and under the heading “Boys Will Be Boys”…

Feb 15, 2021 | 0 comments

Oysterville Cannon Fire, 2006

I’ve written a fair amount about the present-day cannon in Oysterville, purchased by The Honorary Oysterville Militia (THOM) in preparation for Oysterville’s sesquicentennial in 2004.  “General Nyel” made all of the arrangements in order to replace the cannon that was used here in pioneer times — a cannon which blew up under unfortunate circumstances.

I have just run across one of Frank Turner’s “From Auld Lang Syne” columns written back in the 1950s for the Ilwaco Tribune.  (Perhaps Mr. Turner’s great-grandson, Keith Cox, can weigh in with the exact date.)  The column fills in some of the information about that first cannon that had heretofore been missing:

Early ‘Oyster Boys’ Abe Wing and Jimmy Johnson

There was little in the way of entertainment for the young people and bachelor oystermen, aside from church and school, and the young men, waiting between tides for their work on the oyster beds were accustomed to displays of strength and skill for a certain amount of recreation.  There was a pile of pig iron, and one stunt was to lift it by the teeth.  Shooting with the white man’s gun, and with the Indian’s stout yew wood bows, was practiced in competition.  But top competition in weight lifting was practiced on a 400 pound cannon, or cannonade, that had been unloaded from shipboard on the high tide bank of the bay.  It took a he-man to lift the three-inch cannon as some claimed they did.  However, although the remains of the cannon are still said to be here and there in Oysterville, there is now no way to check on the prowess of the young pioneers.

The fact is, the thing blew up.  It happened, according to the best recollection of the late Mrs. J.A. Morehead, on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1878 — perhaps a year or so earlier.  The young men waiting on the tide, including Captain Peter Jordan and Johnnie Clark, loaded her up good, ramming home a big charge of powder, followed by a heavy round rock from the pile of discarded ballast on the beach.  They touched her off.  There was a mighty roar.  One chunk fell through the roof of the Chris Johnson home 500 feet away and others in sundry places about the village.  But the worst was one that slapped Peter Jordan on the side of the head.

Ballast Rock Doorstop at Our House

It was nip and tuck with Jordan in the days that followed, whether he would live or die.  Possibly the skill of  Mrs. Stevens, as a nurse, and the prayers of her daughter, Laura Belle, pulled him through.  On a July day in 1881 Captain Jordan married Laura Belle, but he carried the scars of the cannon all through life.

A modern-day postcript to Mr. Turner’s Story:  Some years back, Pete Heckes found a part of that cannon and mounted it on his pickup — or so he once told me.

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