Early history and newspaper accounts of the Fremont Cannon

There have been several early historical and newspaper accounts that have mentioned the Fremont Cannon. When these are set out in a logical order, they seem to confirm my contention that the cannon barrel being displayed by the Nevada State Museum is indeed the Fremont Cannon. This has been the topic of debate among historians for many years.

Relatively recently, the iron wheel rims and original carriage hardware have been discovered and identified as having been from the Fremont Cannon. Since these components could have been used only with a M1835 Cyrus Alger mountain howitzer, it is now even more likely that the M1835 Cyrus Alger mountain howitzer possessed by the museum is the Fremont Cannon. The iron parts were found in Deep Creek Canyon, just east of the West Walker River where Fremont’s records showed the howitzer was abandoned in 1844. No bronze cannon barrel was found where the iron parts were discovered, so it can be assumed it was picked up by someone else.

A newspaper in San Andreas, California reported on November 25, 1859 that a local man had returned from Carson Valley with a report that two miners enroute from the Walker River to Genoa had discovered a small United States howitzer just before crossing the spur of mountain that forms the southwestern boundary of Carson Valley. Its presence in that secluded quarter can be accounted for upon the presumption that it is the gun mentioned in Lieutenant Fremont’s narrative as having been abandoned by him in that neighborhood.

Big Bonanza author, Dan De Quille, claimed to have been with two prospectors when they found the cannon barrel, but it was unclear if they recovered it.

According to the Second Biennial Report of the Nevada Historical Society of 1911, old settlers on the Walker River reported the cannon was found and taken by an emigrant party. They later had to abandon the heavy cannon along with some of their own wagons in order to make the crossing of the Sierras.

The Daily Alta California published at San Francisco, California, July 6, 186l reported an article from the Virginia City Enterprise: A man named Sheldon brought a brass howitzer, which he found on the east fork of Walker’s river to Carson City one day last week, and offered to sell it for $200. Failing to find a purchaser there he brought it up to Gold Hill. Some of the citizens, (of Virginia City) hearing of its arrival, went down there with purchase money and nipped it before Gold Hill folks were aware of it.

The Woodland Democrat of Woodland California, reported an article in 1864 on the use of the cannon after it arrived in Virginia City: A twelve pound cannon was discovered in an unfrequented locality near Walker’s river by a party of men and it was ascertained that it was a gun abandoned by John C. Fremont on one of his famous pathfinding expeditions when he ascended Walker’s river into California to find a way across the Sierra Nevadas. It was brought to Virginia City and has ever since been in the possession of Young American Engine Company No. 2, who have furnished it with a new gun carriage at a considerable expense. It was used only on rare occasions as firing salutes at daybreak on the Fourth of July, celebrating Federal victories, etc. The Provost Guard took it in charge yesterday and it is now in their quarters at the lower end of Union Street.

There are reports that General John C. Fremont visited Virginia City in 1875 and was told that the cannon he had abandoned in 1844 was in that City. It is said he then saw the cannon and said it was the one he had abandoned in Deep Creek Canyon. I have not yet been able to confirm this or determine if this was just another of Dan De Quille’s “whoppers.”

Sometime in the 1860s or 1870s, Captain Augustus W. Pray took possession of the cannon and took it with him to Glenbrook on the east shore of Lake Tahoe. He removed the carriage wheels that had been installed by the Young American Engine Company, and mounted the cannon on a large wooden block with short wheels. A photograph of this cannon taken on July 4, 1896 confirms this barrel is the same barrel now in possession of the Nevada State Museum.

At Glenbrook, the cannon was used to commemorate special events such as Fourth of July Celebrations and the launching of the steamer, SS Tahoe. The cannon was eventually taken by steamer to Tahoe City where it ended up being stored away until it was taken by William Bliss, who donated it to the Nevada State Museum. The museum, in cooperation with the Deschutes County Museum in Bend Oregon, are producing a program called “Finding Fremont: Pathfinder in the Great Basin.” The cannon will be on display for Nevada’s Sesquicentennial celebration.

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About Dennis Cassinelli

Dennis Cassinelli is a Nevada author, historian and outdoorsman. He’s written extensively about American Indian culture and Comstock history. His book, Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians, contains up-close photographs and detailed pen-and-ink drawings of American Indian stone artifacts. It also contains a fold-out chronology chart showing projectile points across a 12,000-year time scale. The book is a must-have for every enthusiast of Great Basin archaeology. Dennis’s website is DennisCassinelli.com.