The knife was one of the mountain man's most prized possessions. The mountain man always carried a knife, and often two. One was a large knife in a sheath decorated with brass tacks or beads which was worn on their belt, and a smaller "meat" or skinning knife on the breast strap of his bullet pouch or possibles bag. The big knives were made in a variety of patterns, and were manufactured both in America and abroad. W.F. Jackson of Sheffield made a 'Prairie Knife,' and E. Barnes & Sons made the 'Green River' knife. Blades were usually between 9 and 10 inches long with handles fashioned of buckhorn, bone, ivory, or wood. The buckhorn was the most popular with the mountain men because it could easily be replaced if broken. The "Green River" knife was the favorite. Originally the Hudson's Bay Company knives were marked 'G.R.' which stood for George Rex (good old King George), but to the American trappers it meant only 'Green River.' Many of the early knives were made by local blacksmiths using old files or rasps to fashion the blades. They were not the fancy polished 'Bowie' knives we see today. These knives were for fighting and they were kept razor sharp. They were more popular with the trappers than the tomahawk, and eventually replaced that tool as the primary bladed weapon.
Below are some examples of the types of knives carried. Most knives of the period were utilitarian by nature. That did not mean they were not pretty. Also, the French trappers were known to carry an early version of the folding knife, called a pouch knife.
These photos courtesy of the good folks of Idaho Knife Works.
Mountain men and trappers were known to carry 'hawks' with them. These were a variation of the tomahawks used by the Native American tribes, but were used primarily around the camp. The heads were forged in such a way that a handle could be slipped into them, thus making the replacement of the handle a pretty simple thing. These were more tool than weapon, but could be deadly in experienced hands. One popular game at rendezvous was the knife and hawk throw. This was a test of skill involving throwing a knife and a tomahawk at a target and seeing who could stick it closest to the bulls eye. Below are pictured the types of hawks commonly used by the mountain men and trappers.
Illustrations withheld pending permission of the owners
Many mountain men aligned themselves with, or married into, the tribes that populated the areas they frequented. In these cases they may have had occasion to have a true Native tomahawk. The Native Americans used tomahawks for both war and celebration. Some even doubled as pipes. War and peace in one neat package. The following are illustrations of some styles of Native American tomahawks.
These photos courtesy of David Gylten, Mountain Ridge Trading Co.