The Cannons

The following links and narrative provide useful
information on all three cannons of Arch Cape.

The Original Cannon and the USS Schooner Shark

Trouble plagued the arrival of the ship to present-day Astoria. Anxiety over the boundary question–involving the United States and Great Britain–had started rumors among settlers that war was near and that the arrival of the Shark was a war precaution and not a survey mission. The crew members, weary from long months at sea, began deserting, and replacements were unobtainable. Hard as they tried, the officers were unable to bribe the townspeople of the Astor Colony to divulge the hiding places of the deserters.

On September 10, without taking proper precautions, the vessel weighed anchor. Crossing the bar, she struck the outlying fangs of Clatsop Spit, this time with a death-dealing blow. The waters were not calm as on her inward trek, and the ship shuddered and trembled while mounting breakers drove into her wooden hull. With her weight fastening her to the bottom, she was working on the sands.

Captain Schenck was gravely concerned. He ordered the three masts chopped down and all twelve of the ship’s cannon jettisoned in an effort to get the ship off the spit. But before these acts could be carried out, the ship began to break up. All hands were ordered to the boats. During the night, the wreck was battered to pieces, parts of it drifting out over the bar. Evidently the crew did not jettison all the cannon, for a large section of the wreck came ashore in the area of present-day Arch Cape, south of Cannon Beach. Fortunately, the crew of the Shark all reached safety and were looked after by the citizens of the Astor Colony.

In October 1846, Lieutenant Howison received information through the Tillamook people that part of the ship’s hull “with guns upon it,” had come ashore south of Tillamook Head. The lieutenant sent Midshipman Simes to visit the location. Simes reported finding the wreckage and succeeded in “getting one cannon above the high-water mark,” while two others were left buried.

Then in December 1863, mail carrier John Hobson reported seeing a cannon at present-day Arch Cape Creek. Soon after, this cannon became lost when tides buried it in sand. In June 1898, however, it was spotted once again-this time by mail carrier George Luce. With the help of his Nehalem neighbors John and Mary Gerritse and their team of horses, Luce succeeded in pulling the cannon out of the sand, after which time it stood in front of the Austin House Post Office in Arch Cape for several years.

{Portions of this narrative were excerpted from Pacific Graveyard, by James A. Gibbs, 1993.}

Where is the cannon now?

All of these things took their toll on the community’s artifacts.  By the mid-2000’s the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum became the cannon and capstan’s new home.

In 2012, the state of both of the artifacts became apparent.  Both artifacts had begun to oxidize, and we knew, as stewards of these artifacts, that it was up to us to do something. In particular, pieces of the capstan were turning to dust.

As soon as the funds were raised both artifacts were sent to Texas A&M University to undergo an extensive conservation process.  The CBHCM didn’t think, we knew we just had to ensure that the artifacts were saved from the rust eating away at them.

In 2014, upon the artifacts return, the concept of preservation came to our attention.  The humidity and temperature changes of the Oregon Coast were not conducive to ensuring that the artifacts would not rust again.  After the painstaking work of those who conserved the artifacts, and with the community watching, it was clear that we had to display these artifacts with the best possible standards.

The cannon and capstan are now both enclosed inside the museum with a new exhibit that will control the proper humidity, temperature, and light exposure so that generations of Oregonians can visit this town icon. Although the exhibit is still under construction, both artifacts can still be viewed. Donations are still being accepted to help finish the exhibit.

While we are aware that this item is considered a “weapon” to some, it has become a symbol of our town as recognized as Haystack Rock, but perhaps not as photographed.