Saturday, February 6, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon

By now those who've been reading this blog understand that I believe in the existence of angels and spirits and they can arrive in our dreams. Our destiny in life was written when we were born as proven by Mark Twain, but he wasn't very spiritual. His bible was often a dictionary. He was born in November 1835, when Halley's comet was blazing a path through the heaven's on dark nights. Davey Crockett missed the dark night skies in the wilderness where the night skies were afire with countless sparkling jewels. as crickets chirped loudly on warm nights. In fact, he left Washington that same year after losing his congressional election. Crockett told his constituents upon leaving: "You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas." He did go to Texas!

Crockett left Washington and went home to Kentucky, but he couldn't stay put. His destiny was calling - the Texans needed his fighting skill and he died with Jim Bowie at the Alamo in late winter 1836. He was a frontiersman and not a politician. Later in life Twain felt that since he was born when Halley's comet ruled the night sky his own dreams caused himself to believe he was "an unaccountable freak" and since he came into being with Halley's comet his dreams said he'd be leaving with the comet. His destiny was right: He died in April 1910 when Halley's comet was blazing across the night sky. I, too, remember sitting on my back deck and watched with amazement Halley's comet streaking across the dark sky in the last half of the 20th century. It's 500 mile long fiery gaseous torch was as beautiful then as seen by Crockett and Twain.

Bob Alcumbrack started his physical search for the missing Cannonsburg cannon in July 1986. He was sure he'd find it within five days, but as problems with the bilge pumps stopped work he knew deep down in his heart that lots of spectators were going to be disappointed. He was truly hoping that all the cable news networks covering his cannon would disappear and concentrate on the Texas expedition to find the fabled "Twin Sisters" of Texas. Michigan and Texas were on a collision course with destiny wondering which cannon hunting group would find one of five missing cannons. Five? The discovery of the three most famous cannons were the most important. The first three were hidden in secrecy and it was hoped that they would again take their cherished spot in history again. Who would be first to resurrect a lost cannon?

The Michigan media pitted us against Texas, but the news media stayed in Cannonsburg simply because Bob's big dig was the only digging operation. The Texas group hadn't located any digging sites, but were still offering big rewards of from $25,000-50,000 for information leading to the discovery of the Twin Sisters. The two most famous cannons of Texas were highly prized since these were the most soft after cannons in Texas or upon American soil. These military cannons were used in the Texas-Mexico War in 1836, which made Texas an Independent Republic that same year, which became America's 28th state in 1845.

The Twin Sisters of Texas and the Cannonsburg cannon of Michigan had all but vanished from historical prominence for 121 years and 101 years respectively and two groups of cannon hunters were doing their best to find all three. The two different groups never met, but we shared a kindred spirit trying to discover the secrets surrounding their disappearance. It was a north versus south expedition and all three had local, state and national ties. Yet, as individuals I from the north and one from the south met opposite weeks standing in Disney's flower gardens studying their old cannons.

To the chagrin of Bob Alcumbrack it was Grand Rapids Press reporter Marie Havenga who put Bob Alcumbrack's cannon expedition in newspapers worldwide. She made Bob a 'rock star', err, cannon star, but Bob wasn't fond of the hoopla attention. He didn't like so many eyes watching his every movement trying to read his lips. This started his paranoia of the press power.

Through the eyes of the Texas group you'll be able to see the short life conditions of cannons in America. You'll get a better understanding of why our Federal government was so incessant on getting local and state governments to get rid of post Civil War cannons. Since the days of the Civil War different cannon hunters, treasure hunters or amateur treasure hunting groups have sought to find historical cannons that went missing. 1982 to 1984 saw Lynn Ashby of Texas offering high rewards for information on the twin sisters, but alas not even the $50,000 reward gave little hope to finding the twin sisters. They weren't found for lack of trying, but mainly because the memories and recollections of older citizens had failed. Old age and senility took over too many minds -- minds that were as sharp as tacks in their youth. Like the old Bob never jotted down tidbits garnered, but instead trusted them to memory, which was faulty. Had he written down info or kept a log we wouldn't have done so much physical work with little rewards, but we learned somethings about how dowsing ought to work.

By 1985, the Texas group cancelled the reward. They were working against an important deadline. They no longer had enough time to find the cannon, dig it up and have time to clean and restore it for Texas' 150th Sesquicentennial celebrations in 1986. Bob commenced digging in 1986. The collision of destiny for both. Bob was sure he'd dig up his cannon in 1986 and have one year to clean and restore the cannon for Michigan's 150th Sesquicentennial celebrations in 1987. Michigan was the 26th state in the union. These were identical operations - destiny written in the stars.

What made Texas' twin sisters so famous was the fact that these two cannons were the first cannons made in America and were used by Sam Houston's freedom fighters to win Texas' independence after the fierce Battle of San Jacinto with Mexican Army General Santa Ana. Without these cannons they wouldn't have been able to defeat Antinio de Santa Ana's Mexican invasion forces. Sam Houston was commander of the Texas army and used these two twin sister small-bored dix-pound hollowware cannons. They were solid iron cannons. These two weapons ended the Spanish dominance in 1836, that's after the massacre at the Alamo in which Crockett and Bowie were killed between Feb. 23-Mar. 6, 1836. These were America's most beloved frontiersmen of the 19th century and their countrymen weren't going to let them die in vain and when word was received in the north, the cannon makers sent word immediately down to Sam Houston to expect arrival of two cannons within 10 days.

Messrs. Greenwood and Webb's foundry in Cincinnati, Ohio led the charge to manufacture the twin cannons. They said Cincinnati was proud to donate the first two experimental test cannons to Sam Houston's freedom fighters in honor and memory of Crockett's and Bowie's service to Texan's in pursuit of freedom outside the USA. Touble was, the twin cannons were crudely made by unskilled Americans with grit and determination to help others fighting for freedom. Too many today are complacent and practice nimbyism. If it's (Not In My Back Yard) why bother fighting for the freedoms of others. Our roots for freedom fighting originate with Crockett and Bowie and Americans before and after them. At the time the cannons were made American gun founders weren't exactly sure if they had even minimum knowledge or skill to forge them. The cannons sent were TEST cannons and passed proofing, but were very dangerous weapons to fire. They didn't even know how long it'd be before they were unusuable.

The cannons were sent via steamboat down the Ohio River to St. Louis. Vessels bypassed the Ohio rapids (faults) after 1830 using the Louisville & Portland Canal, which allowed down-bound vessels to New Orleans without changing boats or waiting for high water in the chute. In Disney's movie Davey Crockett on the Gully Whumper took the Ohio River chute. The trip was 1,840 miles to New Orleans from Pittsburg. Trip fare was $15.00 and took 8 days. Upbound took 16 days and cost $25.00 against the Mississippi and Ohio river currents. The name Twin Sisters' derives it name from a prominent physician's twin daughters traveling south on board the same vessel. The cannons did indeed arrive 10 days after Crockett and Bowie's death.

American made cannons were extremely dangerous. American foundry workers were copycats and made mold casts by cutting captured British cannons into two pieces and using sand molds to manufacture the hollowware iron cannons. These were America's newest weapons -- crude beginnings considering it took the British more than 400 years of trial and error before they had fully mastered the craft of cannon forging. During the first 300 years most of England's cannons were made in Scotland, Sweden, France and Italy. English gun founders hadn't mastered the craft until starting in the late 160o's forward. Trial and error is what cannon founders dealt with as each "piece" was cast in brass (bronze), iron or wrought iron. Even the masters couldn't make them always proof and many of the best craftsmen died because of bursting or prematurely discharging. Unfortunately whenever a cannon prematurely discharges and kills someone, they are the only ones who knew what went wrong making trial and error the only way to make corrections.

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