Over the centuries, the footprints of the soldiers who once marched along those lonely wilderness roads had become faint. The roads themselves had ceased to exist, and the only thing to mark their one-time presence was the straight wood-lines at the end of the plowed fields. Yet, evidence that troops had once passed through the area lurked within the depths of the soil, in the form of dropped and fired musketballs. It was a trailSˇ scant, flimsy, and ethereal at times; but as the frequency of recovered targets increased, we knew we were following the right path!
It is often said that you can never completely hunt out a site. Well, after searching that particular peninsula for the better part of two decades, I didn't think there were many hidden aspects to the land that I hadn't previously discovered. It wouldn't be the first time I was wrong.
As we followed the trail of dropped lead, the first signs that we were approaching an encampment came in the form of a dark green rum bottle fragment that Gene recovered along with a dropped musketball. Ed and Gordon Pebler found further evidence, in the form of several tent peg ferrules. These small strips of strap iron were used on the top of wooden tent pegs to band the wood together when the stakes were pounded into the ground, and are certain indicators of Colonial encampments.
Once the evidence was in, we knew it was time to drop our packs and set up a base camp. It was also time to tighten up our detecting patterns and thoroughly scan the surrounding ground. We knew that it would be a long time before we would be leaving that particular area.
The site offered a variety of relic hunting conditions in the form of newly cropped hayfields, thick underbrush, and heavy woods. To complement the physical characteristics of the site, the temperature was 90°, and there were clouds of mosquitoes in the wooded sections. For all intents and purposes, you could say we were searching under typical relic hunting conditions!
The site was also well situated above the shoreline of the lake, and contained a small rise of land which, during earlier centuries, could have provided a good observation post for marking any advances or incursions made by enemy troops on the surface of the lake. We decided to search the area of the hayfield where the ferrules and bottle fragment had been found, initially, and then work the slopes and wooded area of the hill.
As expected, the first couple of recovered targets were dropped musketballs, but it was only a sort time later that Gordon pulled the first button from the ground. It was fashioned of pewter with twin vent holes on the back, accompanied by a sorely rusted iron shank. It was a very familiar button, of a type we have found on just about every French & Indian War site we've searched. The button confirmed the age of our site and, by the same token, ruled out our finding any buttons bearing regimental numbers, unless the site had been garrisoned during the American Revolution as well.
As I was nearing the end of one leg of my search pattern, I saw Eddie carefully examining an object he had just recovered. From the way he was holding it, and the manner in which he kept turning it over to look on the other side, I thought he must have recovered the first coin in the hunt. I ambled over to take a look.
"I thought it was a coin at first," Ed began, "but the back has some numbers scraped into it." When he handed it over to me for examination, the first thing I became aware of was the object's weight. It was lead, and the old-style, distinctive number 4 carved into its surface was a dead giveaway. Eddie had found one of the finest merchants' lead bale seals I had ever seen. For a while, it seemed as if lead was going to be the order of the day, as Gene came over with two thin lead pencils that he had found only a couple of feet apart.
All of the recoveries being made were typical of a small camp, but the lack of any early coins seemed unusual. An hour later, while still pondering this improbability, Eddie called out the words that always get a relic hunter's heart pumping: "Spanish silver!"
We all dropped our machines at his call, and headed in Ed's direction. The coin was well worn, but it was indeed Spanish silver, and a 2 reales at that. Ed had broken the ice, and we now expected to see more coins coming from the depths of the field. What we didn't expect was for Gordon to recover another piece of Spanish silver as soon as he got back to where he'd left his detector!
It was kind of funny the way it happened. When we marched over to Gordon, to see what he had found, he said, "Well, it's only part of a coin. I think it was hit by a plow, or more likely, a lawn mower!" What he handed over to me was one of the most beautiful "piece of eight" quarter-cuts that I had ever held. It was easy to tell from the sharpness of the lettering and the perfect detail, that the coin from which it had been cut could not have been in circulation for any length of time before becoming lost. What was even more startling- and I have to admit, perhaps a little irritating- was that this hunt was only the third time Gordon had ever held a metal detector in his hand. I guess there is a lot to be said for beginner's luck!
w it at the time, but that was destined to be the last coin find of the day. However, it was not the end to the recoveries. As we worked into the mid-afternoon, more buttons surfaced, including a number of hollow brass ones with drilled shanks, and a couple of buckles composed of brass and iron. As with any camp, there were also large rosehead nails found, and occasionally a piece of European pottery appeared along with metal targets. We didn't expect to find any "big iron," but that's one of the great aspects of relic hunting- you can always expect the unexpected!
As I worked my way up the wooded slope of the hill, I saw Ed on his knees, opening up the sides of a small hole he had been digging. He called me over. "Check out this target, and then check it out again in your all-metal mode," he requested. It was a strong and solid signal, but when I switched to all-metal, I found that the size of the target was very large. Not wanting to discourage a man when he was in the middle of digging, I refrained from stating what I thought the target most likely wasSˇ a big horseshoe.
There exist those times in a man's life when he is really glad to have kept his big mouth shutSˇ and this was one of those times!
As I watched Ed dig, I suddenly heard the familiar ring of metal against metal. Ed loosened the earth with the tip of his digging tool and then removed the excess soil with his hands. "Check this out!" he shouted. I looked over his shoulder and in the depths of the hole I could clearly see the round upper half of a rusty cannonball!
As the team gathered around to check out this latest major recovery, I simply looked at Gene and shrugged. Gene just slowly shook his head. The same thoughts were running through both our minds. This was Eddie's first relic hunting season, and he was having one heck of a year. Gordon had the major silver discovery of the hunt in his collecting bag, and he had received his first detector only two weeks earlier. This father & son team of Ed and Gordon Pebler was going to be a hard one to beat.
It is amazing what can be said between two old relic hunting partners with only the shrug of a shoulder and the shake of a head!
As I returned to Eddie his newly recovered fragment of a French & Indian War era 6" mortar round, complete with fuse hole, I knew it was going to be a pretty quiet ride home in our truck. I thought about how we could muster up a smile when we took the photographs of our finds.
I didn't think it would prove to be much of a problem for either Gordon or Eddie!