BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) _ The town of Garryowen, home to the privately owned Custer Battlefield Museum, is to be auctioned this spring with a starting bid of $6.5 million, a Dallas-based auction house said.
"This sale is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be an integral part of American history and to own the most famous privately held historic real estate in America," Gary Hendershott, consignment director for Heritage Auction Galleries wrote in a letter included with a draft sales brochure.
The letter suggested a corporation might consider buying the unincorporated tourist stop across the Little Bighorn River from the National Park Service's Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
Chris Kortlander purchased Garryowen in 1993 and later mortgaged the property to purchase the 6,000-piece Elizabeth Bacon Custer manuscript archive.
He said he is offering the town _ including a 4,000-square-foot residence, trading post, museum, office complex, bed and breakfast, post office, gas station and restaurant _ and the archive as a package deal hoping someone would take up his dream of building a museum and research facility to house Elizabeth Custer's papers.
Elizabeth Custer was the wife of Lt. Col. George Custer who died in 1876 along with five companies of the 7th Cavalry at "Custer's Last Stand," a battle with Sioux and Cheyenne warriors.
The archive contains photographs, correspondence, drawings, notes, drafts of Elizabeth Custer's books, invitations to military balls and a card from her 1864 wedding to George Custer.
Kortlander said he was unable to raise money to build a museum.
"I've done everything possible that a person with my resources can do," he said. "Now the torch has to be passed to someone with more resources."
Kortlander said he could have sold off Elizabeth Custer's items piece-by-piece to collectors and made a lot of money, "but I wanted to do the right thing."
The collection includes a copy of her will, in which she wrote that she wanted her husband's belongings and memorabilia to be delivered to "the Public Museum or Memorial which may be erected on the battlefield of the Little Bighorn in Montana."
Kortlander said he believes keeping her archive in Garryowen would fulfill the wish expressed in her will.
Battlefield Superintendent Darrell Cook said the battlefield did receive much of Custer's personal property, including his uniforms, when Elizabeth Custer died in 1933. He said he had not seen Kortlander's archive and did not know how much of it pertained to Custer at the Little Bighorn.
For more information go to www.custerauction.com/index.html