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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (05/2003) Relic Hunter (04/2003) Relic Hunter (06/2003)   Vol. 37 May 2003 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the May 2003 edition of W&ET Magazine

Relic Hunting America's First World War

By: Ed Fedory

Fought in the West Indies, the subcontinent of India, Europe, and North America, by troops of all the major European powers of the time, the Seven Years War can be truly considered a "world war." Here in North America, the war is usually referred to as the French & Indian War; and while technically those who inhabited most of the colonies on the Eastern shores of North America were British subjects in the American colonies, many simply considered themselves to be Americans.

There was more to it than just a name... more than a mere word. It was a way of life, and a manner in which one handled the rigors of such a life. Many immigrated to these shores to avoid the Old World Order... to begin fresh- and free. It didn't take long before the differences between England and her colonies in North America would become apparent. Arrogance and rebelliousness cannot long abide the same quarters, and the gap in thinking- and the way we thought of ourselves- and going through the "growing pains" of change.

As provincial troops and militia, the American forces were often looked down upon... their looks and discipline, ridiculed...their officers and courage, underrated. The concept of fighting for the Empire was lost on most of them. They were fighting for their homes... for their families.

History is pretty serious stuff, and you can quote me on that. Yet I sense that despite all of the anguished moments and terrible events often dwelt upon by historians, there had to be unrecorded moments of absurdity and humor... of laughter and irony. I know that during my treks to uncover our nation's past I have often been visited by such events. This has always been true when I've relic hunted with Shep.

My own fascination with this period of time, just preceding the American Revolution, began many years ago. I well remember standing on the soil of a freshly harvested field of corn and "eyeballing" the site that had once been occupied by a stockaded fort. The image of picking broken pieces of white clay pipe stems from the dark soil's surface is clearly etched into my memory, as are the initial recoveries of that first search: King George coppers and buttons... musketballs and gun flints... a shoe buckle and a sling swivel from a musket. It was a day that would change my life, and that of my hunting partner, "Shep" Van Kuren.

From that day on, searches for gold rings and silver coins would be over. No longer would we be seen in the parks and the playgrounds. Sixteen pounds of round rusted iron quickly meant more to us than finding someone's lost gold chain... a musketball, of more value than a Roosevelt silver dime. Digging rusty iron and old lead didn't make the wives happy... they had gotten used to the gold! But for both Shep and me, the lure of that new lover, history, would be undeniable!

Along that trail to the past we shared a lot of great hunts and made some good finds... shared cans of Dinty Moore beef stew warmed over a Sterno stove, and hot cups of coffee on chilly December mornings. We shared the laughs and the frustrations that are so typical between relic hunting partners, but the quest for history was always foremost in our minds.

Shep's first musketball recovery was almost as memorable as my own. The site had just been cut, and we were attempting to get a clear swing through the stubble of cornstalks. We became separated, but in the open fields that's never much of a concern. I was concentrating on digging what would prove to be my third or fourth horseshoe, when I heard what at first could only be described as maniacal laughter coming from the distance behind me. I turned quickly to catch a glimpse of one of the strangest sights I had ever been called to witness!

From the wild gyrations and the flailing arms, two things became quickly apparent. First, I sensed that Shep had never taken any instructions at an Arthur Murray dance class; and secondly, that there was a good chance that a bunch of ground hornets had found Shep a likely target. I dropped my detector and guardedly approached him, ever watchful for squadrons of vengeful insects. By the time I was halfway to where he was standing, the windmilling arms had ceased to spin, and he stood like a slightly balding version of the Statue of Liberty- arm thrust to the heavens, a look of pride chiseled into his facial expression, and a large caliber musketball held between thumb and forefinger! It was a stance I would have to start getting used to. However, I never did get used to that laugh.

On another French & Indian War site, we had just completed a long hike along a country road and headed into the woods. We had barely set down our packs and turned on our detectors when Shep ran his coil over the ground and stated that he had a hot signal. I replied that it was probably a piece of "road pipe" ... a beer or soda can tossed from a passing car. I couldn't convince Shep that his efforts of recovery would be in vain as I watched the length of his shovel digging deeper into the soil. I stood by with a smirk on my face as soil, rocks, and torn roots began to pile up beside the hole.

"Guess I'd better widen the hole a bit," said Shep.

"Probably an old horseshoe," I replied, the idea of a soda can having fled after Shep had dug beyond the 12" mark.

I don't think Shep dug more than another 2" after having widened that hole, before the familiar sound of a shovel hitting iron rang from the depths, followed by some harsh scraping sounds as Shep loosened the soil around the object. After several handfuls of loose soil were removed, Shep looked up at me with a huge smile. "Come over here and check this out!"

Looking into the hole I could see the rust-stained soil and the top half of a 16 lb. cannonball! I knew at that point I was never blessed with the gift of prophecy, and vowed to keep my mouth shut a little more often. This point was further driven home by the fact that I had to listen to the entire story of the cannonball recovery several times on our three-hour drive home!

In our quest to uncover relics from America's first world war, we had some interesting and humorous experiences. On one occasion, while deep in the woods, we apparently stepped over an unmarked boundary line. We hadn't recovered much that day, but Shep, as luck would have it, had just put a freshly unearthed bayonet into his backpack. We decided to take a break for a moment and sat on the dried leaves and discussed our next search strategy. It was then that we found ourselves surrounded by a group... in uniforms!

"Do you fellows know where you are?" came a voice from beyond the brush.

Truthfully, I was a little startled, and I probably appeared so, confronted by so many uniformed bodies. "We were metal detecting along the banks of the creek where the old village was located," I replied.

"Well," came a higher pitched voice, "you can't dig here! You're not even supposed to be on the grounds! We're just going to have to ask you to leave!" As if to punctuate her demands, she balled her hands into fists and pounded them into her hips. It was the first, and last, time I was ever thrown out of a Girl Scout camp!

For an older fellow, Shep often displays an interesting way of looking at things. I remember when he detected a mortar bomb fragment beneath a large, flat stone and was just about to lift it when he saw a small snake come from beneath. The snake was flickering his forked tongue in Shep's direction, in an attempt to assess the amount of danger presented by Shep's 6' 4" frame.

"It was pretty small for a timber rattler. So were the others," Shep added.

"Others?" I asked.

"Yeah, the other ones I found in the nest," he casually replied.

"The nest?"

"I scraped them out with my shovel, and they took off. Here, check out this mortar fragment," Shep said, offering me the large piece of iron.

"Did you ever wonder where those little snakes came from?" I asked. "'Ever think that Mommy or Daddy timber rattler might be around?"

"'Can't say I gave it much thought," Shep replied. "Some mortar frag, huh?"

I just walked away, shaking my head.

Over the years we've shared a common interest in the past and the love of detecting. Shep's due to retire this coming spring, and perhaps the thought of his hitting the fields by himself, on weekdays while the rest of us are working, gave me pause for reflection on times past.

I suppose I could continue with anecdotes about how Shep's granddaughter once attempted to eat part of his relic collection, or how his prized 250-year-old bayonet, that some forgotten soldier had bent for use as a pot hook, was thrown out because it was rusty, and dirty, and "shouldn't have been on the kitchen table in the first place!" The "Tale of the 41 Bee Stings" is a real corker, too, but they'll all just have to wait, as I am sure Shep will be filling his free days with other interesting stories along that often bumpy trail to the past. Relic hunting with Shep, to say the least, has always been interesting.

Armed with a new metal detector, Shep can be dangerous. He was over at the barn a couple of weeks ago, and we got to talking about some of the old times.

"With new detectors, we ought to go back and hit some of those old sites again. I'll bet we missed some great stuff," said Shep before continuing. "'Think we could get permission from the Girl Scouts to try that camp again?"

Sometimes you just have to walk away... other times you just have to shake your head!

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