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Bronze cannons popular Goliad State Park artifacts
by Rex Niemeyer
Feb 15, 2013 | 949 views | 2 2 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Goliad State Park Museum has many interesting artifacts. One of my favorites is a one-pound bronze cannon, along with the mystery of its travels and how it ended up at Mission Espiritu Santo.

Much of this article is based on research by state archaeologist Curtis Tunnell, who reported the results of his study in an article entitled “Bronze Cannons and Ardent Spirits at La Bahia” in the Bulletin of the Texas Archaeological Society 70(1999).

By examining the ornate designs on the cannon, Tunnell determined that it was made in the 1730’s in Southern Spain. A coat of arms on one end belonged to the Arneuro family, specifically to Jose Prado Guenes Arneuro y de la Sota. On the other end, the cannon was decorated with a fleur-de-lis.

In the years before Tunnell’s research, the fleur-de-lis led many people to mistakenly assume the cannon had French origins; however, it actually reflects the reign of King Philip V, who ruled Spain from 1700 to 1746.

King Philip was the grandson of French monarch Louis XIV, thus explaining the presence of a fleur-de-lis on a Spanish cannon. How and when the Arneuro cannon came from Spain to Texas is a mystery.

In a report written in 1796, Captain Cortes of Presidio La Bahia wrote to the governor about a small bronze cannon that he had recovered from the Trinity River, where it had been abandoned by Don Antonio Ybarbo during the disastrous flood of 1779.

Captain Cortes had much larger cannons in service and had no need for a smaller one. He asked permission to melt down the small cannon in order to cast a new bell for Mission Espiritu Santo, but permission was denied.

In 1797, Captain Cortes gave two cannons - one being the Arneuro cannon to Mission Espiritu Santo to settle a long overdue debt of 400 pesos. For the next 30 years, the two cannons collected dust at Mission Espiritu Santo.

When Espiritu Santo was abandoned in 1830, both cannons and a large copper vessel were buried between the river and the mission, where they remained hidden away for the next 100 years.

Inspired by an article in Popular Mechanics magazine, two men returned the long lost cannon to the historical record in the late 1930’s. The subject of the article was about how to build a metal detector. Gus Leeder of Center Point, Texas, was mechanically inclined and made the metal detector to perfection.

Leeder worked with a man named Harley Johnson who grew up in Goliad and had a dream of finding buried treasure at Mission Espiritu Santo. In September 1930, the two men tested the metal detector in an area between the mission ruins and the river. They found the two cannons and the vessel buried about two feet down. Eventually, the artifacts were turned over to Judge White and were held in his office for a time, serving as his inspiration in obtaining both Works Progress Administration funds and a Civilian Conservation Corps camp for the express purpose of restoring Mission Espiritu Santo.

Eventually, the ornate little cannon and its associated artifacts were installed in the Goliad State Park Museum, where they remain today for all eyes to enjoy.
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Signcut004
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February 18, 2013
Kathryn S. O'Connor's book "Presidio La Bahia" (1966) states that the cannon was in fact recovered at the presidio as opposed to the mission, and due to the fact the presidio was in ruins until 1967, there was no way to safely store them there. The account also discusses Cortes' report dated 1795, in which he explains to the governor that the presidio does have 8 serviceable cannons (all 12/16 pdrs), but none of the soldiers in his garrison are trained in their use, and further requested someone to train them. It also states that Cortes did see two brass cannon near the Trinity River crossing, and requested they be sent to the presidio, and they were. In his report he also mentions Alferez (Lieutenant) Cadena brough 3 more brass cannon from the settlement of Pilar and it was these three Cortes requested permission to melt down, and was denied. This account further states that Cortes wanted to replace the bells at the presidio b/c both were cracked (these two bells are on display in Our Lady of Loreto Chapel). I was just curious about the differences in the O'Connor and Tunnel accounts b/c they do differ in a few significant ways.
Judy Turner
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February 16, 2013
I have several state records noting that it was Samuel Johnson, Harley's brother who did this. There were also two other men that helped Sam. Please feel free to contact me at judylynnturner@gmail.com