Historic To The Hilt
By: Eric W. Reichardt
I think most relic hunters have dreamed about finding a complete gun or sword dating from around the Civil War, but these weapons were the most cherished and guarded items of the soldier during the 19th century, other than his horse. Consequently, they were rarely lost.
Earlier this year I decided to try to locate the spot where a large hoard of 17th century coins had been found by a farmer back in the 1830s. This remote area of New England coastline is known to have been frequented by pirates and other unruly types. I managed to find it, all right, but unfortunately there were no leftovers. So, I decided to search some other areas where there was past military activity.
This treacherous coastline with steep cliffs had been hunted by others over the years, so my strategy was to try working the most difficult locations where others might not have ventured. It paid off, too, with six Revolutionary War cannonballs, part of a bar shot, and some other relics as well. As I continued hunting along this cliff area by literally holding onto saplings with one hand and using my other hand to detect small areas, all of a sudden I received a large, positive signal under a rock ledge. Trying not to lose my footing, I got down on my knees to look beneath the ledge, and to my utter astonishment I saw what looked like the top of the hilt of a sword!
Gently removing some dirt and pine needles, I found that I had indeed recovered a complete brass hilt having the royal arms of Spain on it. I rechecked under the ledge, got another positive signal and about 2' farther back, I pulled out a complete brass scabbard with the remnants of the iron blade still inside. Unfortunately, the rest of the iron blade had rusted away. Apparently, the whole sword had been placed under the rock ledge 136 years ago, but for some unknown reason the officer never recovered it.
At this point I wasn't sure how old this Spanish sword was, and of course I was still thinking about buried treasure since the coin hoard site wasn't too far away. I started searching the immediate area, and only about 20' away there was a large rock outcropping that was big enough to walk into. All of a sudden I got a large iron signal and dug up the end of a very old iron shovel, and I saw the remnants of a hole that had filled in over the years. There were no more targets in this area, so I figured that the person who lost the sword must have come back to reclaim what he had buried. We can only imagine what that must have been!
After I got back from my vacation, I did some research on my find, contacting two experts in Spanish swords. Both identified it as a Model 1868 Spanish Customs officer's sword of the highest quality, with the addition of a collapsible counterguard so that the sword hilt would lie flat against his side when worn.
I guess I was fortunate that the sword wasn't actually buried in the earth; otherwise, it wouldn't have been so intact and in such excellent condition. It certainly was an exciting "memory moment," the kind that relic hunters dream about, and it just goes to show that sometimes a key find can still be made in an area that many other relic hunters have worked over the years.