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Western & Eastern Treasures Magazine

On Coronado's Trail
By Randy Smith

Featured Online Article from
Vol. 30 December 1996

It is well documented in Spanish history that Coronado passed through what is now the central U.S. in the year 1541. And it is also recorded that in the spring of 1541 he camped in a canyon in western Texas. While in this canyon he experienced a storm with baseball size hail that was reportedly two hands high on the ground. Coronado's 500 soldiers and 1,000 Mexican Indian recruits suffered greatly. The hail broke all their pottery, dented their armor, and scattered the horses.

A detector equipped with a mini-coil easily located targets missed by the archaeologists during excavation and screening.

This site was known to exist but had never been found-that is, until local relic hunter Jimmy Owens and his White's Spectrum XLT made the scene. Jimmy was searching the floor of Blanco canyon and began finding arrowheads made of brass and some funny looking nails. Jimmy did not recognize these artifacts to be Native American, so he decided to take them to his local museum, where the curator took pictures and sent them to Texas archaeologist Jay Blaine.

Blanco Canyon must have seemed an oasis to Coronado and his weary men when they reached it in the spring of 1541.

Jay immediately recognized the points as Spanish crossbow points from the 1500s, and the nails were a tee-headed nail only seen in one other site, also a Coronado camp, in New Mexico. Jimmy could tell by everyone's excitement that this was no routine find. Dr. Don Blakeslee from the Wichita State University archaeology department and Lou Fullen from Texas Heritage services were called in to supervise the dig.

Working together, detectorists and archaeologists alike came away from the project with greater understanding and appreciation of one another's skills, values, and goals.

Jimmy called White's Electronics and asked for help with equipment and manpower to run the detectors, and that's where I came in. The detector crew consisted of:

  • Jimmy Owens, Floydada, Texas
  • Brian Barrett, Canyon, Texas
  • Bill Cornelius, Houston, Texas
  • Troy Ellison, Lubbock, Texas
  • Steve Howard, Sweethome,
  • Oregon Randy Smith, Tulsa, Oklahoma (author)

Our job was to search the area, flag each signal, determine the depth and note if the target was ferrous or nonferrous. We found thousands of targets, mostly 7-8" deep. Where ever there was a concentration of signals the archeologist would mark off a 6' square and methodically dig down, screening and recording all objects, metallic or not. They were using the White's Classic 3 with a 4" coil to pinpoint and mark targets inside the square. We would also check the waste dirt under the shaker screen's. The archaeologists were shocked as nearly every time the detector would find something in the waste dirt that they had missed. Most of the detectorists had their units set with audio discriminators turned off, allowing them to hear every target at maximum depth.

Video/film crews also visited the Coronado campsite excavation, documenting teamwork between detectorists and archaeologists.

Brian Barrett was detecting in a mesquite thicket and noticed something sticking out of the edge of a sinkhole. It appeared to be a flint tool of some kind. Archaeologists dug down and found 33 neatly stacked monoliths stone scrapers which dated 6,000 to 8,000 years old.

One thing I learned about detecting in west Texas is that you don't wear headphones. Why? Rattlesnakes! Blanco Canyon is approximately 100' deep, and very little wind reaches the floor. It reaches 100 degrees in the shade, which also attracts the snakes.

Detectors played a key role in systematic searching of the site, pinpointing artifacts such as brass crossbow points, buckles, horse hardware, and nails left by Spanish explorers.

Approximately 30 crossbow points were found, along with pieces of Spanish buckles, horse hardware, brass ornaments with carvings of flowers, a piece of a knife handle with a dog carved on it, and lots of the tee-headed nails.

Archaeologists are not finished with this site. They will be digging here for years to come. And it's important to note that if it were not for Jimmy Owens and his metal detector, it would not have been found. And although Jimmy volunteered to give up his site to the archaeologist, he has continued to help in the exploration of this site and has learned and enjoyed it much more. We met some good friends on this dig, and I am still amazed at how well everyone got along and respected each other. Yes, we learned a lot form the archaeologists, but they learned form us as well. In fact they were in awe of how accurate we were with our detectors.

One keen-eyed searcher noticed an exposed flint artifact, leading to the discovery of a cache of monolithic stone scrapers dating back 6,000-8,000 years.

I encourage you get with your local detector club and volunteer your services to a local museum or university. I am sure you will find it just as rewarding as Jimmy Owens has. If you recall, detectorists helped to search the Custard-Little Bighorn battlefield, and now Coronado's spring camp in Texas. I am sure that our hobby will continue to help rewrite and preserve history for future generations.

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