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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (10/2002) AMP (06/2002) Featured Article (11/2002)   Vol. 36 October 2002 
This Month's Features
As seen in the October 2002 edition of W&ET Magazine

"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 months!

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 my blood!

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.

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