Tom Kays submitted this review of Larry Lee's new book. Thanks! -Editor
Book Review: The Coins of Fort Atkinson: A Study in Numismatic Archeology
by Dr. Lawrence J. Lee
Fort Atkinson, the westernmost U.S. Army outpost of a westward bound nation, operated from 1819 – 1827 and commands the west bank of the
Mississippi River in present day Nebraska. Abandoned in favor of Fort Leavenworth, an undisturbed time capsule of artifacts deposited on
the prairie by hundreds of soldiers and fur traders of John Quincy Adams day remained until after ten seasons of archeological excavation,
over one hundred coins and coin bits turned up from fort barracks and exchanges with Native Americans and homesteaders on the Santa Fe
Dr. Lawrence J. Lee, former Director of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) Money Museum in Colorado Springs applies in-depth
scientific and numismatic techniques to interpret these fascinating Old West artifacts. Eye witness details from diaries observing life at
the fort reveal soldier’s doings as few other archeological digs are so nicely corroborated. For instance
When the weather was nice, the Paymaster would set up several tables outdoors, in bad weather he would use the Paymaster’s Office,
housed in “Room 2” in the South Barracks. As each soldiers name was called out by the clerk, the soldier stepped forward, halted and
saluted the Paymaster, who returned the salute and counted out in coinage the amount shown as due the soldier on the payroll. The soldier
would then count the money to verify the amount, then salute and leave the table. He would next move to the sutler and launderesses
tables where accounts were paid from lists of indebtedness in their possession.
The payroll process could take up to two days to work through all the troops. No whiskey could be sold by the camp sutler until the
process was complete… The cash to pay the officers and men reportedly included both gold and silver coins, though no gold coins were
recovered during excavation. The silver coinage, up to $5000 each month, was composed mostly of freshly minted U.S. Capped Bust Half
Dollars. Enlisted men were paid $5.00 (ten half dollars) per month for their services, officers received $10.00 or more, including gold
coins, depending on their rank… The payroll specie was transported 150 miles once a month by military escort from Franklin, Missouri…
Terminus of the Santa Fe Trail...one of the most important towns in mid-America until it was washed away by a flood of the Missouri River
Yet the vast majority of coins excavated were Spanish Colonial silver and cut bits up to a century old, infiltrating the fort from
outside the gates from mills, a spring-house, an ice house, a dairy, barns, kilns, black-smith and armorer’s shops and “stores” in tents
and wagons of every sort, not to mention bootleggers, road houses and other establishments not approved by the military.
Artifacts are pictured from perpetual calendars to an id disk carved into an 1817 half dollar by Charles. F.L. Durand, 2nd Lt. in the
6th Infantry from 1818 to 1821, a New Yorker, who also carved the name “C. Hamilton” on the reverse of whom we know nothing, but may
suspect a romance from back East.
At 70 pages, this is a readable and engaging book unlike most archeological field reports. Loaded with numismatic gems and insights,
key-most being that coins are not “trash” as are most archeological recoveries (such as pottery shards, animal bone fragments, pipe stems,
and whatnot); but that dug coins must be interpreted with a keen knowledge of forensic numismatics, more a science than a hobby.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
NEW BOOK: THE COINS OF FORT ATKINSON
Wayne Homren, Editor
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