"Aye, there's something to be said for a good sharp axe!"
"A 'good sharp axe,' is it? Replied the grizzled veteran of a dozen campaigns. "And what's to be said fo' me back and me blisters? Cut a clear field for the cannons cut firewood fo' the bloody officers' mess the batteaux men need some ash the cartwrights need some oak. If we had a good sharp mind 'twixt the two of us we'd've found a way out of this detail! I need a break and a pint!"
"You'd rather be dodging French balls with the rangers, William?" the young recruit responded. "Perhaps play a little 'hide and go seek' with those overly friendly Abenakis up the lake?"
"Ahh, your fancy words an' reasonin' are wasted on me, lad. 'Tis only one place I'd like to be right now."
"No doubt a pub on Haymarket Street!"
"No, lad, it'd be a walk south to Albany. I'd sit meself down in a tavern by the fire order me up some thick beef and boiled potatoes "
"Don't forget your pint."
"That, too, and bounce that pretty Dutch baker's daughter on me knee. Abby her name is she smiled at me once. Now there's a fine place to be!"
From around the side of a mighty pine came a gravelly voice, "Dreamin' in the day are you again, William?"
William hastily grabbed up his ax once again before replying, "No, Sergeant, just taking a short rest, Sergeant."
"There'll be no walks south and no pint for the likes of you, you slacker no boiled potatoes, or thick beef. And William, might I remind you "
"Of what, Sergeant?"
"Abby smiles at every soldier!"
It doesn't take much to get the imagination going with four Colonial axe heads sitting in front of you. Every time I've held one in my hands, the procedure is always the same checking for manufacturers' or military markings noting the condition and construction witnessing the use, and usually the abuse, the tool has received and always, wondering about how and why the tool was lost or discarded.
If ever a tool saw use on the Colonial frontier, it was the axe. They came in a variety of forms to fulfill the need of a variety of tasks. They cleared the field of fire around forts and cleared the winding Colonial trails and early roadways. They cleared the farmer's fields. They were used to cut and split wood so that troops stationed in the North Country didn't freeze, and provided warm meals for those unfortunate soldiers who wintered in the forts and barracks.
In a smaller form they filled the function of a dependable sidearm for riflemen whose weapons were not equipped with a bayonet for close-quarter, hand-to-hand combat. They quartered the chickens that filled the cast iron cooking pots. It is not surprising that they have changed so little over the centuries- a basic tool, whose importance in the forming and development of this country should never be underestimated or overlooked.
In the very early spring, when the snows had melted and the ground thawed, and before the brush once again began to grow, Gene and Eddie continued working a French & Indian War site they had been searching during the previous fall. It was a good site, but as with any other, it was slowly being hammered; and no matter how deep you listened or how tight you ran your search patterns, the frequency of finds was quickly dropping off.
"It was easy to see," related Gene, "that we'd have to begin spreading out from our original site. Sure, we'd find something every time we searched, but no longer were any larger objects being found. Every relic we uncovered in the beginning of our spring search was very small very deep."
"We'd pretty much searched all of the open areas," Eddie added, "and all that remained was an area of thick, tangled brush and a very wet, swampy area. We decided to 'bite the bullet' and get scratched up and muddy."
"We did both!" Gene was quick to add.
Striking out into the area of brush and small trees, it didn't take either Gene or Eddie very long to begin recovering relics once again. Initially, several musketballs, a couple of pewter buttons, and a coin were added to their collecting bags just enough to keep them on the trail with high hopes of larger finds.
"I was literally on my hands and knees, crawling through the brush," Gene continued. "I couldn't swing my coil; I had to poke it under the brush. As I was poking around, I got this unbelievably large target signal. By the area of ground covered by the solid signal, I knew the target wasn't going to be either a ball or a button."
Gene cut a large plug with his digging tool and hacked through the numerous roots. At a depth of about 9" he noticed that the soil was turning rust colored. "I knew I was on the trail of something large and iron. I was hoping for a large cannonball, and dreading the fact that I might be pursuing another old horseshoe!"
At a depth of about a foot, the solid sound of metal striking metal was heard, which was quickly followed by some very careful digging. "It wasn't until I cleared the soil and roots from the back of the target that I realized what I had found. It was a large camp axe with a round poll. I continued digging along the axe blade, removing the soil so I could break it loose. Finally, with a little wiggling and a good hefty pull, she came free. It was the largest Colonial axe I had ever found!"
"I saw Gene coming out of the brush and walking in my direction. Truthfully, I don't know which was larger, the axe he had found, or the smile on his face," said Eddie, as he picked up the story. "He didn't have complete bragging rights, however. Along with a few more musketballs and another button, I was able to dig a belt axe from the edge of the swamp. I was covered up to my elbows with mud, and despite the drought we were experiencing, I still found water in the bottom of the hole once I had retrieved the axe from its depths."
Following a short break, during which they compared some of their other finds, Gene went back into the brush and Eddie went back to play in the mud. Continuing from where he had found the camp axe, Gene had searched little more than a dozen feet before another loud signal rang through his headset.
"I knew what the signal meant I had heard the same sound only about twenty minutes earlier. I went through the same procedure I had done with the other target, and at the same depth I encountered rust-laden soil, and about a foot down there was another camp axe! It was a little rougher a little more pitted than the one I had dug earlier, but it sure was a keeper. Nothing was going to stand between me and continuing the search for that third axe head!"
The third axe head never did materialize, but it wasn't from any lack of trying on Gene's part. "I got a lot of signals and dug a lot of relics, but that was destined to be my last bit of 'big iron' for the day. After awhile, a little scratched up by brambles and brush a little welted up by a squadron of first-hatch mosquitoes, I decided to see how Eddie was doing."
Strangely enough, Eddie had also been able to duplicate his original belt axe find with one that was very similar, the only difference being that this second belt axe had a square poll, rather than a round one.
"It's strange how, when you do a lot of relic hunting with the same partner, you can almost tell what is running through his mind," notes Eddie.
Eddie told Gene to pick up his collecting bag that was on the ground to see what was hidden beneath it. Squatting, Gene lifted the bag to reveal a freshly dug 3 lb. cannonball!
Smiling, Eddie finished the tale. "You know there aren't many times when Gene is caught speechless, but that certainly was one of them!"