North Dakota man tried to pawn Native American war bonnet with golden eagle feathers, court docs allege

Federal prosecutors said Zachary Johnson violated the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. He faces up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

War bonnet.png
A photo of the war bonnet federal prosecutors alleged that a Bismarck man tried to sell to a pawn shop.
U.S. District Court

BISMARCK — A Bismarck man is facing a federal charge after law enforcement said he tried to sell a Native American war bonnet that had golden eagle feathers at a pawn shop.

Zachary William Johnson, 34, appeared Friday, April 28, in North Dakota’s U.S. District Court on a misdemeanor charge that alleged he violated the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. He faces up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Johnson pleaded not guilty to the charge. He will be allowed to be out of custody during court proceedings as long as he attends future court appearances, doesn't commit any crimes and surrenders the war bonnet to authorities, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan O'Konek said.

O'Konek is prosecuting the case.

Johnson's defense attorney, Bradley Scott Rose, said he had no comment and has advised his client not to comment on the case.


Court documents filed Thursday and unsealed Friday alleged Johnson tried to sell a war bonnet that included golden eagle feathers on April 15 to Jay’s Pawn Shop, 303 Airport Road in Bismarck. War bonnets have great cultural significance to tribes of the Great Plains, and tribe members must “display great bravery and accomplish many great deeds in order to receive enough eagle feathers that would be made into a war bonnet,” according to the court documents.

Johnson told the pawn shop employees he found the war bonnet in an abandoned house and wanted to know how much money he could get for it, a criminal complaint said. The pawn shop refused to buy the bonnet, the complaint said.

A Bureau of Indian Affairs agent and his wife walked into the store shortly after Johnson, who is not an enrolled member of any tribe, according to the complaint. The agent noticed the war bonnet had genuine golden eagle feathers in it, the complaint said.

The agent told Johnson he could not have the eagle feathers and was not allowed to sell the war bonnet, the complaint said.

The couple took a picture of the war bonnet, which was attached to the criminal complaint. Federal experts said in the complaint that the regalia appears to have genuine golden eagle feathers.

An enrolled tribal member who was waiting in a vehicle for Johnson entered the pawn shop as Johnson left the business, the complaint said. The agent told the enrolled member, who has not been criminally charged in the case, that “she should know better than try to sell eagle feathers,” the complaint said.

The Indian Affairs agent's wife posted a photo on Facebook in an attempt to find the owners of the war bonnet, the complaint said. One woman claimed two war bonnets were stolen from her grandmother’s home in New Town, North Dakota, during the grandmother’s wake and funeral services, according to the complaint.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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