"It sure wasn't the easiest site I had ever searched!"
The results of the search were spread across the workbench in my woodshop, and it wasn't too bad a haul for a one-day relic hunt, considering the fact that Gene had spent five of those daylight hours driving to and from the site.
For years we had relic hunted in that area of upstate New York. It was part of that watery thoroughfare that began with New York City on the Hudson River, extended over Lake George, and continued its northerly course through the Champlain Valley and on into Canada. Following the trail of rivers and lakes was the easiest way in which to travel during previous centuries when roads were poor or nonexistent.
Back in those early days, the snapping of canvas sails on small sloops was a commons sound, as was the creaking sound of men pulling on the long ash oars of a bateau as they made their way along the surface of the water, delivering cargo and people to their destinations. You'd pass the prosperous Dutch farms with fattened cows and orchards, small quaint villages, boat yards, piers, and docks. You would also pass beneath the ominous silhouettes of fort and blockhouses as you came within range of those long-reaching cannon... for this was the passage of friend and foe alike.
Accommodations within many of those early forts were meager at best, and the vast majority of the forces stationed at such Colonial installations were generally forced to live within the confines of a "tent village" beyond the fort's walls. This was especially true during the spring, summer, and fall- the "peak season" for warfare. During the winter months, the garrisons were usually reduced in number.
It was in one of these tent villages that Gene had been searching for several months. "Most of the easier areas to search had been carefully scoured during our previous hunts," related Gene, "so we had to come up with some new ideas and strategies if we expected to find anything of interest."
An adjoining section of lakeside woods seemed to offer Gene the best opportunity to open up a new hotspot, but he was soon to find that this area came with its own set of unique challenges.
"The brush in some areas was very thick, and you'd have to use your boots to flatten it out so you could run your coil across a small section. Your headset cord would constantly snag on branches, and the number of roots encountered was a nightmare! Mosquitoes were everywhere, and let me tell you, I've seen sparrows that were smaller!"
However, to the veteran relic hunter in his quest for history, such obstacles are the norm, and they didn't stop Gene's pursuit for a second. "I put my discrimination down to minimum, jacked up the sensitivity as high as I could, and dug every target. We didn't encounter a single piece of modern junk... every target was old.
"Some of the first targets, and certainly the largest quantity of recoveries were musketballs. With very few exceptions, these were all perfectly round "drops," a good camp indicator. This was also true of the areas we had previously searched, so it came as no great surprise; but it was nice to know that we were still within the limits of the camp, and that we had a chance to dig up some interesting artifacts.
"I had just recovered a couple of Colonial buckles, and was swinging the coil toward the base of a large cedar when a peculiar sound ran through my headset. At first I thought I had imagined it, or that I had smacked the coil against some of the heavy brush," Gene stated. "It took me a couple of seconds to pinpoint the target due to the fact that I was getting more of a 'chipping' or 'ticking' sound, rather than some of those heavy, 'round sounds.' It was certainly one of those "iffy" signals, but since everything we were recovering was from the Colonial period, I decided to start digging.
"Clearing away some of the brush and digging through a tangle of roots, I had soon opened up an area large enough for me to get my coil inside the hole. I hit the button on my control panel, which gave me non-motion pinpointing capability, and the target signal was definitely there- and a lot stronger. I continued digging until a small section in the bottom of the hole showed rust. I probed around with my fingers and felt something small and hard. It started to give a little, so I gave it a little extra tug. Out of the hole slid the front half of a bayonet!"
Pointing to the pair of small cannonballs on my workbench, I asked Gene about the depth at which they were found. "They were pretty close to the surface," he replied, "and they should have been easier to find."
"What do you mean, 'They should have been easier to find?' I asked.
"Well," Gene continued, "I was in this area of very low ground, and I saw a formation of stones that had been laid up centuries ago. It looked like the area might have been filled with water at some time in the past, and I figured if someone had taken the time to position stones, the area must have seen a lot of foot traffic. I started searching very carefully, and pulled a few more musketballs from the side of the depression.
"I continued working my way up, sweeping the coil from side to side, until I found myself jabbing the coil under a very dense bush. Suddenly, I got a solid hit, and I knew I had something large and close to the surface. I had to break away some of the lower branches of the bush in order to dig... actually, it was more like "deep scraping" because I couldn't get much of an angle in which to dig. The next thing I knew, I heard the sound of my digging tool hitting something hard. I hooked onto it, gave a pull... and a three-pound cannonball rolled out!"
After that, Gene found himself crawling under the lower branches of other bushes and jabbing his coil around. "The smaller ball was found about a dozen feet away under a hawthorn bush. I had to be really careful getting that one out of the ground!"
Of all the relics displayed on my workbench, I thought the soldering iron was the most unusual. Gene stated that it was a deep target and found in context with several other Colonial pieces. I took a photograph of it, and brought the photo with me when I attended the "Grand Encampment of the French & Indian War," held every June at Fort Ticonderoga. I visited the tent of a tinsmith suttler and showed him the picture of the soldering iron. He asked me to wait a minute while he went to the work table at the back of his tent. When he returned, he was holding a perfect twin to the soldering iron Gene had found. "I always like to use period tools when I give a demonstration to the public," the tinsmith stated. "All that's missing from the one in your photo is the wooden handle."
From the way Gene described the hunt, it had been one of the rough ones, but the chance of finding interesting relics often lies in searching places where others avoid. You may return home with a few more scratches and be welted up from squadrons of mosquitoes... you may have to perform a complete body "tick check," and your wife may have to make the decision about whether it would be easier just to burn your clothes, rather than wash them, but bringing home a collection of relics from the past is more than worth the effort...