Montana Man Wants Cannon Back; Oklahoma Museum Says No

Saturday, March 17th 2007, 2:09 pm
By: News On 6

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) _ A cannon used in the country's bloodiest war in now at the center of another fight.

Neither side is willing to surrender this time, however.

Norman DeNeal of Butte wants a Civil War cannon that spent nearly 60 years in the Columbia Gardens returned to the Mining City, but an artillery museum at Fort Sill, Okla., won't release the artifact.

``Fort Sill has possession of the cannon and there are no plans to release it to any civilians anytime soon,'' said Emily Kelley, media officer with the U.S. Army's Fort Sill National Landmark.

In 1903, the cannon was given to Lincoln Post No. 2, a Civil War veterans group, at the behest of copper king and former U.S. Sen. William A. Clark, said DeNeal, a master gardener and Butte-Silver Bow County's urban forester.

Clark owned the Columbia Gardens until his death in 1925 when ownership of the park went to the Anaconda Co., DeNeal said.

The Anaconda Co. donated the cannon to the museum at Fort Sill on March 7, 1960, when Butte's Civil War veterans were deceased.

DeNeal believes the cannon didn't belong to the company and that it should be returned to Butte where a large population of Civil War veterans once lived.

``There's nothing that says the government can take this back,'' he said.

The U.S. Army sees it differently. Kelley said military artifacts such as cannons will always belong to the government.

``A community might have them, but those things are still property of the U.S. Army,'' she said.

DeNeal has been unable to find any laws supporting the museum's claim, however.

``I've talked to three attorneys and none of them know of any such law,'' he said.

DeNeal plans to continue discussions with the museum and District 11 Commissioner Cindi Shaw, a historian, has joined the effort to bring the 5,920-pound cannon back to Butte.

``It's part of Butte history and it's part of the history that locals can remember,'' she said. ``It's alive in their memories.''

Longtime area residents such as DeNeal, 60, remember playing war at the cannon, which he said was always a popular Butte landmark where youngsters had their picture taken.

The cannon was built for coastline defense and was used on Angel Island near San Francisco. During the Civil War, the Union Army put the cannon on a barge that patrolled the Mississippi River, DeNeal said.

When the cannon arrived to Butte, Civil War veterans gathered every year on Independence Day to fire the cannon. The veterans fired the gun at midnight to kick off the holiday celebrations.

``As the clock on the courthouse announced the hour of midnight the deafening roar of (the) cannon was heard, salutes were fired with anvils, and rockets and paper balloons filled the heavens,'' according to a July 4, 1906, article in the Butte Miner. ``All Butte entered into the spirit of the demonstration and the nation's birthday was revived with everything that could be utilized for the occasion.''

If he succeeds in returning the cannon to Butte, DeNeal said it likely would be placed on the northeast corner of Granite and Arizona on a vacant lot he wants to develop into a park and garden.