Metal detecting ignites passion for community history

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Ryan Koresh, of Prairie du Chien, has uncovered some fascinating historic relics from in and around Prairie du Chien through metal detecting. His collection includes a turkey tail point, a shoulder belt buckle, rifleman’s cuff button, an eagle dragoon button and civilian buttons, among other items. (Photos by Correne Martin)

The turkey tail point on the right was made with Great Lakes copper and is estimated to be 3,500-4,000 years old. Also showing significant patina, on the left, is a piece of copper kettle ring that’s about 400 years old and would have been used to make a bracelet.

This belt buckle was under layers of earth since the War of 1812 Siege of Prairie du Chien, until Ryan Koresh uncovered it while metal detecting locally.

By Correne Martin

Finding relics of centuries-old Prairie du Chien area history by the means of metal detecting has ignited a love of the community’s past in Ryan Koresh like he never imagined. 

“Any free time I get,” he said he spends searching for treasures underground. “I probably devote 30 to 40 hours a month.”

Since getting into the hobby in 2016, Ryan has uncovered a captivating collection of artifacts that tell different historical accounts of local events from centuries ago. Two of his favorites are a 3,500-4,000-year-old copper turkey tail point spear and a brass, shoulder belt buckle from the War of 1812 Siege of Prairie du Chien. 

The tail point, at first glance, shows turquoise-colored patina and significant corrosion. 

“It would’ve originally been thicker and sharper on both sides,” Ryan explained. “I was gonna throw it away initially, but then I thought it looked like a feather, so I kept it. Thankfully, I realized what it was.”

The belt buckle shows age as well, yet it looks almost identical to an identifying picture from one of his resource books about the era. “It took me a week’s worth of researching before I figured out what I had.”

Ryan is also proud to have discovered a riflemen’s cuff button, also from the War of 1812; a standard Army enlisted coat button from the Blackhawk War; and a eagle dragoon button, which he estimates to be from about 1833.

“Some were found on a vineyard on the property that housed the original vineyard the road gets its name from,” Ryan shared. “There was a house there that moved about 1860.”

In addition to these keepsakes, he has acquired two civilian buttons he believes were shipped here from England between 1780 and 1820. “They were typical shirt buttons for (people like) you and me,” he described. He’s also found a copper kettle ring that was likely used to make a bracelet somewhere around 400 years ago.

He has a brewery token that was worth 5 cents in trade at the bar. On its face, the name Chas Fluke appears. According to Ryan’s research, Fluke was in Prairie du Chien in the early 1900s, but as far as him owning a saloon in town, he’s been unable to find such details. 

“He probably had a bar in his home,” the metal detectorist said. 

Also in his collection, Ryan has a Civil War store card. He said, back then, families were hoarding money, and consequently, started printing these small metal cards. This one, in particular, was from Empire brewery, the business that eventually became known as Pabst. 

With each of his finds, Ryan has spent a lot of time with a dry, soft wood toothpick around each piece’s edges and crevices, in cleaning them up. Most of them have come out nicely, and all of his valuable finds are displayed in a shadow box in his home. 

He continues to research as much as he can about these historical items. 

“I get a lot of help from different sites online. Detecting the Heartland is one I use the most; it has 10,000 members,” Ryan said.

Armed with an average metal detector, he admits, Ryan got into the pursuit a few years ago when the day came where he could afford a decent piece of equipment. He had always wanted one. 

“I usually have four or five different permissions lined up,” he said of how he receives consent from property owners before looking. “I find a lot of pull tabs, some coins and other random garbage.”

Ryan’s machine detects metal objects that are only about four to six inches below the surface. He has a hand trowel with him and he’s careful every time he decides to dig, not only because he doesn’t want to damage a potential artifact, but also because he respects the property and wants to be able to leave no trace of his work. He also wants the opportunity to be welcomed back.

Ryan figures there’s about a dozen metal detectorists in the immediate Prairie du Chien area, including his good friend Tony Bakken. The two often go together in searches. One of Ryan’s three children, who is 9, enjoys the hobby as well and relishes in any chance he gets to accompany his dad too.

“When I started, I thought it’d be fun to find coins in the ground, but now I don’t find a lot of change. When I started to find these relics, that’s what ignited the love of the history of the area,” Ryan commented. 

In the near future, Ryan hopes to display part of his personal collection at the Prairie du Chien library. As for his long-term goal, he’s interested in loaning them for exhibit at the Villa Louis and/or the Fort Crawford museums. Ultimately, he wishes to keep them close. 

Certainly, he intends to keep metal detecting “forever.”

“A lot of this stuff may be the only one out there,” he said. “My dream would be to find a cannon ball.”

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