Treasure hunting is real for Brent Morse from Vermontville and Dave Crispin from East Lansing. These men are the “Michigan Relic Hunters,” and they “dirt fish”–they use metal detectors to find historical artifacts from the ground. The Relic Hunters find all kinds of interesting things like buttons, toy trucks and cars, coins, arrowheads, plows, ax heads, pocketknives, padlocks, and even a land mine-detonator.
The gentlemen set up a display in the Vermontville Museum for the Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival on April 24 and 25 to display some of the items that they have found.
“We find these artifacts, and I wonder what the lives were like of the people who used them,” Crispin said. “That’s what I love about it.”
Crispin has been metal detecting for about four years, while metal detecting is something that Morse has done most of his life. His grandfather metal detected and took him along. The first silver ring he found got him hooked on the hobby.
“Not all hunts are fruitful, but the time out in the woods with a couple of friends is worth the trip,” Morse said.
Surprisingly, the men have found many Civil War artifacts, including uniform buttons, here in Michigan. “It shows that these guys came back home and wore their uniform here,” Morse explained. “And lost a button or two!”
Pull tabs are something they find a lot of. They deal with a lot of trash in the process of metal detecting and make sure they clean it up. They are respectful of the property they search and the holes they dig are always refilled.
The two have a Facebook page, #MichiganRelicHunters, where they highlight their most recent finds and members post their own discoveries. There are over 800 members of the group. In addition to showing photos of the finds, they include the history of the items as they research them. They use other Facebook groups for help in identifying their finds.
Morse recently found an 1856 Indian Princess Large Head gold $1 coin. Based on the readings his metal detector showed, he almost didn’t dig it up, as it appeared to be a piece of aluminum. “It’s a bucket list find,” Morse said.
Sometimes the corrosion is so bad that they aren’t really sure what they have found. That’s when they use electrolysis to help remove the corrosion from the object. A power supply is attached to the object in a bucket of water and with time the corrosion drops off. Electrolysis was needed to clean up an 1860 cast iron children’s cork gun that they found.
The metal detector will detect about a foot deep in the soil, depending on the size of the object and the soil condition. The treasure hunters recommend metal detecting after a rain, which brings more conductivity.
The hard part of metal detecting, of course, is getting permission to search a property. Google is the best resource to find out who owns the land they are interested in, but they also use historical aerial photos, plat maps, and Sanford Fire Insurance maps. They compare old plat maps with modern maps to determine where old homesteads might have stood years ago.
They show the property owner what they find and if it can be traced to the family, they will return it to the rightful owners.
“I’m in it for the history,” Morse explained. “But it’s always in the back of my head…you never know what will come out of the ground.”
For more information about the Michigan Relic Hunters or metal detecting, contact them at #michiganrelichunters on Facebook or call them at 517-930-1504 or 517-213-9990.