Who do you think should manage Ferriday water?|
Story Archives: Searching the murky 'cannon hole' in Tombigbee Rive
- 2013 - 300 articles
- 2012 - 856 articles
- 2011 - 635 articles
- 2010 - 1276 articles
- December 2010 - 59 articles
- November 2010 - 56 articles
- October 2010 - 73 articles
- September 2010 - 128 articles
- August 2010 - 123 articles
- August 26th, 2010 (Thursday) - 28 articles
- August 25th, 2010 (Wednesday) - 4 articles
- August 24th, 2010 (Tuesday) - 1 articles
- August 19th, 2010 (Thursday) - 25 articles
- August 18th, 2010 (Wednesday) - 10 articles
- August 17th, 2010 (Tuesday) - 1 articles
- August 12th, 2010 (Thursday) - 18 articles
- August 11th, 2010 (Wednesday) - 3 articles
- August 5th, 2010 (Thursday) - 21 articles
- August 4th, 2010 (Wednesday) - 12 articles
- July 2010 - 137 articles
- June 2010 - 105 articles
- May 2010 - 103 articles
- April 2010 - 143 articles
- March 2010 - 136 articles
- February 2010 - 98 articles
- January 2010 - 115 articles
- 2009 - 1591 articles
- 2008 - 1763 articles
|Searching the murky 'cannon hole' in Tombigbee Rive|
In my years exploring Mississippi I have come across stories about a variety of historical "mysteries": buried treasure, lost tunnels.
Some of the most interesting are the stories of lost cannons on the bottom of rivers. Perhaps the most well known are linked to "the cannon hole" near the extinct town of Cotton Gin Port, near modern Amory in northeast Mississippi.
Cotton Gin Port is a place of history and legend. Located on the Tombigbee River it was associated with French expeditions against the Chickasaw Indians. Frontiersmen and settlers converged there. Some even claimed -- without admittedly much evidence -- that De Soto's expedition crossed the Tombigbee there in the December 1540.
According to folklore, several cannons were pushed into the deep waters at Cotton Gin Port in 1752 by an expedition under the governor of French Louisiana, the Marquis de Vaudreuil. This expedition advanced up the Tombigbee to Cotton Gin Port, then marched overland to attack the Chickasaw villages at Old Town, present-day Tupelo.
After being defeated in battle by the Chickasaws, Vaudreuil's troops retreated and found that the river had dropped, making it necessary to lighten their boats. Consequently, they rolled their cannons into the river, where the Indians couldn't get them. There the large guns remained until the mid-nineteenth century when some were allegedly found and retrieved by area residents.
Finding the remaining cannons had intrigued me from an early age. And in early 1977, I got my chance. I was working for the Department of Anthropology at Mississippi State University, when my colleague Jim Atkinson and I heard a rumor that a cannon had recently been spotted in the cannon hole. We reacted quickly in hopes that we might be able to find and salvage one or more of the lost guns.
It was a gloomy, cold day, probably in March, when Jim and I, with another colleague Susan Boyd, arrived at the Highway 278 landing on the Tombigbee. There we launched our aluminum john boat and traveled downstream to the cannon hole. The water was high and clouded with silt. Visibility in the water could be measured in inches. And it was cold. We had brought a wet suit with the intention of diving for the cannons. However, since we were so miserably cold while dry, the prospect of getting into the water was a hurdle we never surmounted. In lieu of diving for the cannons we used another approach involving a 12 foot long piece of rebar with which we intended to probe the bottom of the river for cannon barrels. Given the sizable area to be covered, we attempted to devise a system for consistently probing every square foot. This would entail proceeding in straight lines, probing at relatively small, regular intervals, with each line so close to the others as to thoroughly cover the bottom of the cannon hole.
The method immediately encountered insurmountable difficulties. Controlling a boat and a twelve-foot rod in a slow but inexorable current was easier said than done. While holding the boat stationary was extremely difficult, trying to move it along straight and parallel lines was impossible. Furthermore, when we occasionally struck a hard object on the bottom, it was impossible to determine its size, shape, and material composition. In other words, using the rod, we couldn't tell a cannon from a log. Finally, there were lingering questions about past changes in the river channel, meaning that if there were any cannons they might very well have been buried deeply under silt, maybe even under dry land.
Our expedition took on farcical overtones when a game warden in a john boat motored into view and pulled alongside us likely inspecting for illegal fishing activities. We probably looked rather suspicious, anchored as we were in the middle of the river. Susan was probing the bottom at the time. She stopped and sat there holding the end of the rod with a sheepish grin on her face. We greeted the warden and carried on pleasantries with him while his eyes were on Susan's hands and the rod protruding from the water. He obviously was wondering what we were doing but never asked, and we never ventured to explain for fear that if word got out others would come looking for the cannons. Finally, unable to establish how our strange activity could be construed as illegal, he motored off. We soon decided that the search was hopeless; the waters would not give up their secrets that day.
Sometime later I discovered an article that had been published in 1956 by former Natchez Trace Parkway historian Dawson Phelps, which threw the very existence of the cannons into question. The article very convincingly argued that the Vaudreuil expedition, which had supposedly pushed the cannons into the river, had never even occurred! So if this expedition didn't push them into the river, where did they come from? Others had claimed that Bienville's 1736 expedition had pushed them in, while other claimed that De Soto had lost them in 1540 when his expedition crossed the Tombigbee. However, neither of these groups had cannons. So the origin of the cannons in the river became nebulous, making me wonder if they ever existed in the first place.
The question of whether there were ever any cannons in the cannon hole and if so, where did they come from, continued to bother me through the years. The number of stories suggested that they were there or had been there. Yet there was no good explanation that would account for their presence, especially after the Vaudreuil expedition story was discredited. Furthermore, if any cannons had really been found, where are they today? No one knows.
A decade later I had an experience which shed light on the cannon hole. On June 11-12, 1987, I attempted to locate a cannon that was supposed to be in the Noxubee River at Macon, MS in a place known as the "French Hole" that had served for years as a swimming hole for local boys. No one knew where the name French Hole came from nor did anyone have any idea as to how a cannon came to be located there. However, there were many who claimed to have encountered a cannon on the river bottom while swimming there.
One man vividly recalled sticking his arm inside the bore of a cannon. Another told of having tied a cable to a cannon and winched it up, only to have the cable snap as the gun reached the surface.
My party had snorkels, scuba gear, and an underwater metal detector to aid in our search. However in the slow, muddy water, there was no visibility. You couldn't see your hand in front of your face. I could only feel blindly along the river bottom having no idea of what I might touch. I imagined grabbing a water moccasin or sticking my hand in the mouth of a snapping turtle. In the darkness, whatever I touched was almost unidentifiable. Wood was indistinguishable from metal. I touched what were probably logs, but they could have been cannons.
In the end I didn't find a cannon in the Noxubee River. However, it gave me cause to reflect on how stories of submerged cannons might have originated. I don't know whether there were every any cannons in the cannon hole at Cotton Gin Port or in the French hole at Macon -- personally I doubt it -- but I came to realize how such stories could have originated with descents into muddy waters where buried tree trunks might be mistaken as cannons. I suppose that it's the mystery that attracts folks to look for cannons on the bottom of muddy rivers.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|