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Buddha heads not so ancient, after all

Jim Bowers can stop chasing his Buddha head mystery.

Bowers, a shop owner in downtown Colfax, has spent the last few weeks trying to find the origin of 23 thumbnail-sized Buddha heads found by his friend and fellow prospector, Hermann Henry.

Bowers and others in Colfax had theorized that the 250 or so white, porcelain-like Buddha heads Henry found in the American River about 100 yards from the Iowa Hill Bridge might be ancient. Bowers did research and even went to the Golden Drift Historical Society’s museum in Dutch Flat to see if they had come from Chinese settlers of the Gold Rush era. He decided they didn’t



And then he got a tip that Casey O’Connor of Colfax, a Sierra College art professor, had made the Buddha heads and scattered them throughout the area. Bowers said O’Connor admitted he had made the heads and placed them in the river and at spots in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Portland, Ore.

O’Connor was not available for comment Monday, but he issued a statement to Placer County Undersheriff Steve D’Arcy indicating he had made the heads from a mold and scattered them to stir up historical interest.




The whole thing originally stirred up federal and state authorities, who came to Bowers business “Better Than Naked” in the old Colfax railroad station, where they confiscated his Buddha heads.

That also led to Henry, Bowers said, who had those Buddha heads he hadn’t sold locally confiscated by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and the California State Parks Department.

Ross Butler, an assistant special agent in charge for BLM, said Monday the matter had been turned over to the state parks department, but he had no idea what they were going to do in light of O’Connor coming forward.

The find on the river was in the Auburn State Recreation Area, which includes land belonging to the Bureau of Reclamation. Those entities were searching for the Buddha heads’ origins to see if they were artifacts taken from federal land.

Recreation area Park Ranger Donna Turner was unavailable for comment Monday, but Bowers was more than happy that the search was over.

“I’m tickled to death to get to the end of it and find out the truth,” Bowers said. “Maybe now the state will apologize to me.”

To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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