Who Needs Fireworks?

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Pioneers are famous for their ingenuity, and when it comes to celebrations, that pioneering spirit led to some crazy traditions. The 4th of July has been a treasured American holiday since we won our independence back in 1776 and our western forebears were determined to celebrate it with all the excitement it deserved.

Shooting the anvilWestern communities would often hold picnics for the 4th. People would gather from miles around to share in baking contests, horse races, children’s games, and lots of good eatin’. Yet they had no fireworks to shoot off in honor of the big day. A handful of rowdy cowboys might ride through town shooting off their guns, but that was nothing special. They needed something big. Something spectacular. Something so phenomenal, the womenfolk would all run for cover.

And that is how the art of anvil shooting was born.

No one knows which blacksmith was crazy enough to start the tradition, but it quickly caught on and became a staple of 19th century July 4th celebrations in the south.

First, you need two well-matched anvils then about a pound of black powder and a fuse. Turn the first anvil upside down on a flat, solid surface. Fill the hollow in the base with the black powder and add the fuse. Often a playing card would be placed over the powder to serve as a washer. Finally, the second anvil, or flier, would be placed right side up atop the first anvil, fitting base to base.

Once everyone was ready, the blacksmith (or other brave individual) would light the fuse and everyone would scurry to a safe distance. When the powder lit, the explosion would shake the ground and send the anvil up to 200 feet in the air. Once the anvil landed it could be shot again, and again, until the supply of powder ran out.

To carry on the tradition, when blacksmiths gather today at large conventions, anvils are usually shot. In fact, the video below is by a world champion anvil shooter.

As you celebrate the 4th of July today, enjoy your family and friends, and when those fireworks explode, you might look out for falling anvils!

  • What are your favorite 4th of July traditions?
Karen Witemeyer
For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

18 Comments

  1. All I can say is ‘WOW”! Never would have thought you could shoot an anvil like that and for it to pretty much go straight up and straight down. Thank you for sharing!

    Happy Birthday America!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  2. I am NOT showing this to my Mississippi Redneck boys.

    No way, now how!

  3. Crazy, isn’t it, Cindy? I’m not sure I’d want to bring the kids out for that one. Reminds me a bit of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. LOL, Pam! That’s probably a wise choice. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. This looks very dangerous. Maybe that’s why men love it. Plus, they like to scare womenfolk. LOL Very crazy. I have my flag flying in front of my house and that’s enough for me. Love, love this country! So glad I live here.

    Wishing you a wonderful 4th!

    Happy Birthday, America!!!!!

  6. Our church holds a Christ-centered patriotic celebration the week before the 4th of July with the choir in a Living Flag. I have sung in the flag many times and consider it a fun part of my Fourth of July celebration and I was to thank God for the freedoms I enjoy!

  7. Oops! That was supposed to say “a way to celebrate”

  8. Our son holds an Annual Fourth of July Corn on a Stick Party which has 60 to 80 people attending followed by fireworks!!

    My favorite Fourth Tradition has to be the fireworks!

  9. Hi, Linda. Yes, it does look dangerous. Especially if the shooters had been “celebrating” early with some liquid refreshment. Shudder.

    We are very blessed to live in this great country. I heartily agree.

  10. Melissa – That living flad sounds so cool! I’ve sung in several choirs over my lifetime, and patriotic music always stirs me when sung in a large group. Beautiful!

  11. Hey, Sherri. Crazy, isn’t it? But it’s just so perfect for the frontier spirit. I’m going to have to work that into a book someday. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Insane!!! When my husband took a certification course for firing cannons he learned how to shoot anvils. He’s now a proud member of the crew who does reenactment cannon shooting for Fort Rosecrans, San Pasqual battlefield, and the Mormon Battalion Pioneer Day Celebration ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Hi Karen,
    I sure wouldn’t want to be around flying anvils! Crazy!

    Have a great fourth!

  14. Wow! What a post! Family, food, and fireworks sum up our 4th of July celebration.

  15. When I was growing up, our traditions centered around my community. Our small town in Calif. had a huge celebration with a big parade – floats, bike riders, marching, etc. and i was always part of that. When I grew up and lived away from home, it was always changing. Then, as a mom, we did various things depending on where we lived. Now, as an empty nester, my hubby and I usually go to the Oregon coast (about 45 min. from us) and walk around the cute shops, have lunch and have a leisurely drive. It’s gorgeous & a nice day to spend together!

  16. Karen…I have NEVER heard of this…I’m just astonished. That has to be one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever heard of–and it sure makes you wonder who thought it up to begin with…and who kept the tradition alive! LOL

    Well, there’s no doubt about it–I would surely be running for cover. That had to be a huge blast.

    Thanks so much for this post–I had no idea! Hope you’ve had a wonderful 4th of July!

    Cheryl

  17. Heidi – He actually learned how to fire anvils? Cool! maybe we can get him to do a demonstration sometime. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Margaret – I’d definitely be ducking for cover!

    Melanie – Sounds perfect to me!

    Valri – How nice that you and your hubby are making your own new traditions now that your kids are out of the house. The day sounds lovely!

    Cheryl – It’s amazing what crazy stunts people will try. Just shows American ingenuity – or insanity – one of the two. ๐Ÿ™‚

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