2015-12-31 / News

Cadaver dogs find several gravesites at Kettle Creek battlefield core area


Tracy Sargent and Chance, a mixed breed dog trained to detect the scent of human cadavers, are about to enjoy playtime with a T-ball toy used as a reward after the dog finds the scent of human remains. Chance found four possible burial sites on War Hill. Tracy Sargent and Chance, a mixed breed dog trained to detect the scent of human cadavers, are about to enjoy playtime with a T-ball toy used as a reward after the dog finds the scent of human remains. Chance found four possible burial sites on War Hill. Earlier this month, cadaver dogs identified four possible gravesites on and around the War Hill area of the Kettle Creek battlefield and three on the Liberty Church site north of War Hill. The dogs are trained to detect human remains which may persist for hundreds of years.

In an archeological study funded by a Kettle Creek Battlefield Association board member, Daniel Bigman of Geophysical, LLC and Tracy Sargent of K9 Search and Rescue with three cadaver dogs worked about five hours within the Kettle Creek Battlefield core area. Several board members agreed on the historic significance of this study and history which is “coming alive,” they said.

The study began on a sunny morning in the Liberty Church area which had been identified from a 1970 topographic drawing by Robert Scott Davis, then associated with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Some GPS coordinates established by Don Fucich in his more recent work on Wilkes County cemeteries were also useful.

Sargent’s German Shepherd lead dog, Draco, was released for the first survey search of the area south of the Liberty Church site. In less than 15 minutes of whiffing and sniffing back and forth over an area of less than half an acre, Draco stopped quickly and sat, facing Sargent.

“These are working dogs,” Sargent explained, “and they work for a reward.” The reward turns out to be a brief play time with Sargent who throws a T-ball to Draco and which is happily retrieved and dropped at her feet for more retrievals. “They are taught to recognize the scent of cadavers,” Sargent said, “which is embedded in the T-ball and which they associate with playtime. As working dogs, when loose in the field, they search for the scent and when they find it, they sit and wait for the toy.”

A possible gravesite needed confirmation for which two other dogs took their turn. One was a large mixed breed, tan-colored animal and the other a black German Shepherd which worked the same area identifying the same location. As the process moved to another possible site nearby on the ridge, two additional gravesites were identified.

As a result. the cemetery area was identified as well as that of Liberty Church which must have been uphill from the cemetery where numerous foundation-size stones were located. Both a photograph of Liberty Church and of the cemetery area are found in a 1904 report of Rev. F.T. Simpson in an address to The Presbytery of Augusta at Athens, Georgia.

The location of the War Hill burial sites was initially narrowed down by the Dan Williams discovery of high phosphorous levels in soil samples from an area on the hill. Williams is a forest geologist who was trying to determine the relatively rare occurence of plant species which prefer less-acidic soils and are found in the area. High phosphorous soil levels are correlated with human remains.

“As Draco worked the west side of the hill, a scent was picked up in less than 15 minutes,” said KCBA Chairman Joe Harris, who had located the area from Williams’ description. “From sites like these with less-acidic conditions, we have found bones over 200 years old,” Sargent commented.

The dogs were given a rest and the search continued after lunch. Search along the War Hill Loop Trail turned out positive for three sites arranged in a row.

The War Hill and Liberty Church areas are quite different in the kind of information which would come from further studies, one being the story of the battle and the other that of the neighborhood as it developed. “The battlefield association intends to continue such research, a very rewarding experience,” Harris said.

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