I'd like to give you a short introduction to the artisan. Ron Vail was born and raised in Connersville, Indiana, part of the country known in prior years as the Northwest Territory. This small town developed around an early 1800’s fur trading post owned and operated by John Conner. John was the brother of William Conner on whose land the Conner Prairie Living History Museum, Fishers, Indiana, is now located.
Like many of his generation Ron spent time in his youth glued to the TV watching Davy Crockett. Both this show and the area where he grew up are what started his interest in living history, or also known as experimental archeology. Living at the edge of town gave him the opportunity to spend time playing in the country pretending he and Davy were “conquering the wild frontier.” He was well aware he was wandering the same hills, woods and waters that the Delaware, Miami and Shawnee had roamed before him. As a friend of Davy, it was sometimes necessary to fight against the Indians. However, when he was playing cowboys and Indians, Ron was usually one of the Indians. (His interest in Native Americans and their history still continues and has lead to his participation in seven Lakota Sun Dances.) In addition to Davy Crockett, Ron's other heroes included Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, Thomas Fitzpatrick, the members of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery and to some degree, Lewis "Deathwind" Wetzel.
It wasn’t until the early 1970’s, after a tour of duty with the United States Air Force followed by a couple of college degrees, that Ron met others who shared both his interest in early American history and in spending time in the wilds living under primitive conditions. For almost thirty years these times were spent using only the clothing and accoutrements available to the mountain men living in the Rocky Mountains during the fur trade years of 1825 to 1840. In recent years his interests have expanded to include emulating the ways of a scout/guide/long hunter/farmer active during the years 1755 to 1780. Whether due to lack of extra money, two daughters and other responsibilities had come along, or the inability to find historically accurate clothing and accoutrements, over the years Ron has made the majority of what he needed to follow this hobby. He became especially interested in powder horns. Included in his private library covering the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the mountain man era and the Civil War are a variety of books pertaining to the powder horn and other horn items. He also studies powder horns in museums and private collections and has his own collection of original "common man, working" powder horns. Ron has also been fortunate enough to be able to attend classes on making powder horns taught by horner extraordinaires Roland Cadle and Art DeCamp. Ron is a member of the Honourable Company of Horners, the Contemporary Longrifle Association, the National Muzzleloading Rifle Association and The National Rifle Association. For almost 30 years Ron was a member of the American Mountain Men and attained the degree of hiveranno (the highest degree) in that orgnization.
Ron and his wife Shelly live in a log cabin they built in a woods in Morgan County, Indiana. Sharing the cabin is a collection of dogs, birds, fish and at times various other animals. Roaming outside the cabin is the usual assortment of rabbits, squirrels, coons, possums, coyotes, deer and many wild birds. Ron provides food and shelter for all of these critters and lets the natural enemies sort out their differences on their own. In good weather Ron does virtually all of his horn work under a tree in the yard next to the cabin. The main tools he uses are a shaving horse, drawknife, vice, various knives and an assortment of files. His goal is to make a powder horn, salt horn, horn cup or other horn item that looks like one made and used by the F&I or Rev War soldier, Native American, long hunter, mountain man or common man living between the mid-1700’s to the mid-1800’s. You've seen items like these in movies such as The Last of The Mohicans, The Patriot and The Alamo. Ron's horn items are owned by those long hunters who prefer trekking with just a small group of fellow living history reenactors in the Middle Ground, as well as, buckskinners who enjoy recreating a mountain man rendezvous. Muzzle loading hunters, black powder competition shooters, collectors and interior decorators also purchase Ron's horn work. When finished, items are aged to look as though they have been well used. Ron’s trademark are his initials, RV, with the V being part of the R. Underneath the trademark is the year in which the item was made.
Ron was selected by the Kenosha Public Museum in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to make all of the powder horns for the French Voyageur and Potawatomi Indian dioramas located in their museum. He has written articles for Muzzleloading magazine and The Tomahawk & Longrifle - the official publication of the American Mountain Men.. He has also written a reference book titled "What They Had To Say - A Collection Of Sayings Engraved On Eighteenth Century American Powder Horns." This book may be purchased through this website or from the Log Cabin Shop, Lodi Ohio.
In 2011 and again in 2013 Ron was selected by Early American Magazine as being one of the top traditional craftspersons in the United States.
Some of the shows you can find Ron and Shelly set up at are the Conner Longrifles Antique Arms show in Noblesville, Indiana; Kalamazoo Living History Show in Kalamazoo, Michigan and the Contemporary Longrifle Association show in Lexington, Kentucky.