Professor learns powder horn he found in '50s was stolen, returns it
A University of Pittsburgh anthropology professor returned an ornate, Colonial-era powder horn to the Western Massachusetts museum from which it vanished in 1949.
James Richardson, a Pitt professor emeritus of anthropology and curator emeritus of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Oakland, said that as a young man in the 1950s living in Longmeadow, Mass., he found the horn in the town dump, which he searched for unusual items.
“There was this big trunk full of stuff that was on fire, and some stuff had spilled out of it onto the ground, so I started kicking around in the burning leaves and I kicked out the horn,” Richardson told The Recorder in Greenfield, Mass.
A powder horn is an animal horn, usually from a cow or ox, that was used to store gunpowder. Uncertain of its origin, Richardson, 77, kept the horn for decades. This year, he took the piece to a curator and military historian for appraisal.
“He told me it had been recorded in the 1930s and '40s at the museum in Deerfield,” Richardson told the Trib in a phone interview. “He said, ‘You better make sure you have clear title to it.' ”
When Richardson called the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association's Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, about 40 miles from Longmeadow, to ask about the horn, he learned of its disappearance 65 years ago.
“I was shocked,” said museum curator Suzanne Flynt, who talked to Richardson in March.
The horn, originally owned by Jonathan Smead of Greenfield, north of Deerfield, was put back on display on Wednesday in the Memorial Hall Museum.
Richardson said the museum's staff was excited to have the artifact.
“Ethically and morally, it should be returned,” he said. “So that's what I did.”
When the horn was stolen, the museum had no curator and no security system. The recovered horn is in a sealed case, equipped with an alarm.
The museum has a collection of 12 other powder horns, but none as intricate as the Smead horn. It includes his name, the date he commissioned the carvings — July, 2, 1760 — and images of deer, mermaids, ships and fish.
The horn was made at the British fort of Crown Point, where Smead served in the militia, Flynt said.
“The artistry on the horn is magnificent. It must have been done by an artist-soldier who had a lot of experience doing this sort of thing and was serving in the militia with John Smead,” she said.
Richardson moved to Pittsburgh in 1967 to join the Pitt faculty and still lives in the area.
Corinne Kennedy is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7823 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.