Green River Knives – made in U.S.A.
I’ve put a lot of handles on a lot of Green River blades of every design. Though not a pro when it comes to this type of thing, I’ve enjoyed the final products, not so much in aesthetics but in function. And function, the Green Rivers do admirably.
My current “user” Green Rivers include a patch knife and a small butcher. The latter knife, one I’ve used extensively, has proven to me why the Green River blade is literally the knife that won the west… and the east, the north, and the south.
The five inch blade features the company’s standard steel type, 1095 carbon. The scales are ebony and the sheath is pig leather. I used ebony to replicate the Green River small butcher knife I saw in a display at the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, MO, many years ago (the museum’s knife had a naturally blackened oak handle). More on that in a moment. As for my knife, I’ve used it numerous times in field and camp, and, though small, it butchers deer with aplomb. I routinely give the blade a little much-deserved care and have not yet had a problem with rust, though it has discolored, giving it a certain amount of character.
The Green River small butcher knife is considered by many American cutlery researchers of non-revisionist history to be the most common knife carried and used by mountain men, frontiersmen, and other explorers. While this is true, most any knife one was able to acquire came into use in those days but the Green River was much more preferred. The National Museum of American History reports:
John Russell began manufacturing tools and cutlery in 1834 and established a new factory on the Green River in Massachusetts in 1836. His knives rivaled the quality of those manufactured in Sheffield, England, and as settlers moved West in the 1840s Russell’s Green River knives moved with them. Green River knives were ubiquitous in the early American West, and the phrase “up to Green River” entered the American lexicon meaning something well constructed or very well done. (https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1065606)
According to my conversation with the late Greg Hawley many years ago, one of the first knives found in his excavation of the Arabia Steamboat from the Missouri River was, very likely, a Green River small butcher knife. At one time, the knife was on display in his museum (and may still be) in basically original condition except for blackening of the oak wood handles as a result of environmental conditions. Buried in mud 130 plus years will do that. (Note: The Arabia Steamboat sank in the Missouri River in 1856 near Kansas City, taking with her a full load of merchandise bound for many locations up river. Sadly, Hawley was killed in an auto accident in 2009, but the family continues their work).
The knife displays at the museum are vast. The picture, below, features a few cutlery items along with pistols recovered from the site. The knife between the hunter pattern knife and the large pocket knife is probably another Green River small butcher.
A Green River small butcher knife was carried by Robert Duvall’s character, Augustus McCrea, in the TV mini-series, Lonesome Dove. The props people got it right:
For the most part, mountain men, frontiersmen, and explorers carried their knives (and other equipment for that matter) in a sheath or case that was rugged, easy to make, and easy to replace. The sheath shown in the Green River knife pictures above is an example. The following sheath design, generally referred to as a mountain man knife sheath, is a correct pattern for most eras of American explorers. The knife shown is the traditional hunter pattern by Green River. The body of the sheath is placed behind the belt, much like a modern inside-the-belt pistol holster.
There are a few modern day “versions” of the Green River small butcher. In reality, any small butcher knife is a version. But there are very few of really good quality. My favorite is the Buck 103 skinner. The blade is made from 420HC steel. The sheath is of exceptional quality, though not of a traditional pattern.
Other manufacturers of small butchers include:
- Ontario’s Old Hickory – a carbon steel blade (1095). I’ve used Old Hickory blades and they are very good. But rust becomes them quickly.
- Well, that’s about it.
The Green River tactical knife, below, shows how far the famous knife pattern has come. Note how the drop point design (knife on the right) imitates the same edge profile of the Green River small butcher knife. The sheath is a bit updated but still simple, stitched, and riveted. Some thing never change. The tactical is made of D2 steel. What I like very much about this Green River, as well as the small butcher, is that neither has a fancy name or some kind of stupid sounding model nomenclature like “dragon fang” or “belly ripper” or some such idiotic thing. They are just GREEN RIVERS, and nothing more needs to be added, except if the owner wants to lovingly give his a nickname.
I have one of the drop point (small butcher) tactical knives but have yet to prove it. But it’s starting to get some consistent use to that end.