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Video review: Bark River Mountain Man knife – a classic design with modern materials

The Bark River Mountain Man re-creates a classic knife design from the fur trade era.
600 396 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

Looking for an all-around belt knife that is also a workhorse?

Check out this classic pattern made with the latest materials.

by Leon Pantenburg

All it takes (for me to acquire yet another knife I don’t need) is a historic, classic pattern made with new, improved steel.

This replica of a Hawken rifle and the Mountain Man knife fit together really well.

This replica of a Hawken rifle and the Mountain Man knife fit together really well.

That’s what happened with the new Mountain Man knife from Bark River.

Bark River Knives originally made the Mountain Man in 1095 carbon steel and then again in A-2.

This batch, according to The KnivesShipFree website, should out-perform the older models by a very wide margin. Bark River Knives has used CPM-3V in a very thin cross section – just like the original thickness of the knife.

 

Specs:

  • Overall Length: 9.875 Inches
  • Blade Length: 5.5 Inches
  • Blade Steel: CPM 3V @ 59-61
  • Blade Thickness: .093 Inch
  • Weight: 5.1oz
  • Made in USA

This was the favorite belt knife of the American mountain man during the early to mid 1800s.  Most were made by the Russell Company and some were branded “Green River”.

The mountain men used the name “Green River” as a standard of quality for anything traded. Anything done “Up to Green River” signified first rate merchandise.

The Mountain Man, bottom, bears a strong resemblance to the replica Russell.

The Mountain Man, bottom, bears a strong resemblance to the replica Russell.

Green River knives were made in Greenfield, Massachusetts by J. Russell & Co. The factory was started in 1832-34 to make butcher and kitchen knives. Close to 60,000 Russell Green River knives per year were shipped to the West for several years. Among the most popular is the Green River Scalper, Skinner and variations used by the American mountain man then.

However, the J.Russell & Co. did not start stamping their products with “Green River Works” until some time in 1837. It is unlikely  any were even available to be shipped to rendezvous until 1838 or later. The Green River Knife was a favorite of the emigrant, gold seeker, buffalo hunter, miner, Indian, and settler.

The BR Mountain Man is really a medium size butcher knife. I’ve used a similar Russell replica for years. The design is solid, no-nonsense and just flat works.

Here’s the good stuff about the Mountain Man:

Size: A 5.5-inch blade is about perfect for butchering and skinning. It’s also going to make a great kitchen knife, and it will be handy around camp for preparing food and just about anything else you need a knife for.

Blade thickness: Finally, a working knife with a practical blade thickness!

There seems to be different schools of blade thickness thought when it comes to knives.

Thick blades are sturdier, of course. But they don’t slice as well, and IMO are unnecessarily heavy and unwieldy. Check out real swords and daggers at a museum sometime – most of them are pretty thin.

The original mountain man Russells and other trade knives were designed by popularity and sales records. They were user, working tools designed to sell. Apparently, the Natives and trappers preferred thin blades, or someone would have made a thick blade knife to compete with the Russells.

I prefer a thinner blade. After several decades of big game hunting, fishing, backpacking, canoeing and hiking, I’ve never broken a blade in the field. With today’s super steels, I think the thick blades are best confined to out-and-out survival/tactical/fighting knives.

Handle: The original Russells were frequently sold without a handle, and the buyer put on his own. These handles were probably bone, antler or wood, depending on what was available.

My Mountain Man came with a stabilized cabolo wood handle, because it looks cool and the knife will blend in with my kitchen knife rack. I find that the stabilized wood and micarta become “grippier” when wet, making for a more secure and safe handle.

I have large hands, and the 4.3-inch handle fits me well. I used the Mountain Man to whittle some pine, cut vegetables and meat and  carve a cooked turkey. Even with fat on the handle, the knife was safe to use.

Tip: The point has an upswept grind with a drop point. This is classic butcher knife design, and it’s clear this knife was originally designed to field dress and skin big animals. It will work well for hunters.

Spine: The edge opposite the sharpened edge is ground at 90-degrees, like an ice skate. This means it could be used to scrape a ferrocerrium rod to generate sparks for firemaking or processing tinder. This can come in handy.

The Mountain Man needs a traditional sheath like this replica.

The Mountain Man needs a traditional sheath like this replica.

Steel: Here’s the best part – CPM 3V is a super steel, and one of my favorites for a working knife. It resists staining well, and hold an edge like crazy. Practice your honing, and the blade will always be razor sharp.

Sheath: The Mountain Man comes with a sturdy leather sheath that will protect and secure the blade well. But the knife cries out for a traditional leather sheath  appropriate for the fur trade era. I have one, and that’s what the mountain man will ride in.

Made in the USA: All Bark River knives are made in Escanoba, Michigan, by American craftsmen. The knives have one of the best warranties on the market, a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. These folks pay taxes and support their communities. Let’s support American small business!

In the wake of  Leonardo DiCaprio getting an Oscar for his work in The Revanent” I predict renewed interest in the western fur trade era. I was hooked by Charlton Heston in “The Mountain Men” back in 1980, and never quite got over it.

I predict this knife is going to do very well among fur trade aficionados, or anyone who is looking for a practical, usable camp knife.

The Mountain Man is “Up to Green River.”

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3 comments
  • Leon

    Thanks for the feedback – I love discussing history with fellow history nerds!
    Here is what I wrote: This was the favorite belt knife of the American mountain man during the early to mid 1800s.  Most were made by the Russell Company and some were branded “Green River”.

    The mountain men used the name “Green River” as a standard of quality for anything traded. Anything done “Up to Green River” signified first rate merchandise.
    Green River knives were made in Greenfield, Massachusetts by J. Russell & Co. The factory was started in 1832-34 to make butcher and kitchen knives. Close to 60,000 Russell Green River knives per year were shipped to the West for several years. Among the most popular is the Green River Scalper, Skinner and variations used by the American mountain man then.

    However, the J.Russell & Co. did not start stamping their products with “Green River Works” until some time in 1837. It is unlikely  any were even available to be shipped to rendezvous until 1838 or later. The Green River Knife was a favorite of the emigrant, gold seeker, buffalo hunter, miner, Indian, and settler.

  • Rick Griffith

    Hate to be a wet blanket, but your comments about your Mountain Man Knife and references to the Russell Green River Knife are historically incorrect. During the rendezvous era of the Rocky Mtn fur trade(1825-1840) there is NO documentation of a Russell Green River knife during that time. Pretty much the vast majority of fur trappers knives were from England under the heading of trade knives made by various manufacturers like Wilson, W. Greaves & Son, Wilkerson, H. Cutler, Graves and others in the Sheffield, England area. These were trade knives that were purchased by the fur companies and brought out to the rendezvous or sold to the forts to supply the trappers at an inexpensive cost.
    The Russell Green River Works started in 1834, but didn’t get to manufacturing until 1838 due to a factory fire followed by a flood(bad luck!). When production started again, the Russell Co. made agricultural implements, tools, and tableware. The “famous” Green River Knife wasn’t made until 1841, AND, documentation shows that the first order by ANY western fur company wasn’t until 1843, a couple years after the collapse of the hayday western fur trade.
    So when did the myth become fact? First in 1847 in a book by George Ruxton, “Life in the Far West” and a book by Lewis Garrard, “Wah-To-Yah and The Taos Trail”, two fictional stories about “mountain men” carrying Hawken rifles(another blown out myth) and Green River knives. Written long after the demise of the rendezvous fur trade! Also, Arthur Woodward’s 1927 article, “Those Green River Knives” in “Denominators of the Fur Trade” made unfounded statements regarding the knife. Don’t get me wrong! The Green River knife WAS a legendary article, just like the Hawken rifle, just NOT during the Rocky Mtn fur trade years.
    Thanks for “listening”

  • Jerome

    I agree with you on the thinner blades,, I recently bought the new Bark River Kephart in 3V for the same reasons. I prefer the Kephart over the Mountain Man because the Kephart has a shorter blade and a finer guard. I doubt that your Cocobolo handle is stabilize. Cocobolo is a hard, oily wood that does not submit to the stabilization process very well, and does not need stabilization.

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