History in the water - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

History in the water

Hayden man still finds objects linked to Fort Sherman

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 12:00 am

COEUR d'ALENE - On a cold, foggy winter afternoon, Dennis Rachunok took slow, deliberate steps in Lake Coeur d'Alene.

Yep, he was in the 38.8 degree water on a 22-degree Monday.

When you're searching for pieces of history, you gotta dig when the digging is good.

"When the water goes way low, that's when the real diehards will come out," Rachunok said as he stood in the water wearing his insulated hip waders. "Otherwise, you can't get to this."

Armed with his waterproof metal detector and his scoop/shovel/sifter, the Hayden man peered into the crystal clear water just off the shoreline of the beach at North Idaho College.

It is, he says, a great place to seek long-lost treasures since it's so near the historic Fort Sherman, that was open for about 20 years before being abandoned in 1900.

The fort, first officially named Fort Coeur d'Alene and later renamed, stretched a half-mile or so on the shoreline.

Those stationed there left bits and pieces behind. Bullets, buttons, belt buckles, coins, pins, emblems, parts of pocket watches, are more than 100 years later still pulled from the lake's bottom.

"This could be hunted forever," he said. "I've been hunting it for 30 years, and I still find stuff that amazes me."

"You'd never believe it could show up around here," Rachunok added.

Despite the cold, this is the time of year to be out there. The water level on Monday was 2,119 feet, 6 feet below summer level.

"This is what it was like when the fort was here," he said.

Rachunok came out Sunday when it was sunny, had a good time and decided to return Monday.

Perhaps not a great idea, considering the frigid, cloudy, chilly conditions that awaited him.

"It's pretty miserable," he said.

Historian Robert Singletary said Fort Sherman's troops did walk and ride horseback and along the shoreline during the two decades it existed. Boats came and went, so it's very likely there were items left behind and they wound up in the water.

Military buildings went right up to the edge of the water, particularly where the lake and the river meet.

"That whole beach area, there is likely something there," he said.

Businesses like brothels and saloons set up shop near the edge of the fort, and tent cities were established to get business from the soldiers.

"There were structures along that whole area," he said.

Singletary wasn't surprised to hear people with metal detectors are still hunting for history. Many like to dig up pieces of the past.

"People have been doing it for years," he said.

Rachunok said there are tricks to the trade.

First is safety. His gear and gloves are waterproof and insulated. He doesn't venture out too deep.

"When it's this cold, you don't want to get too far out. Your waders will fill up, you might stay out there. There's a little risk involved, especially with all these logs and stuff," he said.

Because those logs and bark cover the lake's bottom near NIC beach, he targets areas where he can see gravel. When he hears the beep of the detector, he stops, scoops, and sifts.

Most often, nothing. But occasionally, it's a keeper.

He collected so much silver, at one point, that when silver prices shot up in the 1970s, he sold much of it.

"I wish I hadn't now," he said.

He still finds Native American artifacts like arrowheads.

"This was all campsite, way back before the fort was even here," he said.

A bit east, at Independence Point, Playland Pier Amusement Park was open from the late 1940s to 1975, when it was destroyed by fire.

In that area, too, Rachunok said there are old bottles and coins at the lake's bottom. And with the low lake level, it's now within reach.

His hobby catches on each time there's publicity about what lies beneath, but he just grins and bears it.

"One day I came out, there were 10 guys in my area, so I had to go to another spot," he said.

More about

More about

  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • JanJan posted at 4:01 pm on Fri, Jan 25, 2013.

    JanJan Posts: 3


  • skunkworks posted at 9:54 am on Fri, Jan 25, 2013.

    skunkworks Posts: 252

    Hey Pubic,Sorry forgot the L....The city of Nampa now requires permits to metal detect in their parks,As well as Boise Parks and schools.You need a permit to metal detect or you could face a heavy fine if caught without one.It may not be called an artifact hunters permit,But there is a permit issued for this type of collecting,,,

  • FromNIdaho posted at 8:19 pm on Wed, Jan 23, 2013.

    FromNIdaho Posts: 48

    JanJan and The Public, you need to find a hobby. Maybe artifact collecting!!

  • The Public posted at 4:10 pm on Wed, Jan 23, 2013.

    The Public Posts: 1

    NIdaho: If your not an archaeologist forget about applying for a permit. The Fed and State Govs role is to tailor laws/regs to protect cultural resources (i.e. artifacts, structures, and archaeological sites) not to put people behind bars. Law enforcement officials are the ones that will decide whether they want to pop someone for a crime. A moron (someone of slow learning) is an appropriate characterization of someone who blatantly broke the law and is receiving accolades for being a thief in the newspaper. Shame on the CDAPress for printing artifact collecting. Bill Buley.

    Spudman1: you sound like a relic hunter as well. Find a new hobby.

    skunkworks: don't provide misleading and false information. There is no such thing as an 'artifact hunt'n permit.' Not even in North Idaho.

  • FromNIdaho posted at 4:16 pm on Tue, Jan 22, 2013.

    FromNIdaho Posts: 48

    JanJan, depending on what he is collecting will depend on if he needs a permit. But I think both the Federal and State governments have bigger issues to deal with than putting a guy behind bars for picking bottle caps out of CDA lake. Besides, it is a better hobby, more exercise, and more uplifting than a hobby of....oh well lets say....sitting around, posting comments on the CDA Press making snide remarks about what kind of "morons" people are.

  • spudman1 posted at 11:08 am on Tue, Jan 22, 2013.

    spudman1 Posts: 496

    Of course, leave the stuff on the bottom of the lake where only a State or federal employee can collect it. The taxpayers have lot's of money for this kind of work.

  • skunkworks posted at 11:01 am on Tue, Jan 22, 2013.

    skunkworks Posts: 252

    There are "Permits" that can be obtained by " Artifact Hunters "......With a "Valid" Permit it is Totally Legal.....

  • JanJan posted at 9:17 am on Tue, Jan 22, 2013.

    JanJan Posts: 3

    What a moron! This is illegal under both federal and state law. Check it before you write articles that will land your subjects in the slammer.

default avatar
Welcome to the site! Login or Signup below.
Not you?||
Logout|My Dashboard