy forward and make sure the museum is going to be in a location that can be enjoyed by the citizens of and visitors to the state.”
He declined to answer further questions about his motivation for selling.
Garryowen is located just a few miles from where Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and more than 200 U.S. Cavalry troopers and scouts from the Crow Tribe were killed in June 1876, by up to 1,800 Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors.
Kortlander attempted to sell the town in the last decade for $6.9 million. But those plans were scuttled amid a government investigation, later dropped, into alleged illegal artifact dealings by Kortlander.
Kortlander later sued the auction house that had agreed to handle the sale, in a case settled out of court for undisclosed terms.
The federal probe spanned five years and began about the time former Gov. Judy Martz named Kortlander as Montana’s Tourism Person of the Year in 2004. During two raids on the compound in 2005 and 2008, the government seized thousands of documents, artifacts, guns and other items from Kortlander’s personal residence and the museum.
Most have since been returned, but Kortlander has a claim pending in federal court to reclaim for the museum about two dozen war bonnets, medicine bundles and other items still in the government’s possession. He’s seeking tens of millions of damages in a separate lawsuit against the government.
Williams and Williams spokeswoman Amy Bates said Wednesday’s sale has received global interest from both individual and institutional buyers. She described Kortlander as a “committed and excited” seller, but declined to speculate on how much the property and manuscript collection might bring at auction.
“The bidder will let us know how much they believe the real estate is worth and the manuscript is worth,” Bates said.
Any sale is subject to Kortlander’s approval.
The live auction starts at 4 p.m. and Bates said it could be over within a half-hour. Online bids will be accepted.