The Legend Of The North Lawrence Cannon

CannonFor the past two years, I have served as the Moderator of the North Lawrence Facebook group. North Lawrence is filled with a colorful cast of characters and events. Several times a month, large and significant booms reverberate through the neighborhood.

When these began, residents flocked to the Facebook group page and attempted to explain these noises. Car engines backfiring, rogue fireworking, and exploding power transformers were all been offered up as viable suggestions. The prevailing theory became that there was an enthusiast who kept a small black powder cannon at his house that would be fired off for entertainment and recreation. However, nobody had ever seen it with their own eyes. The cannon was a ghost, a myth, something only seen by friends of friends.

People would rush to post to the group’s page as soon as they heard the “cannon”. Everybody would try to identify the exact location of the boom, complain about the volume of the boom, and offer up new theories as to the cause of the boom. Within a few weeks, “CANNON!!” became the catchphrase of the North Lawrence Facebook group whenever any noise was heard.

After this went on for awhile, I decided it was time to write a satirical account. Thus The Legend of the North Lawrence Cannon was born.

Below is my original Facebook posting to the group and the Legend in its entirety.

I hope you enjoy this completely true and in no way fabricated whatsoever piece of Lawrence history.

Original Facebook Posting
We’ve gotten a lot of questions about the North Lawrence Cannon in recent weeks. I recently took the time to cull through my notes and make a few trips to the Watkins Museum to research the precise history of the Cannon. I’ve summarized the story and post it here in the hopes it will be a helpful resource to those curious or new to the neighborhood.

Many thanks to all those who provided news clippings, historical documents, and reference books to aid in my research. I was sadly unable to locate any definitive photographs of either cannon, but I maintain hope that some will surface someday.

Information regarding the history of the Cannons is quite scarce. If you have any tips about this fascinating piece of North Lawrence history, please feel free to contact me.

The Legend of the North Lawrence Cannon
As researched by Nick Combs

In the earliest days of Lawrence, North Lawrence was a small town unto itself. Separate from mainland Lawrence to the south, it was known by its original name “Jefferson”.  The founding father of Jefferson, Duke Beauregard, quickly discerned that Lawrence was in a vulnerable position and highly susceptible to attack by pro-slavery Missourians. Deeming it a wise course of action, the Lawrence Mainlanders had no choice but to enter into negotiations with the fine people of Jefferson to come to their aid in times of trouble.

After a period of intense negotiation, Jefferson won the rights to the any future railroad lines and the lucrative grain business in exchange for erected a defensive fort to guard Lawrence.  This fort was located at the ferry crossing, around the present-day location of the bridge crossing. The centerpiece of the fort’s armament were two cannons. The immense expense of purchasing such fine weaponry was raised by the townsfolk of Lawrence and Jefferson through multiple fundraisers, including the selling of the first KU men’s basketball tickets.

The cannons’ intended purpose was to defend the river against the possibility of water based attacks from the foul ruffian Missourians along the mighty Kansas River. Beauregard had the foresight to ensure the cannons were also designed to be highly portable and easily relocated so they could be utilized in the event of a land-based attack.

Multiple raids of Lawrence happened before the infamous Quantrill arrived on the scene. These raids served as marvelous proving grounds for the cannons, repelling the evil attackers from Missouri time and time again. The Jefferson Cannons soon became legendary throughout the region for their prowess in defending Lawrence.

On the morning of Quantrill’s Raid, the alarm was raised and the cannons were quickly re-positioned to aid in the Lawrence’s defense once more. Unfortunately, the legend of the Jefferson Cannons proved to be their downfall. Quantrill was well aware of their existence and had plotted his raiding strategy around them. A group of raiders were dispatched around the northern side of Jefferson, while the bulk of Quantrill’s raiding force headed south to mainland Lawrence. The northern raiding force unfortunately succeeded in reaching the first cannon and promptly destroyed it by placing a large charge of dynamite in the barrel. The second cannon miraculously escaped the raiders’ clutches and was quickly secreted away by North Lawrence residents. It was hidden in a Jefferson church sanctuary where it was deemed safe from Quantrill’s grasp until the raid concluded.

In the aftermath of Quantrill’s devastating raid on Lawrence, the fort was still manned and armed. The remaining cannon was deemed obsolete and never returned to service. After the conclusion of the Civil War, the fort followed a similar fate and was dismantled. The coming years would see the construction of permanent bridges over the Kansas River and the eventual annexation of Jefferson into mainland Lawrence.

The surviving cannon maintains permanent residence in North Lawrence, although its exact location is a closely guarded secret, unknown to all but a few. It is guarded and maintained in fully functional condition by the Keeper of the Cannon. The Keeper of the Cannon is an honorary title, passed down from generation to generation. As a new Keeper is undergoing their apprenticeship program, the Cannon will go dormant until training is fully completed and the new Keeper is deemed worthy of firing the Cannon.

The Cannon is lit utilizing the eternal North Lawrence Flame, which is also maintained by the Keeper of the Cannon. In a manner akin to the Olympic torch, this flame is constant and never ending.

Largely ceremonial in its duties now, the North Lawrence cannon helps guide the wayward animals of North Lawrence safely home. It moves from location to location for each firing, in an effort to cover as much of North Lawrence as possible. Each firing serves as a reminder of the great history of North Lawrence and willingness to come to the aid of our mainland neighbors to the south.


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