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.