Archive for Thursday, May 25, 2006

Search fails to yield artifacts from battle site

Historical evidence sought at Black Jack

May 25, 2006

A two-day search in early May for archaeological evidence of the Battle of Black Jack turned up only wire, cans and other trash.

But no bullets or lead balls that might have been fired from muskets or rifles were found.

That most likely is because others have searched the grounds east of Baldwin over the years and picked clean the general area of the battle, Lincoln, Neb., battlefield archaeologist Douglas Scott said.

"I'm not saying there aren't still some things out here, but they may be screened or masked," said Scott, an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Nebraska. He led the Black Jack search with help from several volunteers he brought with him and other local volunteers, including Baker University students.

Scott, who has searched and studied about 30 battlefields in the United States and Great Britain, learned that in 1979 or 1980 a treasure hunting club had searched the battlefield with metal detectors and walked away with 30 to 50 bullets. In addition, about 50 bullets and lead balls supposedly recovered shortly after the battle are housed in the Old Castle Museum in Baldwin. Other groups or individuals also may have searched the grounds over the years, he said.

"There could be a hundred bullets or more that have been found, and when you think about it, there may not have been more than a couple of hundred bullets fired," Scott said.

The bullets at Old Castle have been examined by Scott, and he thinks he can report on the types of weapons that were used by the forces under abolitionist John Brown and pro-slavery advocate Henry Pate.

The area searched was in cleared and wooded areas directly west of the Robert Hall Pearson Memorial Park and across the creek.

A map supplied by a Lawrence man who was with the treasure hunter's club shows where many of the bullets were found, which coincides with where Pate's men were, Scott said.

"We'll be able to make something out of this," he said.


The search served as a preliminary battlefield archaeological survey, and there could be more later, said Kerry Altenbernd, a member of the Black Jack Trust, which owns the battlefield. An expanded search may take place later, but it has not been determined when, he said.

"It probably didn't take place in just one area," Altenbernd said of the battle. "Brown caught them, and there was retreating and skirmishing."

In addition to other archaeological searches, a battlefield preservation survey will be conducted sometime in the future. That will be handled by Joe Brent, project manager at the University of Kentucky's Center for Historic Architecture and Preservation. He will make a written report based on all of the current and past written information and maps about the battle and the site. That should give a clearer picture of what the combatants did and where they did it, said Karl Gridley, another member of the trust.

"He's been very involved with battlefields in Kentucky and Tennessee," Gridley said of Brent.

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