Archive for Thursday, January 27, 2011

History buff wants to recreate cannon called ‘Old Sacramento’ used in sacking of Lawrence

January 27, 2011


The "Old Sacramento" cannon was originally used in the War with Mexico by Missourians before being placed in the public square in Liberty, Missouri. Later, Old Sacramento was brought to Lawrence by pro-slavery men who used it to fire on the Free State Hotel, which would later be called the Eldridge House. Lawrence resident Kerry Altenbernd has plans to create a working replica.

The "Old Sacramento" cannon was originally used in the War with Mexico by Missourians before being placed in the public square in Liberty, Missouri. Later, Old Sacramento was brought to Lawrence by pro-slavery men who used it to fire on the Free State Hotel, which would later be called the Eldridge House. Lawrence resident Kerry Altenbernd has plans to create a working replica.

The cannon that fired on the Free State Hotel during the sacking of Lawrence has lived a long, full life during the Civil War era in Kansas and Missouri. Now, however, it sits destroyed — a giant hole ripped through its side — in the Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass.

But that cannon, called “Old Sacramento,” could have a new lease on life soon.

Kerry Altenbernd, Lawrence native and Kansas history buff, has plans to reconstruct an exact replica of the cannon that could be fired to celebrate events, such as upcoming Kansas Day, parades and historical re-enactments.

The original cannon has a long tradition with Kansas Day: It was fired in celebration the day Kansas officially became a state Jan. 29, 1861.

It was originally used in the War with Mexico by Missourians before being placed in the public square in Liberty, Mo. In 1856, Old Sacramento was brought to Lawrence by pro-slavery men who used it to fire on the Free State Hotel, which would later be called the Eldridge House.

Several accounts state that Missouri Sen. David Atchison fired the first of about 30 shots. But being somewhat drunk, Atchison fired the shot up and over the hotel. In the late 1880s, a cannonball was found imbedded in the soil of Illinois Street that is said to be from Old Sacramento.

In 1975 Steve Jansen, then-director of the Watkins History Museum, made a deal to obtain Old Sacramento for display, said Brittany Keegan, acting curator.

“We’re not exactly sure how it wound up in the museum, but we’re just glad it’s here,” she said.

Old Sacramento was cast in bronze, and Altenbernd said recreating it out of that same material could carry a hefty price tag upwards of $20,000. He has organized a group called The Old Sacramento Cannoneers Association that plans to seek out other interested individuals and funding for the project.

He said he has already begun researching foundries across the country that could recreate a working replica of the cannon.

“My basic idea was why not make a new one because the old one can’t be used,” Altenbernd said. “It would be very significant. My only regret is that we didn’t do this a couple years ago so we could use it this weekend and fire it on Saturday. But better late than never.”


mijemod 6 years ago

I wonder if Altenbernd would like to be a slave? This cannon represents another part of our wicked past that should not be played with.

mom_of_three 6 years ago

I think you are missing the picture. The cannon was used by pro-slavery to fire on our anti-slavery stronghold of a town and the building that represented it.
And like he said, it was fired at celebrations and such. I think it also might have been used for our defense after May 1861. I don't see a problem with it.

mijemod 6 years ago

So you are saying that you are pro-slavery too.

mom_of_three 6 years ago

No, I am saying it is part of our history, since the free state forces captured it and used it against the pro slavery forces. It is part of our history.

mom_of_three 6 years ago

and I dont think you understand the complete history of the state or of Lawrence.

Gary Anderson 6 years ago

My gut reaction as well...but then again I grew up near the Manassas battlefields. I've seen too many cannons and the damage they did...

grandnanny 6 years ago

Something missing from the story - when and how did the cannon get that huge hole in its side?

LadyJ 6 years ago

Exactly what I thought when I read it.

wmathews 6 years ago

Good question! I have Brianne checking into it, and have asked her to post the answer in the comments.

RKLOG 6 years ago

In the wintertime the canon was shot from the bridge into the Kansas River to break up ice. They would stuff it with loose materials and one day it exploded.

RKLOG 6 years ago

In the wintertime the canon was shot from the bridge into the Kansas River to break up ice. They would stuff it with loose materials and one day it exploded.

Fossick 6 years ago

Short version is that this kind of a cannon was stuffed with loose gunpowder for firing. Too much powder or the wrong-sized ball and you make a huge hole just like that in addition to killing half the guys firing it.

Flap Doodle 6 years ago

Not having the charge properly rammed can also result in a ka-boom.

Fossick 6 years ago

Yup, for such a seemingly simple device, there were lots of ways to do it wrong. Once.

brianne 6 years ago

Thanks for clarifying, guys! The cannon was used to try to raise bodies from the river by firing it across the top of the water. The person doing the firing packed it too full and it exploded.

Brianne Reporter/Web Producer Lawrence Journal-World

Boston_Charley 6 years ago

According to the 1912 "Cyclopedia of Kansas History" it got the hole in its side when it was being used in an attempt to raise the bodies of drowning victims from the Kansas River (it was believed that a loud noise would bring stuff to the surface, don't ask me why). I think that was around the turn of the 20th century. I worked at the museum when it moved into the Watkins building in 1975--Steve Jansen was not even on the staff of the museum then, much less being the director. I think until prior to that the cannon was in another city or county building, or possibly up at KU somewhere.

aeroscout17 6 years ago

I am not sure I see the connection between a cannon fired at Lawrence during a conflict and said cannon being fired during celebrations. Now if the cannon had been used to successfully defend Lawrence it would be a different story.

grandnanny 6 years ago

Thanks for the information about the cannon. Remember in Huck Finn that they fired a cannon to try to bring Huck's body to the surface (of course, he hadn't drowned so don't know if it would have worked). As to the firing of the cannon during a celebration, we make lots of other noise when we celebrate (noisemakers, fireworks, etc.) so why not fire a cannon. I just don't want to be too close.

kerryaltenbernd 6 years ago

Several things are missing from the story in the JW. After the sack of Lawrence, the headquarters of the Free-State movement in the Territory, on May 21, 1856, the proslavery men took "Old Sacramanto" to Franklin, Kansas, near where the Douglas County Jail is now, and put it in a fortified log structure called Fort Franklin. Free-State men attacked the fort on June 4, 1856, and captured the cannon. The Free-State men then used it against proslavery forces in the Battle of Fort Titus south of Lecompton on August 16, 1856, and the Battle of Hickory Point in Jefferson County on September 14, 1856. After it was used to celebrate the admission of Kansas to the Union as a Free State, it remained in Lawrence. In July of 1896, the cannon was overloaded with three pounds of gunpowder, and had gunny sacks, mud, and grass pounded in the muzzle with a sledge hammer. When the cannon was fired, it blew up. My hope is that a New "Old Sacramento" will help to remind the people of Lawrence about its rich and unique history.

kerryaltenbernd 6 years ago

And if you want to help us in our efforts, contact us at

JayCat_67 6 years ago

Have you ever been to the Rock Island arsenal? There is a neat museum there with all types of historic weaponry, US and foreign. They also have a wide variety of items that were made in their foudry. Since it is a US Army facility, I don't know that they'd be able to help in the creation of the replica cannon, but they may be able to direct you to a facility that can.

Bill Getz 6 years ago

Thanks for the history background. Why was it named "Old Sacramento?"

kerryaltenbernd 6 years ago

It was captured from Mexican forces by United States forces led by Colonel Alexander Doniphan in the Battle of Sacramento near Chihuahua, Mexico, on February 28, 1847, during the Mexican-American War.

aeroscout17 6 years ago

OK, that makes more sense now. Also explains how Lawrence came to have it also.

Tom McCune 6 years ago

This is the same David Rice Atchison that was President of the United States for one day, March 4, 1849. He conducted no official business, signed no legislation, and spent the entire day hung over. All future presidents would be well advised to follow his wise example.

yankeevet 6 years ago

Interesting........for sure..........

wkeel 6 years ago

Seven sister cannon of Old Sacramento, also brought back from the Mexican War by Col. Doniphan's unit, were melted down at Jefferson City, MO, and recast as 4 larger bore cannon for use during the Civil War. Following the war the cannon stood at the corners of the state capitol there and were fired by German-American Civil War veterans on patriotic occasions such as the 4th of July, Washington's and Lincoln's birthday, the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, etc. in the 1890s and early 20th century. My great-great grandfather, Wendelin Buehrle, was one of the cannoneers. Today an exhibit in the state capitol memorializes this with one of the cannon barrels on a new carriage.

kerryaltenbernd 6 years ago

I did not know that. Thank you very much! The power of the Internet, networking.

tomatogrower 6 years ago

I have to admit I like cannons. At the last concert in the City Band season, they always play the 1812 Overture, and the National Guard shoots off the cannons. Da, dada da da da da, boom!!! I never miss it.

Flap Doodle 6 years ago

Altenbernd should check with Dixie Gun Works for cannon-related equipment.

been_there 6 years ago

I assume this is not the cannon that was at the corner of 6th and Mass since I don't recall it having a big hole. I remember they moved it but don't remember where. We always played on it as kids.

been_there 6 years ago

Wasn't it over that way originally before it was moved to South Park?

mrjcg2 6 years ago

Thanks for you efforts, Kerry, your enthusiasm for local history is contageous.

md 6 years ago

I found civil war bullets and a cannon ball on campus with a detector.

deec 6 years ago

I have a round metal object, about the size of a tennis ball, that weighs just under 4 1/2 lbs. I dug it out of the yard of a house I lived in in the 1300 block of Pennsylvania. I 've always wondered if it was a cannonball.

mom_of_three 6 years ago

Its possibly they could have found Bleeding Kansas bullets on campus. When Lawrence was sacked in May, 1856, the proslavery forces started out on Mt. ORead, overlooking the city. Not sure how many were fired from up there.
I always wanted to go around the Wakarusa river and see what interesting things I could find. The proslavery forces were always camped around there whenever they came to Lawrence (december, 1855, May 1856 and September 1856) and others from both sides during the early years.

RoeDapple 6 years ago

The 30 acre pasture behind my house was a yankee campsite in the civil war. Treasure hunters over the years have found horse tack, maxi-ball and ball bullets, a cannon ball, coins, uniform buttons and a buckle. Gates were being left open and trespassing got out of hand so the owner no longer allows anyone to hunt the property.

RoeDapple 6 years ago

A buddy of mine built a miniature cannon in high school (you could do that in the '60's!!), caliber - - same as a D-cell battery. First time he fired it he shot a hole through both ends of his daddy's barn. from over 100 yards away.

nut_case 6 years ago

This cannon thing sounds dangerous. It's already blown up once, obviously. And there have been many other cannon accidents as well.

I think we would be much better banning cannons and melting that thing down to make belt buckles or something.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years ago

Nut case makes a very good point. These "cannons" have the capacity to be very dangerous especially in the hands of amatures untrained in their use and safety. This a weapon of war designed to kill and main and if the user is a neophyte who thinks that messing with these weapons is "cool" or "neat", they have a great chance of ending up dead.

What really bothers me is that they want to make a replica of this damaged weapon and perhaps try to actually fire it. There were very specific methods of manufacturing these weapons acumulated from many years of esperience, most of it not too good. Just slopping some brass in a mold will not replicate the many proceedures that were developed over many years in making a weapon that was safe to use, at least for the cannoneer.

This whole thing disturbs me, my father was an Army artillary officer and had many stories of untrained people who would try to fire captured enemy artillary pieces and ended up killing themselves and others. This is not play or neat or cool, it is a weapon designed to kill and destroy and if you do not know what the hell you are doing, you might just be the target.

formerfarmer 6 years ago

Do you REALLY think they are just going to set the cannon out front of the museum and let anybody that wants to fire the thing. You can blow up a cap and ball pistol if you don't know what you are doing. Civil War re-enactment people have been firing them for years with little problem. If you want to worry, find something meaningful to worry about.

nut_case 6 years ago

No, but I would contend cannons have killed far more 'experienced' people than many things which are now banned in Kansas.

I think a far more appropriate celebration of Kansas would be to ban the cannon than fire it.

Mark Kostner 6 years ago

I have an idea what the cannon could be used for. It could be used in the KU-MU Border War football game, especially since its roots are in the real border war. Nevada and UNLV have a cannon that they use in their football rivalry, and this cannon would also make a great football trophy. The winning team could fire it at the end of the game and take it home for a year. If MU got the cannon they could brag that they have the cannon that destroyed Lawrence and if KU got it they could brag that they defended Lawrence. It would be a great incentive to keep beating Mizzou and it would be a real shame and humiliation if they lost the cannon to Columbia.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.