Archive for Friday, May 5, 2006

Search begins for artifacts from Black Jack

May 5, 2006


Pieces of aluminum from foil, beer and soda cans, wire and nails were the only discoveries Thursday afternoon as searchers armed with metal detectors began scouring the historic Black Jack Battlefield east of Baldwin.

"We're literally just getting started," said Douglas Scott, a battlefield archaeologist from Lincoln, Neb. "Today is to get everybody tuned up and working together."

Scott, an adjunct anthropology professor with the University of Nebraska, is leading an archaeological survey of the battlefield where forces under abolitionist John Brown clashed with pro-slavery forces under Henry Clay Pate the night of June 2, 1856. Many consider it to be the first armed conflict of the Civil War.

Scott, also retired from the National Park Service, brought with him a few other searchers who have worked with him in exploring other battlefield sites. The Black Jack survey is to continue today and Saturday. Some local volunteers familiar with sophisticated metal detectors are helping, along with some students from Baker University.

Dick Harmon and Tom Thiessen, workers from Lincoln, Neb., dig at the site of the Battle of Black Jack. Volunteers came Thursday morning to clean and look for signs of the former battleground east of Baldwin.

Dick Harmon and Tom Thiessen, workers from Lincoln, Neb., dig at the site of the Battle of Black Jack. Volunteers came Thursday morning to clean and look for signs of the former battleground east of Baldwin.

The searchers are hoping to uncover evidence of the battle, mainly bullets or lead balls.

Scott used a metal detector that can be programmed to detect certain materials and give meter readouts. He also listens to tones emanating from the detector, which shoots an electrical current into the ground to measure the electrical conductivity of an object.

The increased moisture in the ground from recent rains will help, not hinder, the search, Scott said.

"The moisture in the soil will add to the ability of the objects to conduct electricity so it won't hurt a bit," he said.

Scott's metal detector shoots a current 14 inches into the ground while those used by others can detect eight inches into the ground.

When a detector indicated a possible find, others on the search would dig a hole and begin sifting through the dirt trying to find the object. Many items found were pieces of aluminum foil from previous picnics, searchers said.

The area searched, however, isn't believed to be the main area of battle action, but findings still could reveal clues, Scott said.

"In the shooting, there could still be stuff up here that will give us an idea where people were," he said.

The afternoon search concentrated on the east end of the property, just west of the fence surrounding the Robert Pearson Memorial Park and nearby woods. The search today and Saturday will continue in a westward direction.

Black Jack Battlefield

If artifacts are found, they will be flagged and at the end of the search they will be turned over to the Old Castle Museum in Baldwin.

"This is just stage one," said Kerry Altenbernd, a member of the Black Jack Trust, which owns the battlefield land. "It's pretty much to orient ourselves to see if they can get an idea of where things are."

After the battlefield is surveyed, a more intensive archaeological dig will take place, Altenbernd said. That will occur over a longer period of time, he said.

Among those assisting with Thursday's search was former Lawrence City Manager Mike Wildgen. A longtime member of a Kansas archaeological volunteer group, Wildgen has gone on similar searches of historic sites throughout the state.

"It's an avocation. I like to explore history," Wildgen said. "Now I've got the time to do these things."


Shardwurm 11 years, 9 months ago

Good luck. I hope they find something.

I know of a few people who have been out there over the years with metal detectors but didn't find anything.

Of course they didn't have the sophisticated equipment these guys do.

This won't be the first attempt - just the best.

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