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Visit Topaz-Coleville-Walker
Northern Mono County's trio of towns, the start of the Eastern Sierra Scenic By-way


Bob Graham, Coleville, May, 2011
By the mid 1990s, surveyor Francois "Bud" Uzes (at right) had researched the 1844 route taken by John C. Frémont's 2nd Expedition and determined that the famous "lost cannon" (a first US model 1835 Mountain Howitzer cast by Cyrus Alger in Boston) had been abandoned in crossing Deep Creek east of the West Walker River.

Returnees, jump down this page to the most recent notices.

See a map with Frémont's route from Bridgeport to Walker and descriptive narrative from his Report.
(Map courtesy of longcamp.com)

In 1997 Bud located an iron wheel rim. Based on this discovery, a permit was issued by the Forest Service and work of the Cannon Recovery Team was conducted under the supervision of a licensed archaeologist.*

At that time the 15-man Recovery Team was searching for what they assumed was a howitzer of European manufacture, as depicted in expedition cartographer Charles Preuss's drawing made at Pyramid Lake--in Frémont's own words, "the kind invented by the French for the mountain part of their war in Algiers," the French Mod. 1828. But what they had found was something of more historical import, the sole remaining example of the 1835 US-made mountain howitzer carriage, a direct copy of the 1828 carriage, as requsitioned on May 8, 1843 by Frémont at the St. Louis Arsenal. The identification made by US Army Lt. Col. Paul Rosewitz, the authortity on the history of the US mountain howitzer, can be found online here.

Indeed, there is no record of the US Army ever having owned any mountain howitzer of European manufacture. Some local US Mod. 1835 Mountain Howitzers.

In subsequent seasons, an axle strap, trunnion plate, and axle band assembly was recovered. This was the clincher!--the one single part which identifies the assembly as having come from one of the 13 original US Mod. 1835 mountain howitzer carriages made at the Watervliet, New York Arsenal, which were direct copies of the French Mod. 1828 (note the 2-piece construction), and described only in the very scarce 1841 Army Ordnance Manual.** Modifications were made to a heavier square-sectioned axle following the Mexican war, so this example, in this place, could only have come from Frémont's expedition. The cap square (red), which completes the assembly, is still missing.
Click the image for an animated reconstruction.

The recovered parts, which also enclude a second "chin bolt" (from opposite side assembly) and 3 iron tires (one a spare, or from a spare wheel), are on public display (albeit upside down) at the Ranger Station in Bridgeport. It is the only remaining example of the first model US mountain howitzer carriage!

Still not found in this current search is the 220 lbs bronze tube (barrel). But, a "brass" tube was reported as seen at the Deep Creek site in the mid 1960s by two youths fishing a day after a flash flood. Some additional credence is given to that report, as it was the recollection of that very sighting that three decades later that led the recovery team to the location where the carriage parts were found. Being of nonferrous metal, the tube will be more difficult to detect by scanning. In an actual test, 30" was shown to be the maximum distance at which the Nevada State Museum howitzer tube could be detected through air.

But, if that "recollection" from the 1960's is not accurate--if there is no howitzer tube remaining in the Deep Creek area--then the Nevada State Museum tube must be considered. It was once thought to be, and is still thought by some to be, the Frémont Howitzer. The date is just right: it was cast of bronze in 1837 in South Boston by Cyrus Alger and Company and marked as the third one proofed ("3") by Lt. George H. Talcott and marked with his initials "GT" and the weight of "223" pounds. It is one of only two survivors of the original 12 howitzers delivered. The cost new was $225. Said to have been found in the Walker River area in the late 1850s, the Museum howitzer has had a very colorful past--it is identified here as the Glenbrook, Pray cannon.

The full story of that mountain howitzer, and of Frémont's 1844 route from near today's Bridgeport Reservoir to a camp near Walker Burger in Coleville can be found on the Frémont Website. This same website publishes a book detailing the 1844 Frémont [cannon] route in the Bridgeport/Walker/Coleville area that is sold through the Eldorado National Forest Interpretive Association at their centers, including the one at Carson Pass.

This initial discovery and recovery was done working under very difficult conditions in the brushy stream bottom. The above illustration shows Bud Uzes working among the vegetation in the stream bottom.

In 2006, the original Recovery Team and its permit, after a cumulative thousands of hours of volunteer work, was terminated, and the Toiyabe National Forest Bridgeport District archaeologist announced he would be "continuing scientific investigations conducted by a team lead by a qualified archaeologist." At that time, a plan was proposed by the archaeologist to clear brush from the area so that cart vehicles with metal detectors might be pulled up and down the creek bed. (Photo California Surveyor magazine, Fall 2012)***

Bud Uzes unexpectedly passed away later that same year.

In May, 2011, recreational visitors to the area reported and photographed a 100 yard stretch of cleared brush along the creek bottom--apparently the proposed 2006 plan being put into effect.

Deep Creek 1997 above...
...and after brush removal 2011 for instrument cart access below.

 

Washoe Flying Service flyover

UPDATES 2012 The Fremont Howitzer Recovery Team is still at it. The team is now working under the direction of Dr. James M. Allan, a Research Fellow at the Archaeological Research Facility of the University of California and Director of the Institute for Western Maritime Archaeology.
On May 12, 2012, team member John Wilusz gave a talk on the progress of the project to the Northern California Chapter of The Explorer's Club in San Francisco. $60 per ticket.AND--On July 12, 2012, retired Reno schoolteacher Jim Bonar presented a talk The Frémont Cannon; where is it? at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center in Gardnerville, NV. But attendees have reported that Mr. Bonar seemed unaware of developments since Ernest Allen Lewis's 1981 book, The Lost Frémont Cannon. In 1992 the late Al Lewis, a longtime member of E. Clampus Vitus, led a T.R.A.S.H.* tour Frémont's Cannon up Burcham Flat Road and north into Antelope Valley.
Contrary to what Frémont wrote in his Report, Mr. Bonar suggested that the cannon was actually left on the west side of the West Walker River near Lost Cannon Creek. "Lost Cannon Peak," and Creek, are late 19C mapmaker's corruption's of Lost Canyon--one of the early gold rush era routes to Sonora Pass. Identified parts from the howitzer carriage recovered at Deep Creek were not discussed.
Another correspondent reported that a week before the talk, Mr. Bonar "was at the Nevada State Museum...trying to get the head curator to commit that their piece is actually Fremont's lost cannon."
*Trans Sierra Roisterous Alliance of Senior Humbugs

NEWER--California Surveyor [magazine] No.171, Fall 2012, Pg. 6-7, Surveyors Search for John Frémont's Lost Cannon, John P. Wilusz, PLS PE-editor.
Probably nearly the same information Cannon Recovery Team member John Wilusz presented to the San Francisco chapter of the Explorer's Club in May.
As with the newspaper article above, most of the information discussed was obsoleted by the Cannon Recovery Team's own discoveries after those recovered parts were positively identified by Lt. Col. Paul Rosewitz, US Army, and published HERE.
Read the magazine article (p.6-7) online HERE.

NEWEST--Cannon Recovery Team member Bill Cossitt sends this link to an October 12, 2012 Las Vegas Review Journal newspaper article about the Frémont Cannon which was picked up by wire services and widely distributed.

Update spring 2014.

More extensive clearing has been done in the Deep Creek bottom by the Cannon Recovery Team. We have been told that they are still convinced that the tube is still to be recovered, and that the tube is not from a US mountain howitzer, from a French howitzer as depicted in the Preuss drawing. The team has not tried to explain why the parts previously recovered are very definitely from the first model US carriage and not the double trail carriage illustrated in the same illustration.

All potentially useful information has already been extracted from this site:
a--the confirmation of the location given in the narrative description of the second expedition Report, and-
b--the Frémont howitzer confirmed to be the a model 1835 US Mountain howitzer from the unique first model carriage.

No further recoveries have been made from the site since 2005, indeed, none since the clearing projects began. Further work seems to fall into the category of treasure hunting. One wonders that further destruction of slow to recover riparian habitat continues to be permitted.


NOTES:

*The members searching for the "lost cannon" at the time consisted of the same group who were then working together in locating and surveying old California/Nevada and California/Oregon state boundary markers, near the 42nd parallel. The group at first followed the lead suggested by other published Fremont Howitzer researchers (E. A. Lewis, 1981; John M. Townley, 1984; Jack and James Reveal, 1985) and re-examined sites they felt were the likely resting place. These included hill 8422 and sections of Cottonwood Creek and adjacent uplands located about a mile above Deep Creek. A number of group members felt drawn to the Deep Creek area.

See Chaining the Land (A history of Surveying in California), Francois D. Uzes, California Land Surveyors Assn, 2006.

**Ordnance Manual for the Use of Officers of the United States Army, Washington, J. & G. S. Gideon, printers, 1841. For identification of the first US model (pre Mexican War) carriage see pages 5, 21, 42, 62-63.

***POTENTIAL HAZARD: Unaccounted for are 500 lbs of unexploded artillery (howitzer) shells (4.62" diameter) brought from the St. Louis Arsenal and abandoned by Frémont in the same general area on January 29, 1844. Here are some mentions from that expedition:

Theodore Talbot, June 15, 1843: "Our cannonnier [Louis Zindel] was very successful in his practice with the howitzer, striking a post 4 feet high at nearly a quarter of a mile with a bomb [shell]."

Frémont, December 10, 1843: "I directed the howitzer to be fired. It was the first time our guides [Walla Walla Indians] had seen it discharged; and the bursting of the shell at a distance which was something like the second fire of the gun..."A query to an Army ordnance expert brought this:
"The Shell [and Spherical Case Shot] would have black powder or burster composition inside of it that would need an ignition source to set them off. They are not high explosive, so merely dropping one would not likely set it off. Flame and sparks could be a problem if the powder somehow remained cohesive. Generally, at this age the powder has broken down due to moisture but they should still be treated with caution."

May 03, 2008, Steve Szkotak, Associated Press
CHESTER, Va.
Like many boys in the South, Sam White got hooked on the Civil War early, digging up rusting bullets and military buttons in the battle-scarred earth of his hometown.

As an adult, he crisscrossed the Virginia countryside in search of wartime relics - weapons, battle flags, even artillery shells buried in the red clay. He sometimes put on diving gear to feel for treasures hidden in the black muck of river bottoms.

But in February, White's hobby cost him his life: A cannonball he was cleaning exploded, killing him in his driveway.

Note: Reno's Nevada State Journal, Aug. 13,  1922, carried a story with a Minden dateline reporting that one A. Fergusson, a prospector, had found two "cannon balls" in a small ravine just north of Fales Hot Springs. But these were said to be "two--pounders," so unrelated to Frémont's 12-pdr Mountain Howitzer.


Visit Topaz-Coleville-Walker
Northern Mono County's trio of towns, the start of the Eastern Sierra Scenic By-way
http://home.surewest.net/rte395/Drake_48.html