South Dakota Collector Claims Dealer Sold Him $421,000 in Fake Native American Art

The collector says the dealer concocted his own stories about the items.

Sitting Bull (cropped) , from 1881.
An early photograph of Sitting Bull (1881).

An early photograph of Sitting Bull (1881).
Image: Courtesy of Wikipedia.

According to a story in Courthouse News, a doctor in Hot Springs, South Dakota is suing a dealer who he alleges sold him $421,000 worth of works purported to have belonged to Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud and other Native Americans icons.

Dr. Reuben Setliff sued dealer Larry Belitz on December 7 in Fall River County court. He said that of $600,o000 he paid Belitz for purported Native American artifacts, roughly $420,000 was for fake works. According to the story, Setliff alleged that Belitz repeatedly reached out to him with offers of various objects and “a ‘story’ of the the item’s historical and cultural significance.”

However, Setliff claims that most of the items were fake and “Belitz wrote the stories about them himself.” The local doctor is seeking the $421,000 he spent on allegedly fake works as well as $500,000 in punitive damages for breach of contract.

Courthouse News points out that Belitz operates a company called Sioux Replications, out of Hot Springs (population: 3,514), according to the Siouxland Heritage Museums website. The story notes an additional, bizarre listing on the page for “Franz Brown, Jolly Fat Man.” (Brown, an artist, has frequently served as a model for Santa Claus in his own paintings as well as for other portrait painters.)

A webpage for the National Park Service about a lifesize Tipi in Jefferson, Missouri refers to Belitz as “a master craftsman” who “has constructed over 300 bison hide tipis over the years.”

The site includes a two-minute clip of Belitz explaining how he made the tipi. Another site lists a book by Belitz, titled The Buffalo Hide Tipi of the Sioux.

According to Courthouse News, Brown says Belitz’s work has been displayed in the Smithsonian Museum, the Chicago Field Museum, and the St. Louis Arch.

Artnet News called Belitz, but the dealer declined to comment, and Setliff’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

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