Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Myth of the Green River Knife:

“Give an old timer his Hawken and powder-horn filled with sure fire powder to 'make it crack' and with a Green River blade at his belt, he was ready for Injuns galore!"  Another one of those bold, audacious statements about the equipment of the mountain man.  A statement that again matches the expectations many of us have of the mountain men.  And another statement that is largely untrue.  Of course it all depends on when you consider the era of the mountain men as having ended.  

There is no doubt that the products of the Green River Works were of the best quality available.  The reputation of the knife generated various sayings such as "Give it to em up to the Green River", meaning to stab a foe up to the handle where "Green River Works" was stamped, or "Done up to Green River" meaning to do something to the fullest extent possible. 

However, the J.Russell & Co. did not start stamping their products with "Green River Works" until some time in 1837 and it is not likely that any were even available to be shipped to rendezvous until 1838 or later, if they were ever even shipped to rendezvous. (For a summary of the J.Russell & Co) The earliest date on any western inventory on which I’ve seen Russell knives listed is 1843 (David Adams Journals)

Writer’s such as Lewis Garrard and Warren Ferris do reference “Green River Knives, but these men were documenting the west as it existed in the late 1840’s.   

The company's signature product, the "Green River Knife," on which the reputation and fame of the company was built wasn't even produced until the early 1840's, years after the last rendezvous was held.  The Green River Knife was a favorite of the emigrant, gold seeker, buffalo hunter, miner, Indian, settler, and yes, those tenacious men who continued trapping long after the glory years had ended.   

For more information about John Russell, the J.Russell & Co. and Green River Works refer to: 

Merriam Robert L., Richard A Davis Jr., David S Brown and Michael E Buerger, The History of the John Russell Cutlery Company 1833-1936.  Pubished 1976, Bete Press, Greenfield, Massachusetts. 

For more information about the Green River Knife see also: 

Russell, Carl P. Firearms, Traps, & Tools of the Mountain Men, published by University of New Mexico Press, 1967.  448 Pages. 

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