What: A powder horn carried black powder used to make guns fire. Made of the horn from a well-fed oxen, cow or bullock, the powder horn was lightweight and spark proof. It was also air and water tight to protect the powder. Buffalo horns were difficult to use as were underfed oxen, cows and bullocks. The horns of these animals were more brittle and more likely to break. To make the powder horn, the inside and out were scraped and polished by hand to make the horn translucent. This allowed the user to see how much powder was left in the horn.
A wooden butt plug was made for the larger end where the powder was poured to fill the horn. Sometimes these larger plugs were permanent. It all depended on the equipment available to make a removable plug. Most of the powder horns made on the frontier had permanent plugs on the large end. The one in the picture is permanent. The smaller tip had a hole bored into it for a spout to pour the black powder into the gun. The plug was fitted to the hole.
Sometimes fancy brass fittings were used for the pouring spout and plug. Ridges were carved into the horn to attach a carrying strap. Some people decorated their powder horn with fancy carvings called scrimshaw. Others only put their name or initials to identify the owner. The initials in the bottom photo are that of Anson Perry Winsor, the first ranch manager here at Pipe Spring.
Who: Pioneers used the powder horns until guns which did not need the black powder were available. Indians who had some of these early black powder guns had powder horns, too.
Last updated: February 24, 2015