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Knowing Nevada: Searching for the 'real' Fremont cannon

The Fremont Cannon in the Fremont Gallery at the Nevada State Museum. Owned by Nevada State Museum.
The Fremont Cannon in the Fremont Gallery at the Nevada State Museum. Owned by Nevada State Museum.
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It's a trophy that's bounced back in forth across Nevada for half a century. You can find it either on the campuses of the University of Nevada, Reno or UNLV. In 2020, it's finally made its way back up north.

The Fremont cannon remains to be the prize of college football rivalry and historical trailblazing.

Not many realize the one that's painted either red or blue is actually a replica of Fremont's original cannon. It's a symbol for the howitzer cannon that accompanied a military captain and explorer John C. Fremont, on his journey through several states, including Nevada, from 1843-44.

Who is John C. Fremont?

John Charles Fremont was an American military officer, map-maker, politician and explorer. Cities, geographical locations, streets, and even cannons have held his last name across the western United States.

In the 1840's, Fremont led five expeditions across the western U.S.

He and his crew didn't make it to Nevada until their second expedition during the years of 1843 and 1844. 40 men, including the famed Kit Carson, travelled from Missouri in search of a trail to the Pacific Ocean.

This initial expedition took him across what would soon be northern Nevada. They would travel through notable areas such as Pyramid Lake, the Carson River, the Sierra and even Lake Tahoe. History books say Fremont was the one who possibly 'coined the names for Pyramid Lake and the Carson River, in conjunction with their native names from the Washoe, Shoshone and Northern Piatue tribes.'

Fremont was said to have headed south towards the Sierra. He actually made his was from Sacremento - to the area near Los Angeles by the Pacific Ocean. He then turned east to head back towards Missouri. Books note Fremont traveled into the desert what we now know as Las Vegas and noted the many creatures and dry conditions in at least two novels.

Along this expedition, a cannon was carried along for protection. This cannon was somehow, and somewhere, lost during the trek.

Where is the real Fremont Cannon?

In 2013, remains of the cannon were put on display at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City, NV. However, the parts on display was just the barrel superimposed between a carriage made by the team there.

Historical curators say archaeologists and treasure hunters have been searching the mountains across the Great Basin in search of the remaining parts of this cannon.

"It was lost during a brutal snowstorm in 1844," one author wrote. "Add in melted snow, nobody in the party turning back for the cannon, and years of erosion to Nevada's mountains...'chalk that up' as possibly more worse than finding a needle in a hay-stack."

Later, both crews of historians and hunters would find pieces and bits of the cannon and bring them on display at various western museums across the country. Lucky for us, the Nevada State Museum got the lions share of the treasure.

The Nevada State Museum curator Mary Covington tells me they plan to re-do their exhibit of John C. Fremont when the museum plans to re-open in either December or when COVID-19 restrictions become less needed.

At this time, no other parts have resurfaced, or at least that we know.

Archaeologists and historians tell me the search for more parts of the cannon is ongoing.

I may've not found more parts but I did find a few out a few things during my research. I realized the reason Fremont and his team of explorers choose to leave this weapon behind was to simply make the sacrifice and save their lives from hypothermia or worse. For me, I found it that it's not easy to find something that history says exists, but you're limited by life-saving precautions (COVID-19) to get a closer look at it.

So - I guess both Fremont's ghost and myself can share the understanding that sometimes the smallest thing as leaving behind a cannon or the temporary closing of a museum has been proven to be life-saving.

Knowing Nevada is a historical heritage series that highlights some of the interesting, unknown, and known, tales about the state of Nevada. This series is researched and put together by our own native Nevadan, Miles Buergin. If you have any suggestions for our next Knowing Nevada, please e-mail him at:

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