Not always a game of “finders keepers,” going on the hunt can yield profits, fun and lore for everyone to enjoy.
This is a a winged pendant probably worn by a bomber in WWII. It is one of the many items found by the author’s friend Mike Franks using his metal detector.
Items found by the author’s friend Mike Franks using his metal detector. Front of a sterling silver bowling medal.
Items found by the author’s friend Mike Franks using his metal detector. Back of the Sterling silver bowling medal.
A portion of some of the treasures found at the silver crown excavation.
A closer look at some of the treasure found. In the center of the photo is the silver bracelet the Whites discovered.
On the left you can see one of the bent half dimes found, on the right, a flattened half dime made into a silver ring.
Mud found with trade beads in it.
Items found by the author’s friend Mike Franks using his metal detector. Here is a metal star pendant.
A half dime.
Two pieces of an exploding cannonball with grapeshot in it.
The round white dots in this picture are a cache of minie balls held together by clay that were discovered in one location.
Civil War minie ball.
A rusty old gun unearthed around an old homesite.
Civil War mortar shells found deep in the earth.
Two old bayonets, possibly from the Civil War era.
A union belt buckle that dates back to the Civil War.
Possibly an Indian button. If you look closely, you can see an eagle with arrows in its talons.
A round Union button or ornament that was discovered with a metal detector.
Knowing the history of the land you live on may result in finding great treasure. Gold, silver, artifacts and jewels have been buried on properties throughout this country from the days of the explorers to the present day. My older brother Archie and I have been treasure hunters since the early 1960s, when Archie first bought a WWII mine detector that soldiers carried on their backs to find unexploded metal mines. Later he bought a metal detector that we used to discover minie balls, cannon shot, coins and buttons at various sites.
As scuba divers, Archie and I also searched for relics in the Gulf of Mexico and many river systems, and we discovered more minie balls, ballast, cannon shot, coins, buttons and even Civil War cannons. Today you’ll often see people using their metal detectors at parks, particularly where bleachers sit, where they recover dropped coins and other items. Laws are very tough now at historical sites and many have signs forbidding the use of metal detectors. But as a student of history, you can do some research, pinpoint probable places and get permission to treasure hunt there.
An Amazing Find
One of the most mysterious finds in my home state was the discovery of a silver crown near Talladega in northeast/central Alabama. The find has had archaeologists, the Creek Nation, the landowner and the finder in a quandary since October 29, 1978.
Jeff White of Leeds, Alabama, a student of the U.S. Army and the Native Americans around north Alabama for many years, had used his research to lead him to old Union encampments where he’s discovered minie balls, a general’s button and other artifacts. Through his investigations, White determined that many of the Native Americans’ traded furs and other articles for hardware, jewelry, silver and gold that could be found in many of Alabama’s creeks and streams.
White searched for telltale signs of settlements where trinkets and jewelry might have been dropped, hardware lost or discarded and battles fought. The number-one trade item was rum packaged in brown glass bottles, generally found in plowed fields and on cleared land.
White had hunted this old field around Talladega for several years. His wife, daughter and brother Cliff had secured the permission of the landowner and were busily searching the ground for flakes of flint, tips of arrowheads, pieces of broken pottery and old trade beads.
According to White, “I knew the Indians who had lived on this spot had traded, because of the old broken rum bottles and other debris we’d found there on earlier trips. I thought my Fisher metal detector might pick up rifle balls or other relics from the Andrew Jackson era.”
The Hunting Family
As the metal detector passed over the plowed ground, signals of buried metal kept appearing. White and his family probed and unearthed square nails, horseshoes, other farm hardware, arrowheads and broken pieces of pottery.
“We were primarily searching for arrowheads, since we have a large arrowhead collection,” White recalled. “My family enjoys finding surface artifacts, and it’s a family adventure.”
Working their way up to a knoll, White’s detector gave a heavy reading, and the Whites found three horse bits, stacked one on top of the other, one of them silver-plated, and also a silver spur. Two small, white glass trade beads rolled back into the hole.
“I was convinced I was on to something, since at this time in history, the Indians believed their earthly possessions must be buried with them, but their livestock no longer belonged to the dead person and was released,” White explained. “We uncovered hundreds of white and blue beads in long lines, strung together at one time with thread that long since had rotted. We got down to between 10 and 12 inches deep. I saw a very flat and thin band of metal and assumed it was made of pewter or tin. When I got home and tried to clean it up, I realized it was a crown of silver!”
Crown Of Silver
The silver crown, probably worn like a headband, had eight cone-shaped discs made of stamped half dimes. Two of these half dimes bore the dates of 1820 and 1809, which helped to identify the period of the find. The silversmith who made the crown was an artisan of the highest degree, able to create a silver piece so thin and pliable and to press out the dimes rather than beating them. Also found was a copper brooch, which, because of the size of the hook, apparently had at one time held together a heavy cloak or robe of some kind. Daylight faded, and as the Whites left, they still were picking up readings around the knoll with their metal detector.
For three nights and two days White couldn’t sleep or eat as the crown, the beads, the bits and the spurs danced through his mind. What had he found? What else was there? Had he possibly located the lost Native American village of Ufala, which legend placed in this region?
On November 1, 1978, White called his brother Rod, and they took off work and returned to the site. They uprooted a band of silver believed to have been a bracelet that once again showed the artistry of a fine silversmith. Besides small silver beads, possibly earrings, two rings were found—one made of elongated, flattened silver, while the other was a bent half dime that still contained clear designs and mint marks.
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The two men believed they had made a major archeological discovery that might be of historical value to the state of Alabama. They felt that if what they had found could fill a gap in history, then archeologists should be allowed to finish exhuming the remainder of what was at the site to try and preserve the history there.
They called an amateur archeologist in their hometown, and he agreed that this was a historic find; however, since Native American history of this period following the removal of the Creek Nation from Alabama to the West in the 1830s was scanty, he had little information about the significance of the find. White’s family knew of the lack of records regarding Native Americans in Alabama in the period of 1800-1840.
“The records that did exist placed the lost Indian town of Ufala in the Talladega area,” White reported. “According to local historians, travelers passing through this region wrote of Ufala as being a very rich Creek Indian town.”
However, Ufala and the Creek Nation were crushed by Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812, because the tribe had allied itself with the British against the Americans. In 1832, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, forcing most of the Native Americans east of the Mississippi River onto the famous Trail of Tears toward western reservations, where thousands of them died due to the extreme weather conditions and lack of food. But not all the Native Americans were captured. Many hid out in the woods and caves, while others bought their freedom through negotiations with the Army. The owner of the crown was probably one of the more wealthy Creeks who remained behind.
White called Dr. Roger Nance, an archeologist with the University of Alabama in Birmingham. After viewing the artifacts and hearing the story, Nance expressed his delight in the possibility of this being a major archeological breakthrough that would fill in the gaps in the history of the Creek Nation. He also placed the value on the crown and the other silver items as priceless. White contacted the landowner and the Creek Nation at its headquarters in Poarch, Alabama. An honor guard from the Creek Nation was sent up to guard the gravesite—keeping out sightseers and unscrupulous pillagers.
Neither the Native Americans nor the archeologists said anything to Jeff White and his family about their find or allowed them to participate in the exploratory work being done at the site. Later, they changed their minds and asked White and the other members of the Warrior Basin Treasure Hunters’ Association located in central Alabama to try and pinpoint possible graves and artifacts at the site where the silver crown was found. The men worked in the bitter-cold weather for no personal gain other than being part of a historical find.
Andy Bobyarchick, one of the hunters, said, “We’re happy to work with archeologists at any time to find buried history. Our organization believes that treasure hunters can have a long future in the relic-hunting business by working with and supporting archeologists. The fun of treasure hunting is the find, and all of us one day want to see something we’ve unearthed on display in a museum.”
Archeologists think the field was probably a family burial ground containing two or three graves. The people of the Creek Nation had not been aware of ancestors living this far north in Alabama, and now more details of their heritage were available to them. Speculation about the crown included the idea that it might have belonged to a Native American princess or a high-ranking chief. The site also yielded several prehistoric artifacts, suggesting that many groups of people used the same location over the years.
The riddle of the silver crown may never be unraveled, but White loaned the artifacts he found to the Creek Nation to be put on display at its museum. If a people are to know their future, they must learn and understand their past, and the treasure hunter who helps a people find and know this past performs a valuable service for all of mankind.
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TREASURE HUNTER’S ASSOCIATIONS
• Warrior Basin Treasure Hunters Association (wbtha.com)
• Amarillo Prospectors & Treasure Hunters Association (amarillotreasure.com)
• Central Coast Treasure (cctha.org)
• East Texas Treasure Hunters Association (ettha.org)
• Massachusetts Treasure Hunting Association (masstreasure.com)
• West Coast Prospectors and Treasure Hunters Association (westcoasters.org)
• New Mexico Treasure Hunters Association (nmtreasurehunters.webs.com)
This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Spring 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.
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