A Howitzer for the Irish

(July 29, 1849; The St. Louis Wharf)

Lion of the Valley

The riot died down until the mob reassembled that night. Two or three hundred volunteer firefighters and anti-Irish nativists clamored toward Battle Row, toward the wharf, where the Irish immigrant and dock-labor boardinghouses were, pushing a howitzer cannon stolen from a steamboat called the Missouri to show they meant business.

Earlier that day a fistfight broke out after an Irishman heckled the firemen, who were fighting a steamboat blaze that was spreading across the levee. Someone began throwing rocks. Others joined in. Mayhem ensued.

It didn't go so well for the Irish. Outnumbered, they retreated to James O'Brien's saloon, where they defended themselves with weak volleys of pistol fire. When police arrived to cart culprits off to the "calaboose," the saloon was demolished; so was Murphy's Boarding House, Shannon's coffeehouse, Gilligan's on Cherry Street and Terrence Brady's coffeehouse on Fifth and Morgan.

But that was earlier. Back to the howitzer: Having loaded the weapon with "slugs and boiler-iron punchings" — scraps, anything they could find — a madcap contingent lumbered down Morgan Street. Neither the mayor nor the police department (now reinforced by 50 new volunteers) could persuade the mob to give up their cannon. Nothing could. Not even the pouring rain.

(Based on descriptions in Lion of the Valley, by James Neal Primm, and in the Missouri Republican, Tuesday morning, July 31, 1849.)

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