Pieces of history — Treasure seekers dig into Utah

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 22 2006 11:30 a.m. MST

John Urses digs around a rock that was part of an old channel. The rock is on one of Urses' 14 mine claims where he searches for gold in Osceola, Nev.

Provided by John Urses

From Utah to Wyoming, dozens of Utahns comb the western terrain looking for hidden artifacts and valuables.

The treasure seekers, all part of the Utah Treasure Association, are devoted historians searching for forsaken objects. From coins and trade tokens to bottles and artifacts, the metal detector users, dump sifters and bottle diggers search for pieces of the past.

"For me it's kind of a quest to find out more about Western history," Brent Montgomery of Millcreek said. "I'm very interested in that. It's kind of what got me into metal detecting."

Montgomery has been treasure hunting for the past 12 years. Four years ago he joined the Utah Treasure Association.

"It's just kind of a fun group to get together and share our stories of what we do," Montgomery said.

The Utah Treasure Association was founded in June 2001 by Dave Kyte of Midvale.

"We're a varied bunch," Kyte said. "We dig bottles, look for metal in the ground (and we're) historians."

Today there are 65 members who come from as far away as Morgan and Provo. They are experts in finding, metal detecting, locating and "tracking down the most likely spots to find stuff," Kyte said.

Hunter Rick Holt, of Midvale, who has an extensive bottle collection, got involved with the association because he said it gives him and fellow collectors an opportunity to bring new folks into the hobby.

"The group is a great fellowship of collectors addicted to our particular pastime," Holt said. "We get together and share common interest and give sympathy to our wives who have to put up with us."

The group meets monthly at the Midvale History Museum, 7699 S. Main. During these gatherings, members listen to experts discuss their collecting passions. Past speakers include collector Doug Wright, KSL radio talk host; Douglas Nyholm, who recently published a book on Mormon currency; and Chuck Larson, who recently published a book on forgery.

Association members also take the stage on occasion to school the group on their collecting expertise.

"It's a hobby where you've always got new people coming in, and they need to know how to go about finding stuff," Kyte said.

Group members often share tricks of the trade with each other. One treasure-hunting tip is that certain areas are more conducive for finding buried goods. Kyte said hunters often search in old trash beds for artifacts.

"There's certain things you look for, old gullies, the edge of the towns, there's always a trash pit someplace," he said. "Even in people's yards. In the early days they'd bury a lot of the trash in their own yards."

A lot of things that people threw away in the past are valuable now, Kyte said.

The hunters also search for lost items in older areas where houses have been torn down, Kyte said. Parks and schools also prove to be likely places to find missing paraphernalia.

Utah Treasure Association member John Urses of Murray prefers hunting for gold four hours away at one of his 14 placer mine claims in Osceola, Nev. Urses said when he goes to the ghost town, he usually makes a weekend trip out of it.

The gold he searches for is free gold and doesn't have to be removed from the rock. Occasionally he finds a gold nugget. The largest one he has found is about the size of a quarter.

"For an old man, if you find a gold nugget, he gives out a yell, because that's fairly rare," Urses said.

But when Urses can't make it to Nevada, he scours the land around the Salt Lake Valley with his metal detector looking for coins, keys, jewelry, etc. He owns a metal detector and mining supply store in Murray.

"I metal detect a lot, but I don't have one thing I collect metal detecting," Urses said.

Holt prefers collecting old bottles. He started searching for bottles when he was 16 and considers a bottle to be collectible if it was made before 1915. When he was going to college, he started collecting information on the history of the early bottles he treasured.

"I also purchased a metal detector at that time and before and after school, I would search the large parkways by the university for buried treasure," Holt said. "Buried treasure is buried treasure. It's much the same."

These days Holt doesn't dig like he used to. Instead, he searches for bottles to buy and trade on the Internet. He also is in charge of the annual Utah Bottle Show and manages the utahcollectors.com Web site.

"It's a simple Web site where collectors can show off or buy, sell trade," Holt said.

Kyte's collection includes myriad artifacts from bottles to tokens to coins to cannon primers. Although he said he's found a lot of interesting things, his favorite artifact is an 1853 United States $2 1/2 gold piece he found at an old pioneer encampment in Utah.

"You wouldn't think $2 1/2 would be the size of a dime, but it is," Kyte said of the token he now wears around his neck.

Montgomery's favorite find is a $5 gold coin he discovered last year.

"They don't come up very often, that's the first one I've ever found," he said. "I was pretty excited."

Montgomery said he enjoys finding trade tokens from towns that no longer exist.

"They are kind of like last remnants of the town," he said. "They actually prove that they existed."

Montgomery said the treasure hunters are only allowed to search on private property, but he wishes laws and regulations weren't so restrictive.

"It's sad because a lot of things are going to be lost because of it," he said. "There are things in the ground now that are already deteriorating and if they are in the ground another 100 years they are going to be lost forever."

Kyte said the hunters always make it a point to get permission before they hunt.

A few years ago, the hunters were able to search some ground that had been removed from Fort Douglas and placed onto private property. Montgomery said they were able to find thousands of artifacts from that soil. But, he added, there are thousands of more artifacts that will never be brought out.

"They look at us as scavengers and actually what we are trying to do is recover this history," he said. "That's what we're trying to do. We're not in it for the money."

Retrieving artifacts from the ground helps preserve unrecorded history, Montgomery added.

"There's a lot of history that isn't written and you find out more information when you go out and find those things," he said.

Montgomery said he likes his membership in the Utah Treasure Association because it allows him to see what the other association members have found.

Urses said joining the Utah Treasure Association was a natural thing for him to do. He has been treasure and gold seeking for nearly two decades.

"It's basically what I do, instead of playing golf or fishing or hunting, which I used to do all the time," Urses said.

Membership into the Utah Treasure Association is $12 per year and comes with a monthly newsletter. The association hosts group digs and a yearly picnic.

Kyte said he's always been interested in collecting things and when he was a young boy he collected rocks.

"I love it," Kyte said. "I'm a collector and I'm a treasure hunter. I just thoroughly enjoy it all, and I enjoy the history of it and the older I get, the more I enjoy the history."


E-mail: nclemens@desnews.com