Lil’ Smokey retired, replaced by new cannon

Courtesy of
Media Relations

   A tradition that began 42 years ago came to an end Oct. 9 when Lil’ Smokey, a hand-tooled 25-pound cannon, fired its last round at a University of Arkansas at Monticello football game.

Courtesy of
Media Services
The Last Round —  Tony Freeman of Monticello, a sophomore education major and member of the Knights Cannon Honor Guard, poses with Lil’ Smokey, a cannon that has been fired at UAM football games since 1962.
   The cannon will be officially retired during a halftime ceremony as part of UAM’s homecoming observance this Saturday. Lil’ Smokey will permanently rest in the trophy case at UAM’s Steelman Fieldhouse, but the boom of cannon fire will continue at Convoy Leslie-Cotton Boll Stadium.

   A new cannon will be dedicated and fired Oct. 30, continuing a tradition that started when the Knights, a men’s service organization at what was then Arkansas A&M College, touched off the first round of cannon fire during a game between the Boll Weevils and Ouachita Baptist College on Oct. 13, 1962.

   Fired at the start of games and after touchdowns and victories, Lil’ Smokey has been a long-standing tradition for generations of UAM students.

   A former machinist for Potlatch Corp. in Warren and the husband of current UAM employee Dr. Debbie Bryant, Morris Dean Bryant built the original Lil' Smokey. Bill Higgins, father of A&M All-American fullback Ronnie Higgins, asked Bryant to build a cannon to be fired at Boll Weevil football games.

   “Morris Dean was aware that cannon accidents at football games were not uncommon so he was especially careful with the thickness and machining of the firing chamber and barrel to avoid any unwanted accidents,” Debbie Bryant said. “When I was an honorary coach several years ago, Morris and I looked at the cannon to see if it was the same one. The stand wasn’t the one he had made, but the cannon was the same one. He is delighted to know that it will be preserved.”

   The Knights added a second cannon, “Big Smokey,” to their arsenal in 1966 and both cannons have been fixtures at UAM games ever since. Firing Lil’ Smokey requires a fuse, a healthy portion of black powder and cotton stuffing. Larry Smith, the current sports information director at Arkansas Tech, served as UAM's sports information director and the sponsor of the Knights in the 1960s and ’70s.

   “We used about three cans of black power each season,” Smith said. “We never had any accidents, but you sure didn’t stand in front of that thing when it went off. It would knock you over. We never had anybody try to steal it, but we kept a pretty close eye on both cannons.”

   Smith said the Knights used to take Lil’ Smokey to all the Boll Weevils’ road games, a practice that stopped sometime in the 1970s. Tighter rules in the NCAA and Gulf South Conference have limited the number of times UAM’s cannons can be fired during games to before kickoff, at halftime and at the end of the game.

   And while Lil’ Smokey may sit quietly in a trophy case in Steelman Fieldhouse, the echo of cannon fire will continue at UAM football games.

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