Over six years ago (April of 2007), the Mason Square Museum had a grand opening on a very cold, rainy, and snowy morning outside on the sidewalk with many local folks and out-of-town visitors. After several years of fund raisers and many, many hours of planning and an equal amount of physical construction hours, the museum had become real. The exhibits were well-planned and executed; the gift shop was well-stocked with many well-written books on Mason County history and many donated items also helped to tell the story of a small town in Texas.
Among the gift shop items were a grand collection of very small ‘things’ which were stored in large coffee cans donated, sometime before 2005, by Thomas Zayko of Mason. Mr. Zayko had worked with Central Power and Light which allowed him to spend many off-time hours along the Texas-Mexico border where he frequented the sites of abandoned military posts. Utilizing a metal detector he amassed a large collection of military-related objects which he generously bequeathed to the Mason County Historical Society. The collection included old military buttons, belt buckle pieces, and many cartridge cases and minie balls. Most of the 2,000 buttons have been purchased over the past six years, and only a few cartridge cases were still on the shelf. But with great surprise another box of cartridges has surfaced from a storage area. Unfortunately, Mr. Zayko passed away in 2005 at the age of 75 and, of course, never had the joy to experience the impact of his collection on the many visitors who cross the threshold of the museum.
The cartridge cases and associated bullets and minie balls were excavated from such forts as Fort Brown (1848-1944), near Brownsville, and Fort Clark (1852-1946) at Brackettville. In 2007, local resident, Dr. Robert Laury accepted the challenge to identify, label, and group the interesting variety of cartridges, also constructing a display box of the identified items. Twenty packages of each type of cartridge were labeled and placed on the shelf for sale at $20.00 per package. The last of the twenty collections was just sold last month . . . there are NO MORE. But now there are around 200 more cartridges for sale and on display in Wilburn Shearer’s uncle’s World War I helmet.
Some minie balls were identified as Civil War Period (1861-1865), used by the U.S. from 1844-1866, and loaded in the muzzle of infantry rifles. The Indian War Period (1866-1891) display included seven different cartridges ranging from .45-70 caliber used in foot-soldier rifles, horse soldier carbines, training and ceremonial exercises and exhibiting such headstamp marking as (C) and (R) and most all being of copper.
The Spanish-American War Period (Cuba, 1898) revealed two different cases of brass of .30-40 caliber US Govt. The remaining category is the Mexican Revolution Border War (Poncho Villa 1910-1917) and World War I (1917-1918). Five varieties were identified, some brass and some copper, some with headstamps with month, date, and various manufacturers.
Continued gratitude to Dr. Laury for his dedicated hours of research to present these many cartridges for the Museum and to the public for the connection to Texas history here in this unique community.
Also new to the gift shop ‘items for sale’ are a few civilian bridle/harness ornaments, also collected by Thomas Zayko, from the early 1900’s. The ornaments have been grouped in shadow boxes and one in a frame.