The Famous Cannon and the 1928 Incident
By Frank Chamberlain
The cannon that sits in front of the E.J. Howell Building is perhaps Tarleton’s most recognizable landmark. This 1902 model artillery piece was brought to campus in 1922 to serve ROTC training purposes. The cannon was also frequently fired during celebrations and special events until the outbreak of World War II. Firings were ceased because blank ammunition became rather scarce during the war years. Shortly thereafter Dean J. Thomas Davis ordered the muzzle sealed and the barrel welded into a fixed position. In 1946, the cannon was placed in its current location where it has remained stationary and silent for almost 60 years. A campus legend proclaims that it will automatically fire again whenever a virgin walks in front of it. Thus far, observers are still waiting for such a phenomenon to occur.
In 1928, the cannon played a key role in one of Tarleton’s more interesting episodes. Tarleton’s bitter rival, the North Texas Agricultural College, stole the gun during the week of the annual football game. The NTAC students had regularly attempted to vandalize the cannon, but decided to escalate their aggression on this occasion. The invaders intended to do irreparable damage to Tarleton morale by stealing this prized campus symbol and bringing it back to their Arlington campus. Fortunately, the cannon proved extremely difficult to tow, and the bandits were forced to dump their prize into the Basque River right outside of Stephenville. Manual arts instructor E.A. “Doc” Blanchard rescued the cannon from its watery grave by using a tractor to tow the submerged artillery piece to safety. Blanchard then repaired the now-broken wheels by hand, thus guaranteeing that future generations of Tarleton students would be able to derive aesthetic pleasure from this landmark.