By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —
This past March I was in Macedonia, Greece with my eldest daughter. No matter where we walked the ground was literally littered with history — bits of marble, colored tesserae from mosaics, tiny pieces of bronze and always, always pieces of pottery.
History was everywhere.
I remember going to elementary school at Seele in the 1960s. We had a playground, but often, we would end up playing in the vast green grassy area between the school buildings and the Fredericksburg Fields. It really did seem “vast” to us. Whether we were playing kickball or some other game, it was not unusual to find Native American points (we called everything an arrowhead) just lying on top of the ground.
History was everywhere.
Recently, retired policeman/Texas Ranger Ray Martinez brought in two metal objects. He had found them while parking cars for the Lion’s Club at Wurstfest. The objects were lying on the top of the ground, not together and not even at the same time. Their shape caught his attention. He donated them to the Sophienburg.
One object is a thin, squared-spike, 8.25 inch-long, that looks like a really big nail not a railroad spike. Hand-wrought and perfectly straight, I’d venture to guess it has never been used but simply dropped and forgotten.
Hand-forged by whom? Possibly by one of the African-American slaves William H. Meriwether brought with him from Virginia in 1847; it is likely at least one of them was a trained blacksmith. Meriwether’s slaves dug the millrace in Landa Park and built the first water-powered mill on the Comal River. The spike was found in the area of what had been the foreman’s house and the slave quarters.
Meriwether sold the property to Joseph Landa in 1859. Perhaps a blacksmith employed by Landa made the spike. Maybe it was dropped by workers constructing the Landa Industries buildings or the sheds along the railroad tracks installed to transport product to and from the Landa complex.
History is everywhere.
The other artifact is not made of iron. It is lead. Lead is a soft metal made from galena ore mixed with antimony or metallic arsenic. It melts at 375 F. The 10.75 inch-long and 3/8-inch-wide bar is stamped in block letters, “St. Louis Shot Tower Co.” It is not often an artifact gives you such a great clue and Ray Martinez had already done some internet research. I did more, and this ugly dark gray bar is way cooler than it looks.
First, what is a shot tower? In 1782, Englishman William Watts discovered that if he dropped molten lead far enough through the air the surface tension of the lead would form it into a perfect sphere. That’s how raindrops are formed. Watts built a six-story tower and placed a water tank at the bottom. At the top he laid a copper sieve. When he poured molten lead through the sieve, its downward six-story flight was long enough to form the lead drops into spheres and to cool the lead enough for it to begin solidifying by the time it hit the water.
Why make little round lead balls? The balls being manufactured were “shot”. Making shot for rifles by hand was labor intensive, so if you need a lot, like for an army or to sell in stores, Watts new shot tower method was a huge technological breakthrough. Shot towers sprang up all over England and after Jefferson’s 1801 Embargo Act which halted imports, shot towers became popular in America as well.
The St. Louis Shot Tower Co. was opened in the 1830s and continued producing shot until the end of the 19th century. It also produced lead bars like the one Ray found. St. Louis Shot Co. reported that during a five-month period, they could produce 1,994,374 pounds of round shot and 426,400 pounds of lead bars.
What were the bars for? Although bags of shot were available in stores, many rural folk and hunters continued to hand-mold their own shot. The Sophienburg has many single and double shot molds used by early citizens. During the Civil War, both shot and bars were obtained and used by soldiers on both sides. If you think about it, with a bar, you could make yourself 20-24 shot balls while sitting around in camp before a battle. Wouldn’t it be easier to just carry a couple bars instead of a bunch of little balls? And what if the supply wagon didn’t make it? You could still have ammunition.
Why was the lead bar found in the parking lot field? Your guess is as good as mine. I know that during the 1850s the New Braunfels Schuetzenverein (Shooting Club) shot targets in fields near the water out at “The Point” (which is sort of where Comal Cemetery, the VFW and Cypress Bend Park are). In the 1860s, men in the Comal County Home Guard shot targets in fields near the Comal around Prince Solms Park. Spent shot was also found in the playground area of Carl Schurz Elementary School. The museum has a handful of shot from the schoolyard in a jar. The Lion’s parking lot would have been a perfect place for target practice as well.
Of course, none of my guesses may be right. Both metal artifacts could have been there because of floods.
I’m thinking that if we look, we might all stumble across really wonderful history in our own backyard. I find Native-American points and scrapers in mine. What might be in your backyard? Who lived in your house, and what is their story?
History really is everywhere.
Remember, please, that searching or (God forbid) digging on someone else’s property or city or state property is illegal without prior permission and authority. Don’t be an idiot. Be responsible and ethical.
Sources: Sophienburg Museum and Archives collections; https://stlouispatina.com; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shot_tower; https://www.uh.edu/engines/epi422.htm; https://www.minnesotatrap.com/history-in-the-makin/shot-towers-page; https://www.inventricity.com/local-heroes-william-watts.