Dennis Cassinelli: Re-discovery of the Fremont Cannon
In the fall of 1843, the exploration expedition of John C. Fremont accompanied by his guide, Kit Carson, entered Northern Nevada from Oregon, after reaching the Pacific Ocean from the Oregon Trail. Fremont had decided to travel south, rather than returning east to Missouri in order to explore the Nevada desert and to search for the legendary Buena Ventura River. This never before seen river was believed to flow west to the Pacific Ocean just as the Columbia River did.
At this time, his expedition was still pulling the bronze 1836 Cyrus Alger mountain howitzer intended to impress the natives along the way and to prove a wheeled vehicle could make such a journey.
As the expedition moved south, they discovered Pyramid Lake, the Truckee River, Carson River and Walker River. What they didn’t discover was the non-existent legendary Buena Ventura River. Fremont then named the region the Great Basin, since there was obviously no outlet to the sea.
By the time the expedition reached the area of Bridgeport, they realized they should cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains over Carson Pass before winter set in. As they approached the West Walker River, the cannon they had towed became such a burden to them, they decided to abandon it in a place they called Deep Canyon, rather than attempt to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains with it. For several years the cannon remained, deteriorating away until the wooden components were gone. The cannon barrel was noticed by someone who loaded it up and salvaged it, taking it first to Lake Tahoe, then later to Virginia City. When Fremont later visited Virginia City, he saw the cannon barrel at the firehouse there and confirmed it was from his cannon. Eventually, it was given to the Nevada State Museum.
According to Col. Paul Rosewitz and Nevada State Museum Archaeologist, Eugene Hattori, the metal parts and iron tires recovered could’ve come only from one of the 13 original M1835 Cyrus Alger mountain howitzers. These were metal parts from the Fremont cannon.
The Fremont Cannon Recovery Team was organized to attempt to discover the cannon, not knowing the barrel had already been salvaged. They located the place in Deep Creek canyon where Fremont had said the cannon had been abandoned. What they did find were several rusted parts of the cannon carriage and three iron tire rims matching the size specified for the original carriage. Two of the rims were quite worn but the third was unused, so it had obviously been a spare wheel.
A special exhibit was created at the Nevada State Museum for Nevada Day, 2013 where all the existing components of the original cannon, along with a replica carriage mounted with the original howitzer barrel, was displayed. Finally, all the recovered cannon parts were on display in the same room. Other artifacts were also shown, including maps, a Dutch oven, Fremont’s revolver and examples of items gathered during the expedition.
The exhibit was on display at the Nevada State Museum for more than one year, then the entire collection was sent to Oregon to be displayed in that state. It will eventually be displayed in California too, since the 1843- 1844 expedition explored all three states.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.