Friday, April 9, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 57

Search for secrets of a sunken cannon continues with a Great Lakes steamers arrival at Grand Haven in June 1848. Le Grand Cannon was glad to arrive for it was an eventful passage from Troy, New York, but no matter where you were in Michigan it was downright "Hot." Michigan was gripped in a furnace of excessive heat and barren trees.

The steamer had to wait outside the Grand River's mouth. It couldn't get over the sand bar to offload supplies, passengers and Mr. Cannon with a special cannon in tow and what many considered the strangest souvenir, the Cannonsburg cannon. A keel boat floated alongside and informed the lakes captain the Hummingbird would arrive shortly. It was coming down the channel. Le Grand Cannon had time to sit and prepare for the transfer of his baggage, fishing poles and cannon. Passengers waiting couldn't believe where Mr. Cannon was going with the bronze relic still lashed to her deck. No sense releasing the cannon's mooring when the vessel was being pitched by the rolling waves. It might roll off and sink. Mouth's of awe and the snickering was a little unnerving to Mr. Cannon, but he felt it was worth it. His name was already part of geographical history.

The HUMMINGBIRD's arrival meant the final leg of the journey was nearing completion. Being 62 years of age, this was not the longest, but it might seem so when dogged by illness. He was struggling with an ailment and try as he might he felt downright miserable, but still protected the gift cannon from others. He wasn't letting it be out of sight for he was on a mission.

The Hummingbird moved upriver and slowly picked its way through the delta and since the water was flowing so slowly it was difficult to stay in the mainstream. Several miles inland the temperatures soared to over 110 degrees F. and the humidity was unbearable. Those with lung problems couldn't remember when it was worst. The Hummingbird sat low in the water, because it was carrying a heavy load of fresh hay for farmers above Grand Rapids. Farm fields were barren of alfalfa and grass and Native American's that still lived along the river said they had never experienced such dryness. Forests and fields were tinderboxes ready to explode with sparks. The Hummingbird stayed in midstream so sparks from the stacks wouldn't drift on the wind.

Passengers crowded the bow to gawk at the bronze cannon lashed to the deck to the rear of the Hummingbird's cannon. It was a relic, no resemblance to a new cannon. Inquiring minds wanted to know why Mr. Cannon was giving the "ancient relic" with strange ornate carriage to a township community that bears his name? Big difference between "old, ancient or relic" in years. It was beyond "classic" and old is up to 90 years old, ancient unlimited, but when the passengers said "ancient relic" it could mean more than 400 years old and adding relic meant it was no longer in use or remains unuseful, but is still material evidence. The cannon in its prime was probably used militarily, but no mention of engravements on the piece. Because of its designation I believed it to be larger than a swivel or pivot gun, but what struck me was no commentary about gunpowder, cannonballs or tools to fire the cannon. It wasn't a Robinette, but more likely a Falcon or Falconette, but might be English or French.

Mr. Cannon was presenting a souvenir gift and because of its advanced age he didn't intend for it to be a live firing celebratory cannon. None of the passengers mentioned the word "military" cannon. Le Grand Cannon's ultimate secret was exposed. History books and newspaper articles didn't give a clear indication what caliber of cannon was given. Time and age forgotten.

This explains why Bob Alcumbrack never had a true description of the cannon. "Awesome blast" in no way meant it was a 6-pound cannon. He confined all his research to oral evidence and the cannon's timeline disappearance and when the five cannon burial men returned. The passengers brief commentaries about the cannon gave up the ultimate secret as to why Walter Tompsett was shot in the knee and not chest high.

When the Hummingbird approached Grand Rapids, her cannon's foudroyant sound announced he imminent arrival. Workmen were already constructing the shipping vessel locks for upriver and downriver shipping traffic. Workers were carving rocks out of the old quarry hole between the Sixth Street dam and Bridge Street. My cousin Mitch Idema, age 26, drowned while fishing for Steelhead trout in the 1990's, when his fishing boat capsized on a small cofferdam below Bridge Street. He stayed with the boat but succumbed to coldness and his body recovered from a deep section of the east quarry hole.

The locks were five months from completion when the Grand Rapids and Indiana Rail Road pulled into town from Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 1855-56. Cheaper and faster transportation was going to go northward. Steamers were for passengers traveling to Grand Haven, Chicago and Milwaukee. The quarry hole sections along the east wall range up to 55 feet deep. Men with dynamite blasted with men excavating bedrock.

The Hummingbird docked and supplies and passengers were offloaded, but something else was afoot, too. The entire vessel was being dismantled. Being stripped the vessel was moved back and gangs of horses would pull it out of the water into drydock. Work commenced during the night to cut the steamer into two pieces. Couldn't find where Le Grand Cannon spent three days, but he paid for dockworkers to protect the cannon. He might have stayed at a hotel, but because of his friendship with John Ball and since they were reportedly going fishing a few days I assume he resided with Ball. Cannon was going to foreclose on Bostwick's property. The stress of foreclosure proceedings against his friend and land agent was stressfull.

At daybreak with a shift switch, the dockworkers retired with the cannon, while the newest workers started pulling the Hummingbird's two pieces up the bank and around the rapids to the rollaway above Sixth Street dam. It took them a day to remove it from below the dam and another to move it around the rapids and a third day to reassemble the vessel and slip it back into the Grand River. The fourth day July 3rd. all hay, the cannon and Mr. Cannon resumed upstream travel to Austerlitz. Buckboard and men were waiting for his arrival. He was a wealthy man, but his illness was getting worse.

Passengers, spectators and dockworkers were amazed how Americans had the skill to cut steamboats apart, move them overland in large sections, then restore and make them seaworthy, but couldn't forge a decent cannon.

The Hummingbird was built in Ottawa County in 1847. She was brand spanking new, but small compared to other steamers who weren't running in 1848 because of drought and low water. They were pressed for business and ran freight between Chicago and other ports. The Grand River originally fell 21 feet between Leonard and Fulton Street and known as the "grand rapids" of the Indian version "Owashtenong River." The original river roared in a freshet and the fragrances of rushing misty water rose into the sky. On moonlit nights the ghosts and departed spirits of earth rose into the heavens.

Passengers boarded the Hummingbird and before noon it docked at Austerlitz, the Hummingbird's cannon blast arrival was heard the first time. Waiting patiently at Austerlitz were Plainfield and Courtland township farmers with oxen wagons in front of Hall's Hotel. Rations of fresh hay sorely needed to fend off cattle starvation. Normally they had to pick hay up in Grand Rapids, but the cannon made it a special maiden voyage for river travel from Ionia to Grand Rapids. No more would they have to ferry supplies or drive oxens across the Grand River in the shallows ahead of Grand Island.

Due to local dryness hay was being imported from as far south as Ohio and Indiana. Michigan and Wisconsin were both dry and area cattle were starving to death. Those without food were being slaughtered. Fifty days of upper 90's and low 100's made the Grand River valley the driest in memory. Local Indians said they had never experienced such excessive dryness. Pioneers and settlers had to be tough. No airconditioning or window screens for thirty years (screens 1876) to keep out bloodsucking insects. Hordes of black, blow and deer flies and squadrons of mosquitos were the bane of living. At sunset the drone of mosquito wings sent people and animals inside homes and barns. Conditions like these prevailed on the Great Plains, too, at other times in history.

To save blood people rarely took a bath with perfumed soap, but in high heat it was amazing how business owners could stand the smell of human bodies shopping when they hadn't had a bath for three days, a week let alone fifty days. The only ones that arrived with lilac water were skunk oil salesmen, gamblers, saloon women or relative visiting family and friends.

If former VP Al Gore knew this he'd take the credit for and say its "global warming". Clinton convinced him the importance of staying in the public eye as Clinton taught generations of young students how to lie and not get punished until courts proves you wrong. Everything is right no matter how much you lie.

What in life never changes? Our bodies progression from youngster to senior is change. Life is a progression of change for better or worse and what Mother Nature gives us we must endure. What we see as change is opposite of Mother Nature's law. We all live to die. Some will spend eternity in Heaven, while others spend eternity regretting Hell. This is our heritage for being born. Bad weather observations seen in the past were only revelant to those living in their day. Those living today, the weather is as dangerous past to present. Constant flights of high altitude corporate and commercial jets cause immense disruptions in jet streams. Al Gore continues his tirade, but he himself can't win browny points for green energy when he consumes more above earth. Global warming doesn't exist - he doesn't want to go peacefully into the night, err retirement. Clinton didn't do his afterlife any good - without his stance on global warming he's without cause. Oops, I'm straying myself.

When off loading supplies and cannon at Austerlitz the farmers were awestruck by Mr. Cannon's cannon. It was the oddest-looking cannon and none had ever seen such an ancient cannon on the strangest ornate carriage. Cannon and carriage wasn't standard issue so it would have been a souvenir gift. The relic status meant it was never intended to be fired. The cannon was confirmed as ancient and I found the cannon's upriver travels through bits and pieces of conversation in newspapers and some personal memoirs while researching and writing "ALGOMA: IN HONOR OF A STEAMBOAT 1989. The reference "ancient relic" dates the cannon before 1748 and old at (1768-1848). Dare to venture a guess of age "ancient relic?"

It might fall somewhere between 1373-1743 a spread of 400 years. Bob definitely had to find physical piece of evidence to narrow the time period. Old, small, cannon or military cannon didn't describe the cannon, but the addition "ancient relic" made Bob's energy level rise to new levels and when he found cannonballs "OH MY" were we excited and we kept our mouths shut. We weren't going to tip off any other flyby treasure hunters with dollars signs for eyes get a clue. Got a secret treasure hunt? Keep silent, scribble notes and burn them. Voice, lip movements and fingers share secrets.

Next time we go deeper into the mysterious disappearance and secrets not shared since 1885.

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