Throughout the Benjamin Patterson Inn, there are various powder horns on display. Their primary purpose was to be a container for black gunpowder, but they were often carved and personalized in such a manner that they evolved into a type of early American folk art.
They were usually made from buffalo or ox horns, hence the name “powder horn,” but some were made of other materials such as wood or metal that was bent to mimic the appearance of a horn. A man would usually use a graver to carve the horn, but if none were available then a needle or small knife could also be used. When the engraving was finished, the horn could be rubbed with ash or wax to fill in the markings and make them stand out from the horn.
Powder horns have been used for centuries but were most popular in North America during
the 18th century when they were used by soldiers in the French and Indian war as well as expeditionary groups mapping new territories. They continued to be used into the early 20th century by farmers and hunters, as it was cheaper than buying gunpowder cartridges.
It was common practice for a man to engrave his name in his horn, as well as the date it was made. An example of this can be seen with one horn at the Heritage Village (pictured above), which reads:
Year October 23 AD 1911
Many horns have simple designs but a few have been very intricately carved with maps and landscape scenes. This form of art has been mostly forgotten but it is very valuable to historians as it gives a small glimpse into the minds of the men who may otherwise have been lost to history.
There are more powder horns than those pictured:take a tour of the Heritage Village and see if you can find them all! Tours will be offered Monday–Saturday at 10 am, 12 pm, and 2 pm, throughout the summer.