The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Medford's Cannon

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German Cannon for Medford.
    Washington, Jan. 27.--Congressman Hawley introduced in the House of Representatives January 18 the following bill, which was referred to the committee on military affairs:
    A bill authorizing the Secretary of War to donate to the city of Medford, Jackson County, in the state of Oregon, one German cannon or field piece.
    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in congress assembled, that the Secretary of War be, and [illegible] American army from the forces of the imperial German government during the present war.

Jacksonville Post, February 1, 1919, page 1

    A souvenir of the World War, in the shape of one of the big cannon, German or Austrian, captured by the American or allied forces, and possibly some other captured ordnance, is on its way to Medford, a gift to this city, which when it arrives will be given a place of honor, probably in the city park.
    About two years ago it was announced by the War Department that it would have a large quantity of captured cannon and the like to give away to the cities in each state which wanted them and would pay the freight on whatever was sent from the eastern seaboard. Then Adjutant General George A. White of Oregon, who had charge of the distribution of this state's allotment, sounded out the various cities and towns of the state wanting such souvenirs of the great war, and which were willing to pay freight. Then it was that Medford sent word that it would be glad to take whatever was given this city and would pay freight on the same. The matter has been hanging fire ever since--at least Medford is still awaiting the arrival of the war gifts, but it is understood that the cannon, etc., are en route from the East.
    The freight for Medford's allotted share of this captured ordnance will not be very much, as all the Oregon souvenirs of that nature are being shipped via the Panama Canal.
    The matter came up hurriedly for a moment at the city council meeting last week along with a stress of other business. None of the city officials seemed to understand the reason of the long delay, or the exact status of the matter, except that they had heard the ordnance was now on the way or about to be shipped.
    The city councilmen expressed, offhand, their willingness to pay the freight and delegated Mayor Alenderfer to look after the matter and find out just exactly what's doing in relating to it.
    And there the matter seems to still stand.
Medford Mail Tribune, April 8, 1928, page 8

    An offer from General George A. White to furnish the city with a 77-millimeter gun and carriage for $59 delivered at Medford.  [Purchase was authorized.]
Medford city council minutes, May 15, 1928, volume 6, page 371

A German 77 on the grounds of the Woodstock, Canada courthouse.

    Mayor O. O. Alenderfer has received word that the final allotment of a 77-millimeter gun and carriage, captured during the World War, has been made by the government for Medford and will be shipped by water from Raritan Arsenal at New York in a few days.
    This war trophy will be mounted in the city park.
    This trophy was secured through the efforts of Brigadier General George A. White.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 15, 1928, page 2

    A French "75" cannon destined as a war trophy for Medford arrived in Portland last Friday, and is expected to arrive in Medford early this week. [It was actually a German 77mm gun.] The cannon, which saw actual service in the World War in the [German] army, will either be placed in the city park or at the armory, according to present plans. Before being sent to Medford, the cannon was made unfit for future use by destroying the bore of the large weapon.
Medford Mail Tribune, July 23, 1928, page 3

A German 77 in the French village of Pozières, relic of the Battle of the Somme.

    That long-anticipated relic of the World War that the War Department has given to Medford is here at last--in fact has been for a week or over--lying in the warehouse of the city on Jackson Street, awaiting a decision as to whether it shall be repaired, or placed on the lawn of the public library in its present condition.
    This souvenir of the great world struggle is a [77-millimeter] cannon, and best of all a captured German army gun in a dilapidated condition because of being badly used in battle, one wheel badly broken and its sides badly scarred by missiles, which had struck it in battle.
    Some city officials think it should be repaired and possibly repainted, but others hold that it would be a much better appreciated relic in its present condition. City superintendent Fred Scheffel said today that inasmuch as it has been practically decided to mount the gun on the city library lawn, the decision as to whether the gun should be repaired, or left as it is, will probably be left with the library board.
Medford Mail Tribune, August 5, 1928, page 5

    With the exception of the usual mischievous pranks, Hallowe'en passed by quietly in Medford, and today the police department commended local youngsters in refraining from the needless destruction of property. The more brave groups of Hallowe'en revelers moved signs to out-of-way places, soaped store windows and car windows, deflated automobile tires, turned on water hydrants, removed loose articles in front yards, etc.
    One group, braver than the rest, moved the old German cannon war relic in the city park to the high school, where the cannon was placed on the front steps. The cannon was moved in the early morning hours and was first missed when city employees found it missing from its place in the park.
"Medford in Quiet Zone Halloween," Medford Mail Tribune, November 1, 1928, page 6

    Hallowe'en parties kept other pranksters indoors for a large share of the evening, but they took part in some mischievousness when the parties were over. The police made no arrests and had no trouble in preventing any serious damage. The cannon in the park was not moved to the high school as it was last year, as since that time the piece of artillery was anchored in a foundation of concrete and it was placed there to stay.
"Minor Damage Is Reported Result Hallowe'en Night," Medford Mail Tribune, November 1, 1929, page 3

    A shell-scarred World War I cannon went back to the wars Saturday when Mayor H. S. Deuel, representing the people of Medford, presented the historic relic to Major Lyman V. Williamson, Camp White salvage officer, as the city's contribution to signalize the start of an Army drive by Camp White officials for urgently needed scrap metals.
    The gun, containing nearly a ton of vital war material, was presented to the city of Medford in 1920 [sic] by the Medford American Legion post and has been resting in dignity and honor in the city park since that time.
"Jackson County Scrap Metal Will Be Gathered by Army, All Citizens Asked to Aid," Medford Mail Tribune, September 27, 1942, page 1

Medford Mail Tribune, September 28, 1942

Medford Mail Tribune, September 27, 1942, page 1. The only known photograph of the German gun.

Medford Mail Tribune, October 5, 1942

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Medford's parks were cannonless through World War II and for several years afterwards. There is no known mention of a field gun in Medford parks--in neither city records nor in local newspapers--until this small mention appears, buried in a column in the Medford News, in 1950:

SUBJECT . . . for a candid camera was the group of three around the cannon in the City Park (not Hawthorne, on the east side). They were Ed Milne, son and daughter. No camera in sight, however.
Sallie Butler, "Sallying Forth," Medford News,
April 28, 1950, page 3

And there is no known subsequent mention until the Japanese gun disappears from the park nineteen years later.

So why the mystery? Shouldn't there be an article about the grand dedication ceremony for Medford's war memorial? Shouldn't there have been articles about the gun's acquisition, about its installation?

Perhaps, but there aren't. I've read the Medford city council minutes and all other relevant surviving city records, I've contacted former parks directors and employees, and I've read both Medford newspapers for the period.

There is no mention of the Japanese gun in the
Medford Mail Tribune's "Local and Personal" column, which recorded building permits, broken bones, lost wallets, stolen bicycles and hubcaps, residents' surgeries, out-of-town visitors and club meetings. Nor does the competing Medford News mention the gun before or after the tiny, almost tangential 1950 mention above.

There is no mention of ordering the cannon, its arrival, installation or dedication in surviving city documents. Medford city council minutes for 1949 mention donation of a fountain (page 181), a statue (page 441) and a flagpole (page 449) for Medford parks, but there's no mention of the Japanese howitzer. Purchase of the gun may have been through the "special playground equipment fund" or similar fund mentioned, but not itemized, in the minutes.

The article below, printed in the League of Oregon Cities newsletter, offers our only clue to the lack of news about the gun:

    Guns and tanks for war monuments or memorials are available to municipal governments for the cost of packaging, demilitarization and shipping. The Chief of Ordnance, Army Department, Washington 25, D.C. may be contacted for a list of available surplus equipment. As an example of demilitarization and packing costs, a 155 mm howitzer weighing approximately 11,000 pounds can be prepared for shipment for $35. Tacoma, Washington is the location nearest to Oregon cities from which most of the items can be shipped.
News Letter, League of Oregon Cities, November 18, 1948, page 2

When the above item ran in the LOC newsletter, Medford's mayor, Clarence A. Meeker, was a vice-president of the LOC board. Apparently Meeker saw the opportunity, had city staff write a check from petty cash (or paid it himself), and ordered us a cannon--a Type 41 75mm mountain gun.

Upon its arrival, it was apparently placed in the park without ceremony. Like the original World War I gun, it wasn't a war memorial, it was just a war relic--simply a piece of park furniture. Worse, the Japanese gun was a replacement piece of furniture--nothing much worth mentioning, especially in a country so sick of war that its four-year occupation of Germany rarely made the local newspapers, its seven-year occupation of Japan almost never.

But the Japanese gun did occasionally make the news:

Almost Given to Museum
Saga of Library Park Cannon
Mail Tribune
Staff Writer
    A little more than a year ago a most noticeable void developed in the grounds of Medford's downtown Library Park.
    At least the change was one of prominence to natives of the area.
    The cannon was missing!
    Had the war relic been stolen?
    A check with the city park director quickly alleviated such fears. He revealed that he had ordered it removed for restoration work.
To Be Returned
    The director had added that the ancient cannon was to be returned following restoration to either the Library Park or the new Bear Creek Park.
    It was still missing last week.
    Then Medford Mayor William Singler received a telephone call from a representative of the Jacksonville Museum offering its appreciation for the city having presented the cannon to the museum.
    Hizzoner flipped!
    The museum representative went on to inquire of the mayor when the cannon could be picked up by museum personnel.
    A quick cease and desist was requested of the museum by the mayor, and the city's chain of command pressed into motion.
    After checking with appropriate departments the mayor was advised that a city official had approved the "gift" of the cannon to the museum because "it was taking up too much room in the city's warehouse."

    The mayor's slow burn was further fanned and an ultimatum issued: "The cannon is not to be moved until further orders from city hall."
    The mayor then advised the appropriate city personnel "If the cannon is to be given away a vote of the city council will approve the gift."
    "This cannon is the property of the people of the city of Medford, and if it's to be discarded, then they will do it, not any one city official," he asserted.
    The history of the cannon dates back to World War I, with the first of two cannons shipped to Medford in 1928. The first was a German piece captured in the war.
    During World War II the people of Medford donated the gun to the war effort, and it was melted down.
    A second cannon, this a Japanese gun, was captured in the Second World War and placed in the park following the war--as a replacement for the cannon melted down for the scrap iron value.
    Over the years the cannon has felt the ravages of time leading one veteran of World War II, who had been on the receiving end of the gun, to comment:
    "I have often thought the little gun would look better if it were cleaned up, the tube (barrel) elevated to a normal appearance, and maybe a coat of paint.
    "The weapon disassembles easily," he added.
    A return to its appointed place in the park complete with new paint may be the ultimate disposition of Medford's traditional cannon.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 18, 1969, page 1

LIBRARY PARK CANNON.  Mayor Singler reported that he had received a telephone call from a representative of the Jacksonville Museum offering its appreciation to the City for having presented the cannon to the museum. Mr. Singler told the council that the cannon is the property of the people of Medford, and if the cannon is to be given away a vote of the city council should approve the gift. The cannon had been removed from the Library Park more than a year ago for restoration work and had been stored in the City's warehouse. Councilman Morris would like the history of the cannon and its significance to Medford.
Medford city council minutes May 19, 1969, volume 16, page 275

Medford Mail Tribune, July 3, 1969, page 1.  SOHS has an original print of this photo, reproduced above from microfilm.

The Japanese gun, circa 2008.

The gun after being refurbished by Eagle Scout Jeffrey Adams, Jacksonville, completed May 2009. Photos taken May 2010.

Markings on the barrel, just forward of the shield. The two kanji on the right read "one" and "four." The second from the left is "yama"--"mountain." While I haven't found translations for the first and third characters; the U.S. War Department's Handbook on Japanese Military Forces TM-E 30-480 translates the inscription as "41 model mountain gun" (up through the end of the war Japanese was read right to left). If anyone can complete the translation--or correct my translations--please contact me by clicking on "Home," above.

The breech.
The top line of kanji reads, from left, (as near as I can determine) "manufacture" "year" "five" "ten." The remaining five kanji on the top line translate as "Showa"--the reign of Hirohito. So my translation of the top line is "Manufactured the fifteenth year of Hirohito's reign," 1940.
The bottom line reads something like "factory" "mill" "Osaka." 

Brass identification plate, right side of breech. The inscription is the same as above, with the addition of two kanji immediately after "Manufacture" for "month" and "two"--February.

Brass identification plate, on the trail. This plate reads the same as the breech plate, above, with the addition of a couple ideograms. The one to the left of "No. 1244" I think means "nine"; I couldn't figure out what the small marks to the right of "Osaka" mean.


Last revised January 9, 2023