Locating primitive campsites
If you want to find an untouched relic site or trace the path of an early army then learn to think what you could do if you found yourself at the mercy of the wilderness and the excesses of weather. How would you survive? Many hunters and fishermen understand something about that. Think of the large numbers of people who virtually lived outside for years that made their living prospecting, trapping, exploring, or were stationed on duty during the Civil or Revolutionary war. They didn’t have much choice and their camp meant life or death to them.
A long time ago I became fascinated by the keen observations that the fictional character Sherlock Homes made and his analytical approach to his tasks. This has strangely aided me throughout my life in many ways. It has helped me to see many things that others never see or ignore, and it helps me to span the centuries as I stand in the historic old spots and see with the eyes of long dead men.
For instance I made observations while deer hunting when I noticed where the deer would sleep on dark winter nights when they could not browse. They would have to deal with our cold winters and the strong cold fronts which blow fiercly out of the Northwest and often brought rain, lightning, and a very chill or frosty morning. I discovered that they like a grassy rounded hill for the night. They will sleep on the southeast side of the hill and near the top but far enough down to avoid the cold wind and the wind driven rain and lightning.
When I observed this I put my mind to work on why they chose this exact place. I would have thought that they would have been laying in the deep woods and behind trees but then I remembered when it is cold that the coldest temperatures stay close to the ground and flow downhill into the valleys. That is why they wanted near the top of a hill and away from the bottoms. They choose the correct spot to avoid the cold and stay out of the worst wind and rain. The lightning would move with a storm front and hit where the rain had wet the ground or trees but the wind could blow much of the rain past the spot just below the top and behind the hill. In the chill morning with subfreezing temperatures or frost notice that the deer would just happen to be the best spot to have the first rays of the warm sun reach them as they woke to the new day. All in all it was the kind of place that was probably located by deer long ago and the ones who survived the ravages of winter would pass the information down to their young by example.
Please forgive the long digression, but all this has to do with where you will find that old relic or coin dropped long ago by some pioneer spending the night there. Where there is a rounded hill like this there is often a stream below for water and anyone who survived long winters in the outdoors had to learn the lessons of how to survive. See the soldier with his troop who has been on station there without reprieve for a long, long time. A man wants what comfort he can get after many bad nights and the troop learns the lessons of the deer and seeks out the best place to afford them with the same kind of protection. There was poor clothing and worse food so much time was spent on survival and the man who could put them in the right place to camp would be their lifesaver.
Consider yourself laying in your bedroll on a chill ground. Not many nights of that will cause a man to become inventive! Many of the old and abandoned farm had an ample supply of bricks from the fireplaces and it is likely that the soldiers would take them along with them. Why would they want bricks? It’s simple, you will setup around the fire until you find yourself falling asleep and then you get a stick and pull your brick back from the fires edge and put it in the bottom of your bedroll. This will afford you at least two or three good warm hours of sleep and then if it is a very cold night you can repeat the process. Over time the bricks crack and crumble and so they are discarded and new ones picked up. Another thing to overcome is the mud, mud is always with the soldier and always his enemy. The soldier would want a clean dry place for his bed and he would want to place flooring down out of boards, bricks, grass, or an elevated mound to keep the mud away. Many camps may have started out with good equipment and tents but after a while the tents became tattered and long stays outdoors would mean an improvised shelter if there was no supply train. A shelter might consist of the remains of one or more torn tents and boards stolen or picked up at abandoned homesites to provide a better place to stay. Your survival is a strong motivation and people had to become innovative in order to survive.
Survival however may not have been threatened by the inclement weather alone but by attack from primitive Indians, enemy troops, or bandits. It was therefore necessary to reach some compromise from the ideal location when defense was the priority or if a large detachment of troops required a larger area to camp. It could depend on how large the troop was as to where it might be located but the weather had to be considered and the camp had to be in a defensible location on high ground with a good view of the surrounding terrain. Consider that the larger group of men had to have outposts and that these outposts could be in position night and day for years possibly. They would be easier to locate because the requirements of an outpost would be relatively simple and have to have a good view of the area and especially of the river or creek where an enemy could cross or supplies could move along. Look on your topographical maps for high points near the water and perhaps in a small grove of trees. The outpost lookout alone could drop a number of early artifacts and coins since he had to stand watch all night he might not recover objects that he dropped.
Water is necessary for man and animals and man can never camp far from a good source. Good campsites that had been discovered in the early days were probably used by many people over time and may have become the location of the first towns. Supplies were necessary to armies and many early supply ships were able to navigate the rivers and larger creeks to find prominent docking spots near the large camps. Supplies were always a target either by Indians, enemies, or just parties of men looking for an easy target. Supplies could come by mule train, wagonload, oxcart, or by steamboat which was used very much in early Texas. There would be steamboat landings at defendable places on the rivers and creeks and if I were steering such a supply ship I would want to see a clear landing place where no foreign troops could attack me or enemy could ambush me. I would want to see a deepwater port to dock where supplies could be offloaded. Good campsites were probably popular and after peace came and the new settlers came to live the old landings could be used to transport goods and provide transportation for farmers. Pay good attention to old ghost towns along waterways. They may have been used as main campsites before they became early towns.
Early pioneers were spread out over the countryside far and near but in times of Indian raids, bandits, or invading armies they built stockade forts along a river where they could stay and fight off the enemy as a group and you may be lucky and locate one of these. It would be located on high ground with a wide view of their homeland and their backs to the river. Prairie fire was the main concern of many of the pioneers who lived in the grasslands that were so vulnerable to a windblown fire and the stockade fort provided a place near the river to stay together and fight the fire. It may be possible that they buried their possessions there if they thought that they might be overcome and it could be worth your while to search it diligently.
This has only been an example of how you need to think in order to aid yourself when you are hunting the open ground. Picture it as it has been lived and stand in these places for a moment to appreciate those who were born before you and who struggled hard to survive. Buy a topographical map from the USGS of the area you want to checkout and search for places that I have described. Remember there are other factors like the summers where the mosquitoes are terrible and you would have to stay away from lowlands and marshes where they breed and stay up higher where you could get a breeze. Use your head and try to locate the kind of area where YOU would want to camp for a prolonged time. Use a good relic hunting detector or use a good two-box rig to locate these old sites and then turn the sensitivity up high and the discrimination off on your relic machine and dig everything. If you are having a problem with nails then you should know that some other detectors will work better in iron trash and you should use a small coil and look around in the piles of nails for old coins and great relics. If you have the time then dig it all and you will surely find more good relics. Remember that any good coin when it is deep enough to be out of the range to identify it will show up as iron and may be mistaken for another nail! You have to believe in yourself and your abilities and expand your thoughts to conceive frontier survival as it was lived and consider how you would deal with each problem and provide for every need with only the basic tools and then you will be leading the pack to virgin sites.