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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (06/2002) Relic Hunter (05/2002) Relic Hunter (10/2002)   Vol. 36 June 2002 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the June 2002 edition of W&ET Magazine

From The Barnyard To The Battlefield

By: Ed Fedory

There's one factor about relic hunting that never seems to change, and that's the fact that you never seem to know what's going to be found in the bottom of that next hole. It doesn't seem to matter much if it's a new site, or one that you have searched a dozen times...

... you can always sense that the day is bound to have at least a couple of surprises in store for you. Add to the equation the fact that you're using a new detector, and even well-hunted sites assume a kind of magical mantle. The secrets of long ago will be revealed... the shrouds of the past will be rent asunder... all that kind stuff. Well, let's just say that you might hit the fields with a little more optimism, and leave it at that.

Such was the case when Charlie and I visited the recently harvested cornfields on which a Revolutionary War fort once existed. The tractors had completed their work only days before, and while we had searched the site just after the spring plowing, we hoped that the more compressed soil of the fall would yield some solid signals and a few significant finds.

Little did I know at the time that this would be one of a handful of remaining hunts for the season, the future holding some frozen ground, a heavy cherry log, and a broken arm, all to be painfully revealed in the coming weeks. As my boots stood squarely on the edge of the field that day, and my eyes scanned the surrounding fields, I could sense nothing but the raw historical potential before me. It was a good feeling.

Creature of habit that I often find myself to be, I began searching at the edge of the field, slowly working in the direction of the slightly sloping ground where the fort had once stood. I stooped down a couple of times along the way to pick up the base of a flint arrowhead and a fragment of pipe stem before getting my first good hit. The target gave a good "round" sound, which I would have judged to be a musketball at shallow depth if I'd received the same reading from my other detector. And, as I broke open the ground, that is exactly what I was looking for in that first shovelful of soil. I checked the removed earth for the target, but found that it still remained in the hole. I removed a second small mound of soil, but could not locate the target even after having spread the soil out with my hand. Finally, after grabbing several handfuls of earth and running them over the coil, I held the target in my right fist. When I opened my hand and poked around a bit, I was surprised to find a small piece of buckshot rather than a full-sized musket or rifle ball. I guess it was at that point, early on in the hunt, that I sensed this latest detector was going to teach me a couple of new lessons.

Several pieces of buckshot and a couple of musketballs later, I decided to range out farther and search a couple of the areas of the vast fields that had rarely been detected. Working a pattern down the eastern slope of the fort site, I headed for the creek 300 yards away. Several shotgun slugs was all I had to show for that initial run, and it wasn't until I was a quarter way through my return leg that I got another solid signal. Isolating the target wasn't difficult this time: I could feel the weight of it in the handful of soil.

The identification of the object was easy, as I'd recovered similar specimens on relic hunts at French & Indian War sites years earlier. To most people it would appear to be a very heavy ball of dirt, but I knew immediately that I was holding a round of grapeshot. These were never fired one round at a time, so I knew the chances were good that more grapeshot might be found in the area. Tightening up my search pattern, I was able to recover three more pieces of grape in a 20 square foot area.

As the afternoon progressed, I finally caught up with my hunting partner. Charlie's collecting bag sported a couple of Colonial pewter buttons, a half dozen musketballs, and a ramrod tip. The hits had been few and far between, but there were always just enough good finds to keep the excitement alive.

We decided to spend the remaining hour of the hunt searching our way back in the direction of the truck. I hadn't gone more than 50 yards from where I'd dug the grapeshot, when my detector sounded off like I had swung the coil over a garbage can lid. All I could imagine was a horseshoe, or a piece of lost farm equipment just below the surface of the coil. I was half right.

Pushing my digging tool into the soil, I came into immediate contact with the target. Prying it up, I first noted a slight curve, and then the unmistakable indentation of a partial fuse hole. The relic was not as large as I had originally thought, but at least I could add another small mortar bomb fragment to my collection.

That late Saturday's lengthening shadows found a couple of happy relic hunters homeward bound. And while our collecting bags rarely seem to be filled as much as we would like them to be, the musketballs, cannon and mortar rounds, buttons and other fragmentary Colonial odds and ends we had recovered were enough to make for a successful hunt and keep the dreams of future relic hunts alive.

* * *

For many people Sunday mornings are for sleeping in, big breakfasts, reading the newspaper, and later, watching football. Some might even consider it un-American to rise before dawn, grab a strong cup of coffee, throw the paper in the trash, and make sure the television is turned off before hopping into the truck and heading down the road. That's pretty much my kind of Sunday. Well, at least it's been that way since I bought the farm.

Even that last statement has to be qualified a bit, I guess, as it's not quite a farm- yet. I bought one of America's great architectural wonders. It has wide open spaces with all of the room a man might need to move around in, and think big thoughts. Elbow room for body, mind, and spirit, so to speak. It's massive... it's red... and it sits on 16 acres of the most beautiful land my boots have ever trod upon. I guess every guy must feel the same way about his barn!

Most of the summer was spent cleaning and setting up a woodworking shop which would serve as the nerve center for future repairs on the barn, and a lot of time was spent mowing the fields. However, each time I would pull the tractor through the main doors and park it beneath the 48-starred flag that my Dad had fought under, I couldn't help admiring the old pegged, hand-hewn beams that supported the structure. I was sure a good deal of activity had occurred around the barn since it was raised in 1872, and I had a strong feeling that the surrounding grounds contained a wealth of evidence of those past activities.

After I'd unearthed more than my fair share of horseshoes, strap hinges, and fragments of miscellaneous farm equipment, that first Indian Head penny put me back on the relic trail. Concentrating on the sloping field that once contained the old apple orchard, I found some older one-and two-piece buttons, more Indian Heads, a small bell, and strangely enough, a subway token. At that point, I realized that it would be impossible to guess what else might be underfoot.

Deciding to search the back fields, far from the barn, was pretty much a mistake. For every keeper, I dug ten rifle or shotgun slugs, along with an assortment of aluminum arrow shafts and the scattered debris of what must have been, in long decades past, the farm dump.

When late afternoon arrived, I decided to search the area around one remaining feature... an old stone-lined well which was just over my property line. Knowing that neighbors are rarely refused detecting privileges, especially when the adjoining property owner happens to be your daughter, I set to work swinging my coil along the ground surrounding the well. Within five minutes, I'd located a large cent and a lead soldier, the difference in their ages well over 100 years. I guess it shouldn't have surprised me too much, when two of the next three targets turned out to be a silver Washington and another large cent. It certainly seemed as if the old well had been the focal point of activity for an extended period of time.

From my shop in the barn, I watched the sun setting over the Catskill Mountains. As I stood at the workbench, wire brushing a couple of recovered horseshoes which would be nailed above the entranceways of the barn for good luck, I thought about future battlefield hunts and barnyard recoveries.

I little realized that I would have only one more good hunt before my destiny would arrive in the form of a heavy cherry log, a slick patch of snow, and a plaster cast!

OUCH! *%$@#!

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