EL PASO, Texas — The El Paso Prospectors Club is a local group whose members go around Texas and New Mexico to search for treasures hidden beneath our feet.
“History is very important to study. Our previous ancestors, to see how they lived, it’s just amazing to hold and touch a piece of history and share it with others,” said club President Shad Bowling.
The group’s members head out to different sites every weekend with metal detectors. The sites they hunt at are secret but Bowling tells me it isn’t as easy as just stopping wherever they want.
“I will take old maps and I will overlay them with newer maps to kind of give us a 2-3 mile radius of where we think a new site will be,” Bowling said.
“Nowadays it requires a lot more permissions and things like that. I do a lot of research and look for old abandoned sites, historical sites and then try to find locations for it and try to see if we can get permission for the club to go out there and do hunts,” said club Vice President James Olbrisch.
Once a site is decided, they head out and spend hours on end, searching for these unique treasures.
“Some of us will stay out there until it's dark. We start early in the morning. I used to hit the ground running, no one would see me for four to five hours,” said club member Christopher Avina.
Bowling walked us through the process of what happens when he thinks he has found an item. “You can hear the metal detector chatters and until you get a solid sound, that’s when you know. We have a displace screen that will tell us different ID numbers. Then we use a pin pointer to try to help us locate the item.”
While some of these found items are things you would expect, such as coins and bottles, others are more sentimental.
“We've had a member in Las Cruces, he has found four class rings and they have returned all four of them,” said Avina.
Bowling has even found a wallet with a soldier’s ID inside. “The ID is from the 1950s. We were able to track it back to Ohio.”
Searching for these treasures is more than just a hobby for this club. It’s giving a piece of history back. If members of the club find items that are personal they do their best to find the owner and return it.
“If we can't locate them then our hopes are to put them in a museum so somebody can be like, 'Hey, that’s my relative',” Bowling said.
On top of doing their best to return these items, the club also donates its findings to the Shakespeare Ghost Town Museum in Lordsburg.
“This is stuff that a lot of us, we don't care to keep in our private collection. We'd like to share it and try to move it into museums,” Bowling said.
Keith Wilden is a historian at the Shakespeare Ghost Town Museum and says the work the El Paso Prospectors Club does is outstanding to him. “After the club came up to Lordsburg we started to get some more personal items. It's been great to be able to share everything they find and we put that back into the town and add to the collection to share to everyone else.”
Many items found by members of the group are hundreds of years old and signify a big piece of history.
“This was a World War II German dog tag that was found near this location. It can break in two pieces so it's a mirror image of the soldier's name but indicates they were transported here and had to get off here or the prisoner-of-war camp was close by,” Bowling said.
“I found an old Civil War button that I found at a site east of town and that's another personal thing because it fell off of someone's coat and it hasn't been touched in 100 years,” Olbrisch said.
The group hopes with these findings it will help bring light to our history for future generations to learn from.
“Hope for the future, that's all there is to it. Just so we don't forget the past,” Wilden said.
“For me it's other people that are passionate about history. We get to share that passion. We are very family oriented. My kids are out here and we get to pass it on to new generations,” Bowling said.
Many of the group's findings still have an unknown story. Avina’s son found an item on the east side with “El Paso Times 1880” written on it. However, the El Paso Times didn’t start printing until 1881. Avina has taken it to a museum and the newspaper, and they have no idea what the item could be.
If you are interested in joining the club, you can find the group on Facebook.