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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (07/2004) Relic Hunter (06/2004) Relic Hunter (08/2004)   Vol. 38 July 2004 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the July 2004 edition of W&ET Magazine

Relic Hunting In The Popcorn Field

By: Ed Fedory

"Civil War bullets, you say?" asked the old farmer, his hand rubbing a bearded chin, and his thoughts racing back to an earlier day. "Why when I was a boy, after a rainstorm, the field would look like someone had sprinkled popcorn all over the turned soil. That's how many bullets there were!"

Personally, I'd like someone to tell me that... just once... please. Understandably, when Randy Ivey heard those words he found it hard to control his excitement. The day had been spent tracking down old clues to sites and trying to find new ones to search, but all it took was a farmer with some childhood memories to set Randy, his son Dylan, and Steve Mense on the trail to relics.

To Randy, it sounded too good to be true. There is always that one little problem to contend with... that one little item on the list that has been overlooked... that one little pin that bursts the ballooning dreams. This case would prove to be no exception to the rule.

"'Don't own that piece of land no more... new fella does. Seems like a nice fella," added the old farmer, his thumbs hooked around the straps of his bibs. "You might try askin' him if you can search for them ol' bullets."

Anyone who has relic hunted for any length of time knows the story... has been down the same road. You're probably nodding your head in understanding as you read this, a small smile of chagrin on your lips as you think about the number of times you have been this close, only to have your hopes dashed and trampled. "Yeah," you're thinking, "been there... done that!"

Usually the story unfolds with the happy and utterly buoyant relic hunters leaping lightly from their truck... knocking on the door of the new owner... the door opens... and the person you are flashing your biggest and best smile at is one who has a disagreeable disposition surpassing that of the troll in Three Billy Goats Gruff!

Thankfully, there are exceptions to the rules, and the new owner was very agreeable to the team's searching his property, and even pointed Randy, Dylan, and Steve, to another section of the field where he'd found a number of Minie balls lying on the surface!

"We walked out into the field," continued Randy, "and immediately saw the distant mound of earth about a quarter of a mile off the road that the landowner had told us to look for. We hefted our packs and headed in its direction, sweeping our coils over the surface of the newly cropped hayfield. As we approached the mound, we started getting some iron signals, and we knew that some kind of activity had been focused on that rise in the field. The first Minie ball confirmed our suspicions. We dug a number of projectiles and Union buttons from the mound that day, and it was to be the first of many hunts on the site."

It wasn't long before Randy's wife Rhonda, and his other son, Quintin, got into the relic hunting mode. "There was this one day," Randy recalls, "that I was almost sorry I'd brought my wife along on the hunt. I recovered a few small and pretty insignificant relics during the first few hours of the hunt, and decided to take a short hop across the field to see how Rhonda was faring. I could tell by her smile when she saw my recoveries that I was going to be in for a big surprise... and I was! Reaching into her collecting bag, Rhonda not only pulled out a couple of dropped Minies, but six Union Eagle buttons. That little lady sure hunts hard."

What originally drew Randy to investigating this particular area was his research into a small battle that took place in September of 1861. It is known alternately as the Battle of Dry Wood Creek, or the Battle of the Mules. In the preliminary stages of the battle, Colonel J.H. Lane's 600-man cavalry force set out to check on rumored Confederate troop movements, and encountered a force of 6,000 Confederates under the command of Major General Sterling Price and Brigadier General James S. Rains. While they managed to surprise the Confederate force, the overwhelming number of rebel troops quickly decided the outcome of the day. The far smaller Union force was beaten back, and the Missouri State Guard was able to capture their mules. Casualties on both sides were minimal.

While the battle is little more than a minor footnote in Civil War history, it has certainly provided Randy and his family and friends with some exciting relic hunting. "My favorite find from the site was made about a year ago," added Randy. "I heard this faint signal on my Shadow X-5, and as I dug into the ground, I passed some nails and pieces of iron trash. On checking the hole again, I continued to hear that nice solid and repeatable signal. Eventually, I was able to isolate the target and found it to be a small cuff button. It looked familiar, but with only a slight field cleaning, it gave me the impression of having a flower on the surface.

"I showed the button to Rhonda, cleaned a little more soil from its surface, and stated that I thought it might be Confederate. Well, after that, I couldn't think of anything else but that button. We cut the relic hunt a little short that day and headed home to consult some books. Sure enough, my little "flower" button turned out to be a Confederate cavalry cuff button! It was the first Confederate button I had ever found and really built up my enthusiasm for continued searches on the site."

Further research revealed to Randy that the field had also contained a picket post manned by Company D of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry for a period of about three years. These historical facts certainly go a long way in explaining the number of spurs, harness buckles, and other cavalry-related relics this team has been turning up from the depths of the soil.

Over the last few years, Randy has brought a number of his relic hunting buddies along with him to the site, and as with most relic hunts, there are bound to be a few humorous events that take place. As Randy related the story, he mentioned one particular occupant of the site.

"There's this groundhog that has decided to burrow into the top of the mound. When I bring newcomers to the site, I make sure I point it out to them and tell them about its very aggressive nature, and how this "attack hog" chased me across the field more than once... pure fabrication. I've seen this groundhog on a number of occasions, and it never ventured more than a couple of feet from its hole while I was there. However, you should see the reaction of some of the hunters when they find themselves near the hole and begin tiptoeing away from it... or watch them constantly glancing over their shoulders as they dig on nearby targets, anticipating the "attack hog's" appearance!"

Over the years, Randy has watched the frequency of finds begin to thin at the Battle of the Mules, but his research has led him toward other promising sites along the Kansas-Missouri border. "We may not have the biggest battles of the Civil War in our area, but there was no shortage of activity on both sides. I've got this one site all picked out and just have to wait until they cut the hay... another one of those "popcorn fields" of bullets, from what they tell me!"

I have to admit, this was the first time I had ever heard the term popcorn used to describe the ultimate relic hunting site... and I know it's going to cause me to look at some of those turned fields I search in the spring a little differently. And if, perchance, I see the darkened soil littered with little puffs of white, my relic hunting buddies will never understand the meaning of the first word I shout!

Author's Note: If you would like to see some interesting relics found by Randy and others, you might check out his forum at: ksrandy.treasureboards.com














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