The Hudson Bay Camp Knife
by Fred Holder
In the February 1994 issue of Blacksmith's Gazette, we addressed some of the most common items of ironwork made by today's blacksmiths for the muzzle loading trade. Knives are another item much used by the muzzle loader shooter and re-creator. During the fur trade era, the time frame many of the buckskinners emulate, a great number of knives were imported from England for trade with the Indians. Many of these knives were also used by the trappers who went to the mountains in search of the beaver. One type of knife much favored by trappers was imported by the Hudson Bay company from the English shops of Sheffield during the first half of the nineteenth century in fairly large quantities.
The knife depicted here is a close copy of a Jukes Coulson, Stokes & Co. knife illustrated in Figure 45 of Firearms, Traps, and Tools of the Mountain Men by Carl P. Russell. The thick horn scales on the original knife are held to the hilt by oversized rivets holding brass washers and by a heavy metal ferrule riveted to the front end of the hilt. The blade is about 8-1/2 inch long but of such thickness and shape as to be quite stiff. Russell states, of the knife, "Here is a knife made to order for the hunter or cook responsible for breaking out chunks of carcasses of the game animals to be served up to trappers. This type of knife was for a time sufficiently stable to give it a recognized place in the inventories of the fur companies and was commonly dubbed the Hudson Bay Knife." The specimen illustrated in Russell's book is owned by the U.S. National Museum. Russell notes that The Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning, Montana also has one like it, except that a third big rivet takes the place of the ferrule on the hilt. Other specimens are owned by the Museum of the American Indian and the North Dakota Historical Society, Russell says.
The author first became acquainted with this type of knife in 1983 when Ike Bay sent in a drawing of the Hudson Bay Camp Knife. The drawing had been made after the knife illustrated in Russell's book. Subsequently, a knife was made to the specifications on the drawing using a piece of 1/4 inch by 2 inch leaf spring as the stock and birdseye maple scales. The knife was forged to general shape and was then filed and ground to final shape. It was left in the annealed state since it was planned to be used as a camp knife for splitting wood for the campfire. It has served the author well over the last dozen years although it has had some pretty rough treatment. It is still used to split wood both for campfires and for wood turning.
When putting on the scales, the cutlers rivets that were available were not long enough to go through the scales and the thick blade; therefore, they were recessed into the scales and brass disks were inlaid over the top of them to give the appearance of large washers. The scales were also epoxied to the blade. The brass plates at the front end of the hilt were simply epoxied to the scales. They were never riveted as they should have been and one of the plates in now missing.
This was an interesting project which resulted in a very fine camp tool when it was completed. Tapering a piece of 1/4 inch by 2 inch spring steel to a wedge cross section was a lot of hammer work. I did it with a four pound short-handled hand hammer, but would have found it easier with a striker swinging an eight or ten pound sledge. In any case, the result was worth the effort.
This knife should be a good project for blacksmiths serving the muzzle loading sport, or for a muzzle loader who is doing a little blacksmithing to complete his "outfit."
This article was originally printed in the March 1994 issue of Blacksmith's Gazette. It has been edited to fit the format of our Blacksmith's Gazette Internet Site.
This page was last updated on April 25, 1996.