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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Cannon Fodder

On the grounds of the Pagoda, which houses the offices of the Evansville Convention & Visitors Bureau in Downtown Evansville, sits a four-pound cannon mounted on a limestone block. It was purchased by Evansville resident Captain Henry T. Dexter during the Civil War, says Leigh Eubanks, an Indiana University history major who interns at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science.

A steamboat captain piloting a route including the cities of Evansville, Cairo, Illinois, and Paducah, Kentucky, Dexter purchased the cannon to protect his boat, the Charley Bowen, from Confederate guerrilla bands on the Kentucky shore. Dexter flew the American flag on his steamship and was targeted by the Confederate forces.

“There were a few times where it came in handy,” says Eubanks. “The steamboat actually went to Shiloh, Tennessee, after the battle there. Dexter delivered people to help the wounded soldiers as well as goods, medical supplies, and such.”

A native of West Virginia, Dexter moved to Evansville to start a steamship line. On the limestone monument is a quote the captain is rumored to have said when he arrived; “We have come to stay.”

After the war, Dexter planted the cannon in his yard and used it as a hitching post. When he died in 1872, his friends and acquaintances dug the cannon up and mounted it on the limestone block. In 1910, it was placed in the intersection of Main and Water streets with great fanfare. Before it was removed, the monument was used to record flood levels. The mark for Evansville’s 1884 flood level was added to the limestone block before its dedication and can still be seen today.

The cannon was placed into storage in the early 1930s after the Board of Parks & Recreation acquired it. It made its next appearance in front of the board’s machine shop in 1942 during World War II with a sign reading: “Bring on the Japs!”

Eubanks says the museum acquired the cannon in 1969; it moved several times around the waterfront before finally settling in its current location in front of the Pagoda, next to the museum.

For more information about the cannon, contact the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science at 812-425-2406 or visit emuseum.org.

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