The True Owner of the Canoe at the Benton River Center
This going to sound like some kind of law school fact pattern or a bar exam question. However, it is more than merely academic.
There is a wooden dugout canoe at the Benton River Center. It is a cool looking piece of Saline County and Arkansas history. The canoe is attributed to the Caddo tribe that once lived in Arkansas and used the Saline River as a navigable waterway. I am going to call the Caddo “the maker/original owner.”
According to the account on the plaque near the canoe at the River Center, the canoe was found by a fisherman who I am going to call the “finder.” The finder found the canoe and called some authorities who said (in a summary)—”Awesome find, looks like a historical Caddo canoe, submerge it in some water until we get a chance to preserve it.”
So the finder took the canoe and re-submerged it in pond water until the State could get around to preserving the canoe. Eventually, in the State of Arkansas’s good, sweet time, they called, preserved canoe, and looked for a place to display it.
Apparently, the canoe is now owned by the Historic Arkansas Museum. They chose the Benton River Center as a place to display the historic exhibit. Now, that’s a summary. Let’s talk about ownership.
In Arkansas, “lost property” is property which the owner has involuntarily parted with through neglect, carelessness, or inadvertence. It is that property which the owner has unwittingly suffered to pass out of his possession, and of whose whereabouts he has no knowledge. Property is deemed lost when it is unintentionally separated from the dominion of its owner. In comparison, “mislaid property” is that which is intentionally put into a certain place and later forgotten.
Property is said to be “abandoned” when it is thrown away, or its possession is voluntarily forsaken by the owner, in which case it will become the property of the first possessor who recovers it; or when it is involuntarily lost or left without the hope and expectation of again acquiring it, and then it becomes the property of the finder, subject to the superior claim of the owner. Absent a clear intention to abandon property, the law says the property belongs to the person who left it behind.
The finder of mislaid property acquires no title to the property and must turn it over to the owner. A finder of lost property holds title to the found property. The finder’s title to lost property is superior to all others except one—the true owner who lost the property. Which brings us back to a really important question, who owns the canoe—the person who found it, the maker, or the State.
If you read the plaque at the River Center, the Caddo tied a special rock to the canoe to keep it anchored and it became covered in Saline River sediment after a series of floods (again a summary). The Caddo, it seems, must have lost or mislaid the canoe. The plaque leaves out an important detail, the assimilation of the Caddo into other tribes as well as the removal of the Caddo from their homeland in Arkansas to Texas and then Oklahoma. If you did not know, the Caddo Nation are alive and well in Oklahoma, and have been for quite some time.
Who owns the canoe? Sounds to me like it was lost or mislaid by the Caddo and found by the finder. Sounds like a cool find. But I have not heard where the finder, the State, the City of Benton, or anyone else has offered to give the canoe back to the Caddo (in fairness, the City may not have the ability to give away a museum display owned by the State). Instead, we have put it on display as we are rather proud of the “find.”
If you lost or mislaid $10,000.00, and I found it, you would want it back. If you were dead, you would want your kids, grandkids, or great-grand kids to have your money or property. Well, they found the Caddo’s property. The Caddo should be offered to give the gift of their canoe to our center or at least have the chance to have their property returned to them.
- See the archive of The Lancaster Law Report at www.mysaline.com/lancaster