Toward the end of the 19th century, there was a fascination with objects representing the West and the frontier. Furniture made out of horns became popular for this reason.
Horn furniture was largely a product of the late 1800s and early 1900s, often made for sale and distribution in the East.
A collection of five pieces of horn furniture made by Charles Calwell of Wetmore, Kansas, is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History. Calwell donated the furniture in 1975, sending along a letter containing information about himself and his furniture:
My name is Charles Augustus Calwell. I was born in Illinois on April 30, 1873 and celebrated my 102nd birthday anniversary yesterday, April 30, 1975. My wife is Nancy Ellen (Ella) Calwell, born in Iowa on August 14, 1875 and will be 100 years of age August 14, 1975. We came to Kansas with our parents when we were small children, migrating in a covered wagon prairie schooner to Nemaha County Kansas and resided at Wetmore, Kansas until 1927 when we moved to Topeka and have resided in our present home for some 47 years. We were married on July 20, 1898.
I first became interested in building longhorn furniture for our personal use when I saw a makeshift chair made of horns which I glimpsed in an old wagon containing cabin furniture about 1895. I then set about gathering horns from Texas Longhorn Cattle being dehorned in our little Kansas town of Wetmore. I helped de-horn these cattle and in the process selected and put aside the best horns.
The first piece I made, each by hand of course, was the table in 1896. I also made several footstools. These efforts created a lot of interest and generated so many favorable comments, I decided to try my hand at chairs. Mrs. Calwell and I were married in 1898 and she and I together made two rocking chairs, a bookcase and settee to add to the table. My wife Ella was particularly adept at polishing the horns and very good at it.
Everyone in the area wanted the furniture but to avoid any discrimination I raffled the chairs to local residents and subsequently bought them back. One pair of horns I think particularly beautiful in the lower-backed chair was from a Texas Longhorn which bolted from the herd during a drive through Cheyenne, Wyoming and had to be shot. The man who recovered this set of horns brought them to me.
Charles Calwell died in January 1977, at age 103. Ella Calwell died in August 1979, two days before her 104th birthday. One of their chairs is displayed in the main gallery of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.
Entry: Horn Furniture
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: November 1997
Date Modified: February 2016
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.