A Special to longcamp.com
February, 2011

Letters from Ron and Russ Uzes describing their, and their late father Bud's, discovery of "Frémont's Lost Cannon"

One of California's longest-sought archaeological treasures!

In 2002, at the time that I was fact-checking these lyrics for Dayton, Nevada singer/songwriter and award-winning Cowboy Poet Richard Elloyan, there was no indication that the last line in Richard's lyric was other than correct--"And it never has been found."
As it turns out, it had been found, but few knew that until the recovered artifacts were put on public display at the Bridgeport Ranger station in 2006.
And from a site number and place name in the display, I knew it had come from exactly where Frémont said he had left the howitzer on January 29, 1844!

On the east side of the Walker,
Below Sonora Pass,
Somewhere in the canyon,
Off the road to Burcham Flat,
There lies an army cannon,
Hidden in the trees,
Buried by a rock slide,
Covered by debris,
Left by John C. Frémont on his journey westward bound,
But he never did return,
And it never has been found.

Frémont's Cannon by Richard Elloyan: A sound sample in Quicktime®

 

Back about 1998 I was talking to a friend who is an antiquarian book dealer specializing in California history. Knowing of my interest in Frémont, Barry told me that one of his customers, a surveyor named Francois "Bud" Uzes, had told him, "I have the wheels from Frémont's cannon."
In 2006 I learned that parts of a howitzer carriage had been put on display at the ranger station in Bridgeport, CA that were said to be from "Frémont's Cannon."
My inquiries to Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest elicited no response, but detailed photographs of the displayed artifacts were sent to me by Herb Kuehne (Kirkwood, CA), Russ Gray (Reno, NV), and Peter Lathrop (Minden, NV). These photographs, based on careful measurement of the display case, could be corrected for camera perspective, and were scalable, and I sent them to Col. Paul Rosewitz--the authority on the history of the US Army Mountain Howitzer. Paul, then serving in Afghanistan, was able to make a positive identification of the recovered carriage parts as having come only from one of the the original 13 carriages built at the Watervliet Arsenal in 1837: Ide, Frémont's howitzer!

But I still wondered if it was Bud Uzes who had discovered and recovered the artifacts. I knew that Bud had passed away in 2006, about the same time the display was put up at Bridgeport, but in a web search I was able to locate his son Russ Uzes in Mill Valley.

Below, the story of that discovery and recovery is given for the first time.

February 3, 2011

Thanks for the interesting email, Bob.

I will confess that I was a bit cautious in my response to your first email. I have since then chatted with my brother, Ron, and he is comfortable with giving you more information. Ron even drafted a letter (attached) providing a great deal more information. I think you will find the information both interesting and revealing. As you will read, my dad, my brother, and other group members did in fact find the cannon parts.

Best Wishes,
Russ Uzes

PS. The attached letter brings back painful memories for me: the barbed fishing hook that went thru my thumb was very large, and the drive to the nearest emergency room took 45 minutes, with my dad driving. For something that happened 40 years ago, my brother and I have distinctly vivid and accurate memories of something that happened on exactly the same day. I suspect the fact that I had a big ol' hook go through my thumb made it easier for Ron to recall the tube he saw on the same day.

 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dear Bob,

Good news! In light of the fact that Fremont's partial gun carriage assembly and 3 iron tires are on display in the Bridgeport Ranger Station, I feel comfortable sharing a few highlights from the family's archives regarding the incredible adventure the quest for 'The Ark of the West'.

In the mid 1960s while our family was enjoying one of our vacations of camping, hiking, fishing and hunting in near proximity (unknown to us) to the howitzer that was left in 1844. I would have been about 10 years old and my brother Russ was six. Early one morning flash flooding occurred right after a huge rainstorm that prompted me to go off fishing on my own. During my hike, I discovered something interesting that appeared to be metal object. After returning to camp (Shingle Mill Flat), I learned that my parents had taken Russ to the nearest doctor to have a fishhook removed from his finger. Nevertheless, I reported to my uncle what I had seen on my hike. "I found a fancy piece of brass pipe." I made a gesture with my hands, showing him that the pipe appeared to be about three feet. My uncle offered to accompany me back to the site that was about one mile away. Instead I opted to go fishing up the river with my 10-year-old cousin and quickly the incident was forgotten... for the time.

During the mid 1990s, I was living in Nevada and working as a licensed Landscape Contractor. My Dad called and asked if I would like to join him and a few others who were looking for the lost cannon left behind by Fremont and Kit Carson in 1844. Since over the years my Dad and I had collaborated together at the Great Pyramid (Egypt), Chaco Canyon (New Mexico) and other various assignments both foreign & domestic, I was eager once again to work with him...so why not? As you know my father was a surveyor, and thus a meticulous recorder. He enjoyed safeguarding, preserving and, when appropriate, sharing historical notes, photos, documents, etc. with others. His pleasant demeanor, keen intellect and quick wit were always an added dimension to his relationship with others. Soon thereafter I met the FREMONT HOWITZER RECOVERY TEAM.

FYI at this time, there was still no recollection of the fancy brass pipe that I discovered in my childhood.

Bob, I am not sure if you have seen the 15 page report w/attachments Brief History of the Fremont Howitzer Site submitted on June 6, 2003 by the Fremont Howitzer Recovery Team 2003 to the US Forest Service. If you haven't, I have listed a few historical highlights:

1982 - Earliest search by Team member
1989 - October, first Team outing
1997 - June, Ron Uzes joins the search. "The Recollection" consistent with description 30+ years earlier
1997 - "The Recollection" caused a change in the search program for the remainder of the June 1997 outing.

ARTIFACT RECOVERY

Editor's note: January 1997 was the date of the big Walker River Flood, and its tributaries including Deep Creek, which washed out 10 miles of US 395 in the Walker River canyon.

1997 - July 20, "by a party of two". Bud located iron tire with metal detector. Excavated & artifact recovered by Ron.
1997 - September 27. "another matching metal tire was found" By Team member. (Name withheld) Group excavated & recovered.
1998 - FIRST CONTACT: US Forest Service was approached for an Archeological Permit
2001 - June. "A partial group outing, during June. Recovered a small iron metal cap that is consistent with harness apparatus and/or a ram rod cap" By Team member.
2001 - September 15. Group outing. Ron located with metal detector, trunnion plate partial gun carriage assembly and third iron tire. Ron excavated & recovered the assembly.
2001 - October. Recovery Team & Forest Service excavated & recovered third iron tire.

Editor's note: See a large photo of these parts by Russ Gray.

After confiding this potential historical evidence to you, I am sure you have a better understanding why I believe the Howitzer tube that is on display in the Carson City Museum is not from Fremont's lost cannon.

By 2006, my last calculation is that I spent over 500 accumulative days working by myself at the site trying to relocate precisely where I first saw the tube in the mid 1960s. As of yet it has not been excavated or recovered, even so I believe it will be found...when it is time.

My father, Bud Uzes, passed away February 2006 and since May '06 I have worked by myself. I made another significant find in the Carson Pass Summit area whereas possibly all of the evidence points to the last campsite where Fremont and his men scaled the summit.

I recognize why the Team made Bud the leader. He was a natural because of his integrity, likeability and his ability to mediate along with his dedication to the project. I believe his absence has left a huge void in the quest. It would be great if someone could step up and become a Team leader and finish the job. Until then, I prefer to work alone these days and remain focused on using my energies for fieldwork or 'new' discoveries. It is discouraging when politics and personal differences get in the way of the main objective. Therefore, I have chosen not to return to the site since May 2006. For that reason, I wasn't even aware that the artifacts had been put on display in Bridgeport.

See more recovery photos.

Today, I focus my efforts on other archeology work that is unrelated to Fremont. I have been fortunate to make some potentially bigger discoveries than the lost cannon's recovery. You might say, "I'm on a roll." No formal reports will be filed until there is a more favorable climate for disclosure. It seems safe to assume these other sites are safe as I believe they are all within the Toiyabe Nat'l Forest.

I do hope the facts that I have revealed to you will assist you in your own work. For me, some of the best times in my life were spent digging at Deep Creek with my two dogs.

As written on the tag attached on the rim on display at the ranger's station...The truth about the final resting place of the Fremont's Lost Cannon.

Good Luck!
From a friend of the Pathfinder,
Ron Uzes

February 7, 2011

Dear Bob,

It is hard to believe that it was five years ago today that Bud Uzes unexpectedly passed away. We still feel the deep loss... As we learned, pain eventually gave away to healing. And if we are lucky, we will gain a better understanding of who we are. It makes good sense to share the wisdom our father gave to us with others.

These terrible economic times have been difficult for those who are in the business of recovering and protecting historical artifacts. By shedding a little light into those "dark areas," maybe the truth will finally be revealed for all of us to enjoy.

Since the cannon site is located in beautiful country, many family members and friends can testify to the area's recreational value. With future planning, there might be an opportunity for others (the public) to participate in the outdoor activities and walk on the actual path of such brave and courageous explorers. Tourists and followers can relish in the scenery at the same time experience the challenges that faced these pioneers. How exciting would it be for families to witness an archeological dig in progress while staying at a local campground. This would be good for the local economy. Perhaps young explorers will again be drawn to the same quest. As we have had to do in the past, defend and protect the very fabric of freedom itself. Bob, the family sincerely appreciates your interest in Bud' accomplishments. They would like to give you a copy of Bud's Chaining the Land: A History of Surveying In California, (Second Edition)

Thank you for contacting us,
Ron Uzes

PS
Your handwritten letter to Bud in September 1997, and your accurate determination of the cannon recovery site, sent the cannon search in to high gear. Who is this guy? Our worst fear was you and your team would swoop down and snatch the cannon right from under our noses! It felt like we were in a dog sled race to be the first at the North Pole. Bud would give me a briefing if he heard anything about you. I think Bud may have enjoyed the competitive nature that this created within the search. It was very motivating for me, to say the least! You contributed a great deal in a good way without being there. It still amazes me! I stopped just short of thinking that you had your own satellite to watch us. It was always in good spirit and fun...ah, those were the days!

May, 2011. There may be further work going on in this recovery project if this webpage is correct.
It also contains much additional information on the recovery site with images.

The copy of Bud's Chaining the Land so thoughtfully sent to me was signed in memory of Bud, by Ron, Russ, and Bud's wife, Jo Ann Uzes. It also has an imprint of Bud's own licenced State of California survey's stamp.
I thoroughly enjoyed the reading of it, (twice) wherein I encountered many old friends I have dealt with in my researches, including Frémont, George Davidson, Sherman Day, George Goddard, William Marlette, and others.

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

Bud Uzes online
 

Read about the history of The Frémont Lost Cannon and how the recovered axle strap has been identified by Col. Paul Rosewitz US Army as having come [only] from one of the first 13 carriages built at the Watervliet Arsenal in 1837, which was an exact copy of the French model 1828 carriage. No further carriages were built until after the Mexican War, at which time axle modifications were made.

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Bob Graham