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The Lost Frémont Cannon (Mountain Howitzer)

It was of the kind invented by the French for the mountain part of their war in Algiers; and the distance it had come with us proved how well it was adapted for its purpose. We left it, to the great sorrow of the whole party. Frémont, January 29, 1844, near today's Bridgeport, CA.

Yes, it is no longer lost, and it was right where Frémont said it was, but read what follows to be convinced.

go February, 2011: an account of the parts recovery.
go Updates on the recovered iron tires below.
go One more point identifying the carriage as the 1st US Model

go The project continues, 2011: a link to a Coleville, CA website with additional information on the recovery site of the howitzer parts, some good imagery of the parts recovered, and even a flyover of the recovery site.

And, May, 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.

Fall 2012. A newspaper article in the Las Vegas Review Journal and an article in California Surveyor magazine on the recovery of the howitzer parts.

But this website is still the only source that actually identifies the recovered howitzer carriage parts (since 2007) and connects them directly to Frémont.

 

Howitzer carriage parts found.

Herb Kuehne of Kirkwood, CA tells us of Frémont's cannon parts that have been on public display at the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Ranger Station in Bridgeport, CA since 2006. "The person I talked to didn't know too much about the Frémont cannon parts."
On more recent inquiry, February 22, 2007, Herb was told:

We have the cannon pieces on display in our visitor's center now. They are in a handsome wood and glass case. I do not have a write-up on them yet. Feel free to stop in and see them.
Erik S. Pignata, Information Assistant, USDA-FS

go See a larger photo sent by Russ Gray of Reno.

On a subsequent visit to Bridgeport in April, 2008, Herb took photographs and measurements of the display cabinet, which contains an assemblage of forged iron parts and three iron tires.
The display case label reads:

These artifacts are the remains of the gun carriage for
the famous mountain howitzer abandoned during the
second surveying expedition of John C. Frémont in
January 1844. The artifacts were recovered by the
Frémont Howitzer Recovery Team under the direct-
ion of the U.S. Forest Service, Humboldt-Toiyabe
National Forest, Bridgeport Ranger District.

Herb's email query sent to the Bridgeport Ranger Station on May 11, 2008 requesting more details and information on the location of the find brought the following response:

I understand and appreciate your interest in Fremont's Cannon. Please rest assured that there are continuing scientific investigations being conducted by a team lead by a qualified archaeologist. Due to the sensitivity of these on going investigations and Archaeological Resource Protection Act restrictions, I am allowed to say that the area of interest is within 50 miles of Bridgeport.
David J. 'Jack' Scott
District Archaeologist
Bridgeport Ranger District
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest

 

go See the recovery area and follow Frémont's 1844 route.

But this "fifty-miles radius" can be narrowed down very considerably: indeed, it seems there is no secret to it at all.
On June 24, 2010 I received the following additional information from Russell Gray of Reno, NV:

My son and I stopped at Bridgeport Ranger Station to check out the display. I took some pictures and noticed the rims had tags attached to them, all faced away. By lying on the floor I was able to see one tag that reads:
USFS/#TY 5127/Iron Tire 1/
Deep Creek."
The the photo of the tag does not show all written--the camera could not get all that the eye could see. The other tag on rim two says the same thing except for "Iron Tire 2."
The third tag is not readable although, I'm sure it says "Iron Tire 3." I'm not quite sure what #ty site means, and although it looks like a 5 in picture, on the other tag the camera reads "site."
Regards, Russell Gray

So the public display at the Bridgport Ranger Station already provides that officially withheld information--"Deep Creek." This is also stated in Toiyabe National Forest history compilation by Richa Wilson, Regional Architectural Historian, USFS Intermountain Region, Ogden, Utah, December 24, 2009, from information provided by Bridgeport Ranger District archeologist Mark Swift in 1998.

Fremont abandoned his cannon on Deep Creek and not in Lost Cannon canyon.

Which is exactly where Frémont said it was left in his government report.

29 January, 1844: "We followed a trail down a hollow where the Indians had descended...we reached a little affluent to the river at the bottom [Deep Creek] ...The principal stream [West Walker River] still running through an impracticable cañon, we ascended a very steep hill, which proved afterwards the last and fatal obstacle to our little howitzer, which was finally abandoned at this place."
The descent route into Deep Creek in Frémont's words
and showing Russ Gray's examination of a possible Cottonwood Cr. route in 2011

Download Frémont's full account of leaving the howitzer in
Deep Creek canyon January 25-29, 1844.

go The Walker River was named by Frémont for Joseph R. Walker. Here one hundred and seventy-five years of lore and legend surrounding Walker's 1833 route across the Sierra is dispelled.

go Latest news, February, 2011.
We have long suspected, from a conversation with a third party in the late 1990s, that the late Francois "Bud" Uzes of Granite Bay, CA would figure promently in the story of the howitzer carriage discovery. Here are letters from Bud's sons Ron and Russ with the story of the discovery and recovery of the parts from the lost howitzer.



Are these the remains of Frémonts lost howitzer? With no prospect of additional information from Bridgeport in the near future, we have undertaken to make our own assessment of those items currently on display at the Ranger Station.

The parts from the photos are shown here in their correct upright position. They have been identified by go Lt. Col. Paul R. Rosewitz , a long time friend and contributor to this website, as the right side:
axle strap (lower U), trunnion plate (upper 2.7" U), axle band, and chin bolt of a pre-Mexican War US-made copy of the 1828 French mountain howitzer carriage built at the Watervliet Arsenal in West Troy, New York in 1837.

go See Paul's identification from the original plans.

The round axle strap is the key to the earliest 13 US carriages. Based on field experience, carriages built after the Mexican War had a square axle, as shown in the schematic at left.

go See a larger photo sent by Russ Gray of Reno.

Important: This is the only surviving example of the first US Army mountain howitzer carriage.

NOTE: Colonel Rosewitz is a leading military historian on the mountain howitzer, having researched the National Archives, and military archives and museums around the country and in Europe. He has published much on the mountain howitzer, including a master's thesis, and is expert in M1835 mountain howitzer drill (he owns one!). He is currently (May, 2008) Night Chief of Operations, HQ ISAF (NATO), in Kabul, Afghanistan.

At left we have used a later prairie carriage (square axle vs. round) to show the correct placement of the recovered parts, because there is no known survivor of a pre-1851 carriage. At right is an 1827 drawing of the French carriage from which the twelve 1837 Watervliet carriages were copied. Note the 2-piece frame, and lack of chains to the cap squares. The French tube has the trunnions below bore axis, whereas the US virsion has the trunnions on bore axis.

It is perhaps revealing to see that the trunnion plate in the display is still bolted (and nutted) to the axle strap--the axle band still captive. The capsquares, which covered the upper surface of the trunnions and secured the tube (barrel) to the carriage, have been removed from the key bolt and chin bolt, indicating that the 225 lb. bronze tube might have been deliberately dismounted from the carriage previous to final abandonment, or by a mid-19C discoverer. The wooden parts have either completely disintegrated or have been burned away. To be Frémont's howitzer, the removed tube would have been one of the first 12 ordered cast by Cyrus Alger in Boston: thirteen were were actually cast and delivered, and there were no others cast until 1845.

This U-shaped axle strap configuration is very important, because it eliminates later carriages with US Army design modifications, and so a number of local Civil War era howitzers.

But, Paul adds, "three tires are a puzzle! The pack carriage, drawn by thrill, had only the two wheels. There is no Army record of a mountain howitzer limber arrangement (4 wheels) before 1845."
On July 20, 1843, Frémont recorded that "the shaft of the howitzer carriage broke" and had to be mended: and again on Aug 6th. Shaft can only refer to a thrill, one of the pair of poles by which the pack carriage was harnessed and drawn. Paul notes further that, "in 1845 and they were still struggling with the design of the shafts, or thill, to pull the howitzer behind a horse."

Our digital analysis of Herb's photograph of the tires indicates a diameter of about 37"--close. Paul notes that early production of the howitzer carriage should have tires of 38" in diameter (42" only after 1845). But they do not compare to any known examples of US mountain howitzer carriage wheels (at right)

go See also Craig Swain's To The Sound of the Guns blog for more on the US mountain howitzer.

The three tires:

Col. Rosewitz updates this (Baghdad, Feb. 2011)

"I think I have to change my original assessment in regard to the three tires. I went back to the 1841 US Army ordnance manual to compare the specifications to the photos of the recovered forestry artifacts. I stated earlier that the wheels would not have rivets to hold the tires to the wheels. This is in fact true of the 1848 information that carries through the life of the Mountain Howitzer carriage after the 1848 standardization. Looking again at the 1841 ordnance manual specifically reveals the following description of the wheels:

Wood parts: 1 nave; 12 spokes; 6 fellies [fellows]; 6 dowels.

Iron Parts: 2 nave bands; 6 clout nails; 1 tire, fastened by 12 nails, 2 nave boxes (cast Iron) fastened each by 4 pins 1 inch long.

So, the first carriage (1837), based directly on the French carriage (1828), before we redesigned it in 1848, had nails not bolts. That would be in line with the recovered parts. The thing I still have not found are actual measurements of these tires or the diameter of the wheels.

The next entry in the manual says:

"This carriage, being intended for use in countries where wheel carriages can not generally travel, it is not provided with a limber. The howitzer and its carriage and ammunition are usually tranported on pack horses. When Circumstances permit, they may be transported in a wagon or a cart, or temporay shafts may be adapted to the trail of the carriage."

So, These could very well be the howitzer tires. As far as three of them being found, the explination could be 1. there was an extra wheel, 2. they rigged some kind of limber for it, 3. they double shod it as suggested, 4. they were hauling it in a cart. I think the cart idea is remote*, there is no real mention of the use of a limber or cart, and to double shod would be very out of the ordinary, but could have been done. It is only speculative. I guess if they can slip one into the other you might be able to reinforce that idea."

*November 25, 1843, Wallawalla, Frémont: " The howitzer was the only wheeled carriage now remaining." Ed.

Are these parts from Frémont's lost cannon?
Based on the early U-section (vs. square) of the axle strap, Yes.

Where it the tube (barrel)?
Still unrecovered?
See the Letter from Ron Uzes .

Here are the stories relating to the provenance of the "Frémont 's Cannon" 1837 howitzer tube in the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.
Frémont's narrative and map are very specific that the howitzer was abandoned on the east side of the W. Fk. of the Walker River on January 29th, 1844--where they "were often compelled to ascend the highest and most exposed ridges, in order to avoid snow, which in other places was banked up to a great depth."

Accounts of early settlers, suggested that the howitzer had been previously found and moved. James U. Smith gives an account of how the reported cannon discovery in Lost Canyon along "with abandoned wagons" caused later surveyors to corrupt the name canyon to cannon: Lost Cannon Creek, Lost Cannon Peak; Lost Cannon Canyon. Only a side shoot, Little Lost Canyon, remains as a vestige of the original name. If so, the recent recovery may relate to the storied Pray Cannon, and the Nevada State Museum Cyrus Alger tube cast in 1836. We show here, (for the first time (I think) that these two are one and the same.

Question: why was this valuable piece of ordnance not retrieved within months?
There were five men that left Frémont's 2nd Expedition at Sutter's Fort in early March: Oliver Beaulieu, Philibert Courteau [Descouteau, Des Couteau], Baptiste Derosier, Thomas Fallon, Samuel Neal, Joseph Verrot. All knew the location of the howitzer.
On November 24-26, 1845, when his divided 3rd Expedition party rendezvoused at Walker Lake, Frémont had returned to within 30 crow miles of where he had abandoned the howitzer only nine months earlier on January 29, 1844. But, mindful of his experience of that year, and noting that snow was already "deep on higher ridges," he sent the bulk of his party south to map Walker Pass under Theodore Talbot and Edward Kern (guided by Joe Walker), and with a flying column of select men, he turned north to the Truckee river and made a four day crossing of the Sierra to Sutter's Fort for supplies.

On July 6, 1861, an article in the Daily Alta California, San Francisco, reported of the howitzer that:

It always was an object of wonder to the Indians in that vicinity. They burnt the carriage and carried off most of the irons. but the cannon was too heavy for them to manage. Old Peter Lassen, who was with Frémont at the time it was left, just before his death, tried to get up a party to go after it.

Lassen, who died in 1859, was, in fact, not with Frémont in 1844: but Lassen's neighbor Sam Neil was. From April 14-24, 1846, Frémont was at Peter Lassen's upper Sacramento Valley ranch on Deer Creek making observations for longitude by portable transit instrument for one of the three astronomical stations upon which the monumental 1848 Frémont-Preuss map was based.

And Sam Neal was there.

It is interesting to compare this howitzer with Charles Preuss's drawing of Frémont's howitzer at pyramid Lake. Preuss's drawing very clearly shows dolphins (handles) cast into the barrel. Neither the French M1828 not the US M1835 have them. When we compare Preuss's drawings of places, we find very exact correlation's see the Long Camp drawing). And the combined views of the Wind River Range. The Preuss rendering of Pyramid Lake is exact to the very rocks represented in the foreground. It would be surprising if Preuss had drawn something, like the handles, which were not there. But the figures and howitzer may very well have been added at the time an engraving was made from the original drawing. We cannot know, because all the original notes, sketches and drawings were lost a century ago in two separate fires. However, there is evidence that the peopling of the drawings may have been done at the time of plate preparation for publication of these government survey reports. The depicted howitzer is otherwise very strange in apparently having no trunnions to mount it.

There are number of later copies of the plate that have appeared in various places. The plate was re engraved for Frémont's 1887 Memours of My Life with reposed people and animals. Opposite page 260 in that work is another plate showing the very same howitzer at a camp on the Sname River. It is an equally unlikely configuration.

go See More About the "lost cannon" that Predates the Recovery of the US Mountain Howitzer Carriage Parts

go At the Presidio at San Francisco there are on display a number of beautiful 17C Spanish cannon from the Spanish fortification "Castillo de San Joaquin" overlooking the Golden Gate (now under south end of GG Bridge). They were cast in Peru and Mexico--some very beautiful. One, the "San Pedro," still has the vent spiked by Frémont from 1846. Another, the "San Domingo," was successfully re vented.
Here a close up of the spiked vent of the San Pedro, said to have been done with some "butcher's steels" provided by Capt. Phelps. Other accounts say they used "rat tail files," which are very similar to butcher's steels--both file-hard and cannot be drilled out. I'm not sure if it should be "butcher's," or Butcher's," as one of the large exporters of such things from Sheffield was a manufacturer named Butcher (later Wade & Butcher).

Bibliography:

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

Board of Army Officers, Instruction for Mountain Artillery, Washington, 1851.

Brief History of the Frémont Howitzer Recovery Site, Frémont Howitzer Recovery Team, June, 2003. (compliments of Bud Uzes)

Fremont Howitzer Recovery Project; Historical Context Statement, Archaeological Research Design, and Archaeological Testing Program, Fremont Recovery Team, July 2005. (compliments Bill Cossit)

Cline, Gloria Griffin, Exploring the Great Basin, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1963 (and University of Nevada Press reprint 1988).

Fletcher, F. N., Early Nevada--the Period of Exploration, 1776-1848, Reno, 1929.

Frémont, Brevet Captain J. C., Report of The Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842, and to Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-'44, Printed by order of the Senate of the United States, Gales and Seaton, Washington. 1845.

Frémont, John Charles, Geographical Memoir Upon Upper California, Senate. 30th Congress, Misc. No.148, Wendell and Van Benthuysen, Washington, 1848.

Frémont, John Charles, Memoirs of My Life, Belford, Clark & Company, Chicago, 1887.

Gibbons, Lieutenant John, The Artillerist's Manual; Introduction for Field Artillery, Horse and Foot, New York, 1860.

Graham, Clara. My daughter made these pages when she was about 12 years old. I have always kept them. Wonderful imagery!

Hinkle, George and Bliss, Sierra Nevada Lakes, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc, Indianapolis-New York, 1949.

Jackson, Donald, The Myth of the Frémont Howitzer, The Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society Vol. XXII, No. 3, April, 1967.

Jackson, Donald, and Spence, Mary Lee, The Expeditions of John Charles Frémont, Vol. 1, University of Illinois Press, 1970.

James, George Wharton, The Lake of the Sky - Lake Tahoe, George Wharton James, 1915.

Knight, Edward H., Knight, American Mechanical Dictionary, J. B. Ford and Company, New York, 1874-1879.

Kuehne, Herb, photographs and measurements taken of the Ranger Station display at Bridgeport, CA April, 2008.

Lewis, Ernest Allen, The Frémont Cannon -- High Up and Far Back, The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1981.

Preuss, Charles, Exploring With Frémont, Translated by Erwin G. and Elisabeth K., Gudde, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1958.

Reveal, Jack L. and James L, The Missing Frémont Cannon--an Ecological Solution, reprinted from Madrono, V.32, No.2, April 1985.

Rosewitz, Paul R. Lt. Col. US Army, invaluable correspondence, photo facsimiles of original military documents, 2000-2008.

Russell, Carl P., Frémont's Cannon, The California Historical Society, No. 36, December 1957.

Scott, Edward B., The Saga of Lake Tahoe, Sierra Tahoe Publishing Co., 1957 (1964).

Smith, James U., Frémont's Expedition in Nevada, 1843-44, Second Biennial Report of the Nevada Historical Society, Carson City, 1911.

Talbot, Theodore, The Journals of Theodore Talbot, Metropolitan Press, 1931.

Townley, John M., The Lost Frémont Cannon, Guidebook, The Jamison Station Press, Reno, 1984.

Uzes, Ron, letters February, 2011.

 


©1999, 2008
Bob Graham