"Someday" Was Some Day!
By: Ron Swenson
Well, the first time out, I realized that I found more back in that
yard than I did in the "battlefield." What went wrong? I had the best
equipment, so I was told. I had all the tools that I needed. I looked
like a true relic hunter. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, as we all know.
"You can't find treasure where treasure ain't!"
So, Frank and I regrouped. We talked to Larry Smith, the resident
expert relic hunter at our place of work. Out came the battlefield maps,
atlases, and Civil War magazines. We had to find out where these young,
tired soldiers of the early 1860s had walked, talked, eaten, and slept. We
had to find the staging areas and the temporary quarters. We had to do
research, the key to any successful relic hunter.
By doing our homework, we found some good spots. Pulling a few
strings with some farmers that we knew, we received the proper permission
to search some promising locations. Once again away we went, looking and
feeling like real relic hunters. Frank and I found about 30 Minie balls
that day and a few flat buttons. Over the next several months, our
collection began to grow… a few eagle buttons here, a lot of bullets there,
more bullets over there, and still more bullets back there. I think you
see my point: we were finding more bullets than anything else- so many
that we renamed our activity from relic hunting to bullet hunting!
Frank and I would bullet hunt every weekend, and I learned
something about Frank during these weekends. I could never see the
horseshoe, but I knew he had it somewhere. If there was one button in 100
acres, he would walk right over it every time. In fact, we both were
digging our fair share of goodies. We had a lot of hours under our belts,
and we were really getting the feel of our machines. I had settled on the
Sovereign XS2 Pro with the DTI3 meter as my favorite. I started pulling
some nice Confederate "A" buttons out from the iron-infested areas, and by
now we both had amassed a bucket or two of dropped and fired Minies. We
found saddle shields, finials, cartridge box hooks, carved bullets, "poker
chip" bullets, harmonica reeds, pocket knives, spurs, large and small flat
buttons, and a variety of other items.
The one thing that had evaded us was the elusive "plate." Everyone
always asked us, "Have you dug your first plate yet?" Well they weren't
talking about Mother's fine china; they were talking about the belt buckle
or breastplate. Some of these plates bring a pretty penny in the Civil War
collector market. That was our ultimate goal, but our answer was always
the same: "Someday!"
In January, my boss told me that I was getting promoted and would
be moving back to California. Although excited for my career, I knew that
I was going to miss my relic hunting time. I told my wife, Christi, that
we could not move because I had not found my plate yet! "Yeah, right!" is
the response that I recall. She insists that she was not so harsh, but
that is how I remember it. Staying in Virginia at this point was no longer
an option, as my wife was raised in northern California and that's where
the new job was. She was packed and ready to go in about two hours, even
though I kept telling her that the truck wasn't going to be here for two
Well, getting ready for the big move really took a bite out of my
relic hunting time, and I missed the next couple of weekends out. With
only three weeks prior to the United Van Lines truck's arrival, I decided
to take advantage of the little time I had left.
It was a brisk Virginia morning, and once again I was going to take
my token 4-5 hours away from the wife and two little ones to do some relic
hunting with my buddy Frank. We had been getting a lot of rain, so most of
the areas were sloppy and tough to get around. Frank and I decided to
return to the old farmhouse where we had been hunting for the last six
months. I opted for the easy way out, hunting around the farmhouse rather
than fighting the sticky mud in the fields. Unfortunately, I found out
very quickly that more than average amounts of beverages had been consumed
there, as I was digging pulltab after pulltab and the loud blasts of
aluminum cans nearly knocked off my headphones. Nevertheless, knowing that
this could be my last hunt for some time, I was just taking it in and
enjoying the serenity.
Another blast! It was probably another aluminum can, but the meter
was not reading as high as on the cans. Using an entrenching tool, I dug a
plug, scooped out the loose dirt, and saw the dreaded gray of a Mason jar
lid at about 8". I reached in and pulled it from the hard Virginia clay.
Hmmm. This was a pretty odd-looking jar lid, and pretty heavy, too. Well,
that gray turned out to be lead, and as I turned it over and scraped the
dirt off, I saw an eagle staring at me! I just sat back in amazement.
"Someday" had finally come!
Of course, the Rebel yell came out, and I had to do the famous
relic hunter's dance. That's the one when you thrust both arms to the
heavens and run in little circles, hootin' and hollerin' as though you'd
just won the Super Bowl or, if you're in the South, a NASCAR event. I
yelled to Frank, showed him the "treasure," and thanked him for sharing his
"horseshoe" that day!
I went back to refill the open hole and sat down and started
thinking about that young, tired soldier who, so many years ago, decided to
discard his breastplate because it had been damaged. With that toss it had
passed, through time, from his hand to mine. That is a feeling that no
amount of money can buy, and that is why I love Civil War relic hunting.
My wife solemnly assured me, "It was fate!" She also reminded me,
"There's nothing keeping us in Virginia anymore!" On we moved to sunny
California. Yes, you guessed it. Now I've got gold fever! I've added two
more machines to my arsenal, and I'm building a pretty good library on
gold. But somehow I know I will never get Civil War relic hunting out of
RON SWENSON has been metal detecting since 1997 and developed a passion for
Civil War relic hunting while living in Virginia. Currently residing in
California, he now searches for coins, nuggets, and relics of the 49'ers.