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About the Western Investigations Team

What is the Western Investigations Team?

The Western Investigations Team is composed of Museum of Western Colorado staff, scientists, consultants and college interns. The group works as a team to solve enduring mysteries of the West through historical research and by using the latest in scientific technology. The group started as a result of the success of the Alferd Packer Lost Camp Expedition, which discovered Packer's cannibal camp in Lake City. Museum of Western Colorado's Curator of History David Bailey serves as Director of the Western Investigations Team (WIT) and Dr. Rick Dujay, Director of the Electron Microscopy Lab at Mesa State, serves as WIT Scientific Coordinator.



Recent Discoveries

Mystery of the Kannah Creek Shot Ball

The Western Investigations Team first project of 2010 was on April 24. WIT Director David Bailey along with Dr. Rick Dujay, WIT Scientific Coordinator, accompanied four WIT interns and three volunteers to the site of a one hundred and forty five foot wall partially buried on a hillside near Kannah Creek. The wall may have been used as a defensive position at the junction of Kannah Creek and the old Ute trail. The team visually searched on both sides of the wall and used metal detectors to look for any metallic objects associated with the site in an effort to determine its use. One of the Mesa State WIT interns, Brandon Mauk, found an archaic .75 caliber round shotstone shot ball ball buried near the wall. The shot ball was tested by Dr. Mark Ryan who used a state-of-the-art digital scanner to X-ray the shot ball to determine if there were striations from it being chambered and fired, and also to determine the density of the ball. The ball had no discernible striations.


On May 16, 2010, the Western Investigations Team returned to the wall site near Kannah Creek and re-investigated the west and east bases of the wall; the team was there to determine if there was any more evidence of firearm activity after the discovery of the stone shot ball. The team documented a three-meter section of the wall that was fairly intact.


WIT returned again to the Kannah Creek wall site on July 16, 2010. David Bailey, Dr. Rick Dujay, and Mesa State interns and volunteers Brandon Mauk, Caleb Carey, David Foster, and Russell Baker finished examining the stone wall and recovered several small manufactured musket flints. After the discovery of the archaic .75 caliber round shot and extensive research, David Bailey determined that the stone ball may have been fired as grape shot from a Spanish Colonial Swivel cannon. Grape shot was similar to a modern shotgun firing lead pellets, but in this case it would have been a small cannon firing four to five .75 caliber stone shot balls.


Bailey questioned the mobility of moving a small cannon up and down a steep hillside during a battle and decided to conduct an experiment. With the help of exhibit builder, Don Kerven, Bailey constructed a stump mount and accessories for a Spanish swivel cannon that is currently in the museum collections. Swivel cannons were normally used on ships or sloops as defensive weapons. Spanish explorers brought them inland and mounted them on stumps to protect their camps. The Spanish swivel gun and constructed stump mount were taken to the Kannah Creek area where the stone shot was found, and put behind a rock emplacement. Actor David Kenworthy portrayed a Spanish soldier in full armor whose job it was to fire the cannon. The WIT experiment with the swivel cannon proved it was fairly easy to move up and down a defensive wall, even with a soldier dressed in full armor, to accommodate changing the battle conditions. This new insight means the cannon could have been moved numerous times during the course of a conflict.

firing swivel cannon

On January 18, 2011, WIT Director David Bailey took the shot ball for analysis by Dr. Rick Dujay at the Electron Microscopy Laboratory at Mesa State College. Dujay, the WIT Scientific Coordinator, used a Leica Digital Viewing Microscope to examine the surface of the ball for imbedded metal fragments. The hope was that if the ball had been fired by a swivel cannon some of the metal inside the barrel would have adhered to the ball. The digital images showed smoothed surfaces with concentrations of iron, copper and zinc. This indicated the ball had been worn down by pressure and velocity. The trace metals are concurrent with metallurgic tests on sixteenth century swivel cannons that contain iron, copper and zinc from the casting process. The stone shot ball was probably fired by an early swivel cannon; however, the mystery still remains about who fought this battle on the northern most frontier of New Spain.



Previous WIT Cases

Kannah Creek Case

The case began on April 1, 1961, when Keith and Anita Clark, accompanied by Mrs. Melvin Beye, found an unusual bronze relic with religious depictions during an afternoon hike...

Read more here.

Kimball Creek Mystery Floor

In the spring of 1937, Tom Kenney was doing some excavation work on his ranch and uncovered a perfectly laid flag stone pavement. He then cleared out a five foot by ten feet area to examine the floor more carefully...

Read more here.

Alferd Packer Lost Camp Expedition 2004

During the first week of September 2004, a fifteen-member museum expedition conducted an archaeological trip to the Alferd Packer site...

Read more here.

Alferd Packer Murder Site Re-investigation

On June 30, 2005 the Western Investigations Team conducted their first field expedition to the Alferd Packer Murder Site...

To read more, click here.





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