Living Large In Boise, Idaho
By: Brandon Neice
If you're an avid coin/relic hunter like me, you savor every issue of W&ET, admiring and even envying other people's awesome finds, and wishing you lived in an older, more "historically relevant" area.
We're always searching for that feeling of accomplishment that comes with finding our oldest coin or maybe scratching something off of that ol' bucket list. Of course, the bragging rights are a bonus, too. I get especially envious of those hunters on the East Coast who almost effortlessly seem to find Colonial coins and relics with every hunt.
The fact of the matter is that some of us just don't live in places that have been inhabited by civilizations for hundreds (or even thousands) of years. Don't let your hunting area discourage you from getting out and scoring that personal best. I guarantee that there are still surprises hiding all around you, sometimes even in your own backyard.
My backyard happens to be in the aptly named "Treasure Valley" of Idaho. If you're not familiar with the Boise area (or the West in general), it's a very new area as far as modern civilization is concerned. French fur trappers established a presence here in the mid 1800s, but it wasn't until Fort Boise was relocated in 1863 that the valley really started to develop. There are accounts of sporadic farms and small settlements popping up around the Oregon Trail before 1863, but for the most part, Idaho was considered hostile Indian territory. By 1890, however, Idaho had become our 43rd state. That being said, it's a challenge to find a site old enough to produce 1800s coins. Unearthing Seated Liberty silver in this neck of the woods is almost unheard of. Most of the oldest houses were built no earlier than 1895 at best.
Now for my awesome find. 12/12/12 was my day off. The weather was cooperating, and I decided that I might be able to squeeze in one more hunt before the snow hit the ground. I started my morning by doing some research on the computer and soon came across an old farmhouse not far from Boise that had recently been demolished. Records indicated that it had been built in 1877, making it by far the oldest site in Boise that I have hunted. I grabbed my detector and off I went! I thought that maybe today would be the day I found my first Seated Liberty coin, little knowing that the future had something far older in store for me.
Upon arriving at the site, I noticed the freshly bulldozed remains of what used to be the farmhouse trash, trash, and more trash! But this wasn't just any trash. This was old trash: rusty iron, milky white shards of old zinc-top Mason jars, bricks without holes, and the occasional blue tint of 1800s glass. Mind you, even though it was old trash, it was still trash. Typically, this is the type of site where I would use a small DD coil for better target separation, but due to the fact that I had just dropped some serious cash on my new detector, I knew my wife would need to see some convincing evidence that I knew what I was doing before I received my new 6" DD coil. So, I made do with my stock 11" DD.
The constant chatter of iron signals started to sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, so I decided to hunt in a coin program with minimal discrimination. It wasn't uncommon to go minutes on end without hearing a hint of a hit. There must have been a fire at this site at one time or another, because I kept digging those great sounding, coin-sized globs of random metals. After about 20-30 minutes without a single coin to show for my efforts, my thoughts of finding pre-1900s coins began to fade. Frustrated, I began working my way back to the truck, and that's when it happened. Bam! A screaming high tone- a very broad and loud sounding high tone. To be honest, I was almost certain that this was going to be another Mason jar lid. Convinced it was trash, I reluctantly began to dig.
"Hmmm. That's not what I was thinking it would be," I said to myself as I removed a perfectly round, coin-shaped slug from all of 3" deep. As I began to inspect the round object, I noticed that it was bigger than a quarter but smaller than a half. Worn nearly flat and covered in years of hardened mud, it appeared to be some sort of copper. I immediately had high hopes of finding my first large cent. However, having never actually held a large cent, I wasn't exactly sure what size it was supposed to be. I know a few of the hardcore hunters around here, and I can't recall any of them ever bragging about finding a large cent in recent years.
Gently, I removed some of the hardened mud with my gloved hand and a letter appeared, and another, and another, and finally the beginnings of a wreath. Then I realized what I had found... my first large cent! At that very moment the neighbors next to this lot witnessed a grown man with headphones on, flailing and screaming in the middle of an empty field. From a distance it must have looked as if I was being attacked by a swarm of bees! After taking a breather and regaining my composure, I focused my attention back on the coin. The obverse was so encrusted that I couldn't even make out a face or a date. So, I called my buddy Eric Magnuson (See "Rural Roads and a Golden Ghost," W&ET Oct. '11).
"Dude, I just found a large cent! I'm coming over!"
Before I hopped in the truck, I had to be absolutely positive that what I was holding was, in fact, a large cent. I pulled my phone back out and called my friend Gerry McMullen of Gerry's Detectors in Boise.
"What's up man? It's Brandon. Hey, how big is a large cent?"
Gerry paused for a moment, "Well, bigger than a quarter but not as big as a half. Why? Did you find one?"
Grinning ear to ear, I replied, "Yup!"
A few minutes later I arrived at Eric's house. We began washing the coin with some warm water in hopes of coaxing more details from the coin. Sure enough, now visible was the worn profile of a right-facing Lady Liberty and a barely 8, all that remained of the date.
"Wait, wait, wait- right-facing? Why is she facing right?" I muttered under my breath. Just then Eric pulled up a detailed internet catalog of the many versions of the large cent.
"Oh, my gosh! It just keeps getting older!" I hollered, unaware that Eric's wife was asleep upstairs after a long night shift at the hospital.
As it turned out, the right-facing Lady Liberty was discontinued in 1807. So, using the profile, the wreath, and the 8, we were able to follow the breadcrumb trail through time to our final destination- 1798 Draped Bust large cent, minted in Philadelphia the year after George Washington retired as our nation's first president.
Eager to get back out to the site, we grabbed our gear and blazed a trail across town. With only a couple of hours left before dark, we separated the site into two sections and continued hunting. By the time the night was over, I would end up with four musketballs, two Wheat cents, and the remains of an old pocket watch. Eric came up with a few Wheats as well.
The next morning I awoke to find the landscape transformed into a frozen tundra. Old Man Winter had once again stowed his treasures in a vault of snow and ice. I would now have to wait patiently for spring thaw and remain optimistic about hunting closer to home. When it comes to metal detecting, two things are certain: you never know what you might find, and you won't find anything sitting around dreaming of older, more "historically relevant" places to hunt. The good news is, you might be surprised by what you do find. I know I was.