The Relic Hunter
As Featured in Volume 31 March 1997 issue of
Western & Eastern Treasures Magazine


Adventures In Cannonball Alley
By Ed Fedory

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During the course of the relic hunt in Cannonball Alley, an assortment of French and Indian War relics were recovered including shoe buckles, belt buckles and musketballs.

When I awoke to the 2:00 a.m. alarm I had set, it was with a great sense of expectation for what the day would hold. It was going to be a long day. There would be hundreds of miles logged on the truck, and hopefully a good amount of digging in between the driving. The site we would be searching had been aptly given the nickname "Cannonball Alley," and I hoped it would live up to its name during the hunt.

By the time Gene knocked on the back door an hour later, I had already stowed my metal detector and pack in the truck, and it was only a matter of minutes before Gene's gear was loaded and we were heading down the highway. We hoped to be on-site by seven in the morning, knowing that the weather forecast of afternoon thunderstorms would probably prove to be correct. We had only one day during that particular week to relic hunt together, and we were determined to give it our best shot... rain or shine.

We arrived at our rendezvous site a half hour early and continued discussing the coming hunt and detector settings over a couple of orders of pancakes and a half-gallon of hot coffee. Somehow timing their arrival with my last pancake, Dan and Keith joined us at the table. Their research had led them to Cannonball Alley, and they were gracious enough to allow us to hunt with them on their site for the day.

After one last round of coffee, we found ourselves in the parking lot, assembled at the rear of Keith's truck. When he opened the back hatch we saw why the site had been given its interesting name. Contained in an open wooden box were three large cannonballs... a six-pounder, an eight-pounder, and a twelve-pounder!

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Running our detectors with little or no discrimination resulted in a number of iron targets ranging from 19th century horse shoes to buckles and a folding knife blade from the mid-1700s.

My boots started to itch for something other than asphalt to be beneath them!

A half-hour later, we were slinging our packs on our backs and heading into the deep woods, the beginning of a long hike to the distant site. Walking in line and carrying our detectors, we were somehow given the sense that nearly 250 years ago men were doing the same thing... only instead of a detector dangling from their right hand, it was a musket. In a valley so thickly laden with history, you could almost feel the past rising up through the soles of your boots!

When we arrived at the site, we placed our packs at the base of a large pine and were shown where the three cannonballs had been recovered. They had been found within 50 yards of each other, along with an assortment of other relics dating from the French & Indian War. In quick order, we had our detectors balanced and were heading into the woods on a quest of recovery.

Gene had an idea that any cannonballs which had overshot the site would be found on the far bank of a deep gully some distance away, and I watched as he headed down the slope, his coil sweeping in a wide arc. I decided to stay on top of the ridge with Keith and Dan, and contented myself with recovering a few strands of old barbed wire. Ten minutes later, as I was pinpointing another piece of wire, Gene reappeared with a smile on his face and dropped a muddy eight-pound cannonball at my feet!

"I pulled a musketball from the first hole...this came out of the second."

Needless to relate, I abandoned the barbed wire-laced heights and followed Gene to the area where he had recovered the round shot. Gene had yet to fill in the spot where he had been digging, and the round cavity where the ball had been lodged in the side of the muddy hole could still be seen. We decided to run patterns along the entire length of the gully wall, and it was only a matter of minutes before I was holding my first Brown Bess musketball from the site. With the land never having seen the use of a plow, musketballs were found very shallow, averaging only about 4" beneath the surface of the forest floor. There aren't many faint signals on a site like the one we were searching!

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Thick growth and rocky terrain...torrential downpours and squadrons of mosquitoes offered a full challenge to the relic hunting team as we searched for evidence of America's Colonial past in the dense forests of upstate New York.

The vast majority of the musketballs we were recovering were "drops," only a few having been fired. I stopped back at the pack to get a drink and found Dan. Besides the balls he was able to recover, he managed to locate a number of interesting iron targets, including a shoe buckle, a wedge, and the blade of a folding knife.

A light rain began to fall, but it did little to diminish or dampen our desire to relic hunt. I went back to the area I had been searching and continued where I had left off. A few more musketballs were recovered before I got a really large signal. I switched over to the all-metal mode to get an idea of the size of the target and figured I had pinpointed something as large as a garbage can lid... or hopefully, a cannonball. I dug a plug through the carpet of leaves and pine needles and heard the distinctive sound of the digging tool hitting metal. It certainly would make a more interesting story if I could report the recovery of a cannonball from that hole, but sadly enough, it was the first of four horseshoes. All I needed to find were a couple of iron stakes, and we would have had the makings of a good game!

Through the trees I could see Keith searching in an area of dense brush, and I decided to see how his hunt was going. Amid the cluster of large musketballs he held out in his hand was a large piece of iron which was immediately identifiable as a mortar bomb fragment. The area we were searching certainly had been the target of sustained fire at some time in centuries past!

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Beneath the soil of Cannonball Alley lay a treasure of lost and discarded relics. Forced to end the hunt early, we wondered what relics still remained hidden in the depths of the forest floor.

The rain increased, and with the first sounds of thunder in the distance I decided to head back to the packs to see what the rest of the team wanted to do. I hadn't seen Gene during the past two hours, but I knew that the thunder would bring the entire group back to the packs to regroup and make a decision on the best course of action for the rest of the hunt.

Bearing more of a resemblance to a pack of drowned rats than relic hunters, we huddled under the pine branches and compared our finds. Besides the cannonball and mortar fragment, the team had amassed nearly 50 musketballs. An added bonus to the hunt were the four buttons and two brass shoe buckles Gene had found at the mouth of the ravine. Not to be outdone, Dan pulled a couple of belt buckles and another small shoe buckle from his collecting bag. We had been in the field-in Cannonball Alley-for a little under five hours, and could only wonder about the historic treasures that would be forced to remain hidden until we would once again be able to return to the site in the coming weeks.

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Dan, Keith, and Gene, display the reason for the site being so aptly named Cannonball Alley. The cannonballs ranged in size from twelve pounders to six pounders.

Mud-caked and rain-soaked, dirty and drenched, we turned our backs on Cannonball Alley and began our distant trek back to the truck. It had been a great relic hunting experience from several viewpoints. It wasn't only the recovery of relics from the French & Indian War period, as much as it was sharing the common dreams... those hopes of recovery, with another group of men we had previously only talked to on the phone. To a man, we each felt as much joy witnessing recoveries made by a team member as we did with making our own finds. Despite the torrential rains, the Alley was a great place to be that day... a good site shared by good men.

Yeah, it doesn't get any better than that!


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Editor's Note - "All relics and artifacts featured in The Relic Hunter were found and recovered on private property with the permission and total consent of the owners." - Ed Fedory





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