Civil War cannon ball found inside Independence tree

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Independence is well known for its presidential pride, but eastern Jackson County was also a battlefield long ago. A tree is now unearthing a new piece of that history.

A walnut tree that stood nearly 100 feet tall had to come down this month. It was diseased and riddled with carpenter ants, sitting on a property near the historic Independence Square.

"When you see a tree that's two, three hundred years old, they've been here a lot longer than we have," Jeff Eastham, owner of Jeff's Tree Service, said. "It's hard to take them down."

Eastham tackled the job of removing it like any other, but right away, he made some unusual finds.

"It's got chains embedded in it," he said, talking about some of the limbs. "We found several of these."

Many of those chains were hand-forged and very old.  Once they were taken out, the whole tree was pulled to the ground.

Eastham started splitting the logs for firewood and to sell timber to L & K Hardwoods, which runs a mill and makes furniture.  In the middle of the process, something else unusual plopped on the ground.

He instantly recognized the small, heavy object as a Civil War era cannon ball.

"I had no idea this was in there. You couldn't see a hole in the log," Eastham said. ""I was like, 'Are you kiddin' me?'  It's the highlight of my life probably."

He immediately called the property owner, Randall Pratt.

"It's thrilling," Pratt said.

Pratt is a history buff and grew up in the historic neighborhood. He said he's been told he even passed President Harry Truman on walks a few times in his childhood.   Now, he's the proud owner of the Overfelt-Johnson home, built in 1850. With it listed on the National Historic Register, he is working to restore the home.  The cannon ball that was just found isn't even the first one found on the property.

"The first cannon ball we know of is now in the Jackson County Historical Museum and was shot into the window of the second floor of this house," Pratt said.

But the one recently uncovered had been buried inside a tree that stood nearly three centuries. Pratt said this find is special too, helping him piece together more of what unfolded here during the Battle of Independence in 1862.

"The Confederates snuck in from two different routes and surprised them," Pratt said. "Woke them up by gunfire, charged down the hill, and while the Union troops were in disarray, we think they had plenty of time to fire off some cannon shots," Pratt said.

Pratt said he plans to keep the new cannon ball with the home as a treasure for future generations who may live there.

"It's important to find these souvenirs, these novelties from the past, these tragic reminders of what the cost of war and conflict really is," Pratt said.

Pratt and everyone involved in the project is now hoping the story might encourage you to learn a little more about the history in your own backyard.

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