After a Georgia man tried to sell the headdress over the Internet for $1.2 million a year ago, the FBI seized it on the grounds that trafficking in feathers of bald and golden eagles is illegal. Leighton Deming, who says Geronimo gave his grandfather the war bonnet after a historic powwow in Oklahoma in 1907, agreed to forfeit the artifact in exchange for probation.
The Mescalero Apache Tribe in southern New Mexico was first to file a claim. The tribe says Geronimo was the acclaimed "war chief of all Apache tribes" and the headdress would make a fine addition to their museum.
Two weeks later, the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma put in its bid. The Comanches argue that Apaches did not wear long-feather war bonnets, but their tribe did and made the one seized by the FBI.
Comanches say that even if Geronimo wore the headdress, it was only on loan. The Comanches never would have given a non-Comanche an item of "tremendous religious and cultural significance," their claim said.
Apache attorney James M. Burson said the dispute has required a "time-consuming historical investigation."
"There's virtually no one alive to tell us the actual instance when Geronimo got the war bonnet, and there aren't any kind of historical documents," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert E. Goldman said the artifact would either go to the Department of the Interior for display in a museum or be returned to the tribe that can prove ownership.
The case has been filed in federal court in Philadelphia because that is where Deming was caught trying to sell the bonnet to an undercover FBI agent for $1.2 million.