No Black Jack bullets found, but maybe a reason
They didn't find any remnants of the Battle of Black last week during an archaeological search. No bullets, no musket balls, no nothing. But, the research team might have discovered why and what they were looking for anyway.
Douglas Scott, a battlefield archaeologist from Lincoln, Neb., who is also retired from the National Park Service and is currently an adjunct professor with the University of Nebraska, led a team of experts on a sweep of the battlefield east of Baldwin City Thursday and Friday. They didn't find what they were after, but the publicity surrounding the search did.
"Yes, we are somewhat disappointed by not finding any period artifacts," said Kerry Altenbernd, a member of the Battle of Black Jack board who also participated in the search. "Doug Scott was contacted by a man who had seen the stories about the archaeological survey and felt the need to tell his story. He said a local metal detector club he had belonged to had scoured the battlefield in 1979 and 1980."
Those searches, conducted by a Topeka-based metal detector club, did find evidence of the June 2, 1856 battle which pitted John Brown's anti-slavery forces against Henry Clay Pate's pro-slavery group that had camped in the area.
"He said that he didn't find anything in the area he was searching, but others in the group found a total of 50 or 60 bullets in the area of the battlefield between Pate and Brown's positions," said Altenbernd. "He said that he believed that at least one and perhaps several other metal detector clubs had gotten on the site around the same time. It is very likely that this all happened when Cavender family members were absent from the property and so did not know about it."
The Cavender family took control of the Robert Hall Pearson home and the surrounding 40-acre tract in 1928. Fannie Cavender was a daughter of Robert Hall Pearson. Pearson fought in the Battle of Black Jack and returned years later to homestead the property. He built the house, which is now on the Kansas Historical Registry and farmed the land for years.
Although the searchers were disappointed with last week's find, it not only pointed to a problem with such sites, but -- ultimately -- proved the authenticity of the battle, Altenbernd said.
"The reason that our survey didn't find any artifacts is because the metal detector clubs removed them all 25 years ago," he said. "Looting of archaeological sites is a serious problem and Black Jack appears to have been a victim of it.
"There is a bright spot," said Altenbernd. "The location of the bullets that the metal detector club members found, as reported to Dr. Scott, appears to verify that a major gunfight took place exactly where the old accounts say that one did. The history of the site has been verified as a result of the publicity surrounding the survey, although the verification did not come directly from the survey itself."
And, the publicity didn't just spark the interest of those from the Topeka club. Long-time Baldwin resident Donna Hill, who painted murals of the battle in the Black Jack Cabin on U.S. Highway 56 near the battlefield (See related story), said she'd been involved in searches there, once in the 1950s and again in the 1970s.
"I found a flat dish that looked like it was bronze or gold," said Hill. "It had a really weird half of a lion or leopard with a different rear end. It was like what we would call a soap dish. I also found about 10 of those bullets."
She related her findings as she touched up the murals Friday night in preparation for the 150th anniversary celebration of the the battle on June 2.
And, Brenda Day, archivist at Baker University's Old Castle Museum, said there are bullets on display there from the battle, which many believe was the first-armed conflict of the Civil War.
"We have 52 bullets that were picked up shortly after the battle and donated to the museum in the late 1950s and early '60s," said Day, who is also on the Black Jack board. "There was no one donor."
She also said that those found in the 1979-80, weren't turned over to the museum.
"The bullets picked up in 79-80 are still in the possession of those who gathered them," said Day.