The first sermon preached in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 was delivered on July 25 by Elder George A. Smith. He spoke from atop a piece of artillery known in Church history as the "Old Sow" cannon.
The "Old Sow" got its nickname when a sow uncovered the cast-iron barrel in a Nauvoo field where it had been buried to hide it from mobs.The Pioneer company led by Brigham Young had hauled the "Old Sow" a thousand miles to defend themselves, if needed. But on that warm summer morning the makeshift speaker's platform became a symbol of peace and unity.
In Nauvoo, the cast-iron carronade on its well-worn carriage had served ceremonial purposes. The Nauvoo Legion fired it to celebrate American Independence Day and for other events. In Utah, it would likewise symbolize the Latter-day Saints' defense of liberty and truth.
When the "Old Sow's" active service with the Utah militia ended, it became a mascot of the militia's veterans association. Sometime around the turn of the century, the carronade found a home in the Deseret Museum, and later, in the old Bureau of Information on Temple Square.
A popular item with visitors, the "Old Sow" will be seen again in a major new exhibit on Church history, opening this spring at the Museum of Church History and Art, 45 N. West Temple Street.
To prepare the "Old Sow" for exhibition, the museum invited Jess McCall, curator at the Fort Douglas Museum in Salt Lake City, to conserve the historic artifact.
McCall identified it not as a true cannon (which is longer and heavier), but as a short-barreled, low-muzzle-velocity carronade, built for shipboard use. It was probably cast in New York, he said, sometime between 1790 and 1810. The bore will carry a 12-pound solid shot.
The "Old Sow's" wooden carriage, says McCall, was made between 1812 and 1820 for another artillery system and later modified for the carronade. McCall repainted the carriage its original blue-gray color.
Just how the carronade got to Nauvoo is a question not fully resolved. It probably saw military action during the War of 1812 and then landed in New Orleans. Later, Nauvoo blacksmith James Lawson purchased it for scrap. It was requisitioned for the Nauvoo Legion and an existing carriage was altered to accept it.
According to one account, when Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford disarmed the saints in June 1844, several women buried the carronade in a field where the old sow and her litter discovered it.
Several other versions of the story survived to explain the origin and naming of the carronade. Though they differ in time and place, all of them agree on how the piece was named.
The black carronade is identical to those on board the U.S. naval vessel Hamilton, a ship that sank in 1813 on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812.
Very few carronades of this size were cast, and only a handful have survived. Thus, McCall says, the "Old Sow" is extremely rare and of great interest to military historians.
Museum curators plan to examine five other artillery pieces in their collection to determine dates and histories, if possible. In addition to "Old Sow," the museum has two large cannons and three smaller ones, one of them a tiny brass cannon.