Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1851 Blackfoot warrior
Subject: warrior
Culture: Blackfeet, Piegan, Blood
Setting: Blackfoot Confederacy, northern Great Plains late 18-19thc
Object: knives


* Jones 2004 p29
"The favorite knife of the northern Plains warriors was a broad, double-edged weapon obtained from traders.  The Indians called it a 'stabber,' or 'beaver tail knife,' and many Blackfoot warriors used it for hand-to-hand combat.  The fighter grasped the knife so that the blade protruded from the heel of his hand, thus allowing him to strike overhand to the throat or clavicle, as well as slice backhand to the face, ribs, or stomach.  It served as an ideal weapon for finishing off a defeated foe and for scalping." [reference omitted]

​* Peterson 1958 p120-121
"The early knives in the Northwest were ... predominantly English.  Many kinds were introduced, but only two became really popular.  These were the single-edged butcher or carving knife and the dagger.  The butcher knives were generally similar to the later varieties made by the John Russell Company ..., but some of them had considerably broader blades than the later American knives.  The daggers were a distinct form.  Known various as [SIC] the 'Hudson's Bay dag,' the 'beaver-tail knife' or the 'stabber,' they were a favorite weapon for hand-to-hand combat, particularly among the Blackfoot and related groups.  The blades of these heavy knives were double-edged and very broad.  Apparently they were traded to the Indians without handles, for all known specimens show Indian hilts.
    "The modern student of knife-fighting would reject these daggers as clumsy and inefficient.  They would be for scientific fighting.  But the Indian had his own techniques.  He held his knife with the blade below the hand, much like the European three centuries before, and he concentrated on two principal blows -- a powerful downward chopping motion aimed behind his opponent's collarbone or a sidewise stroke aimed at the ribs or stomach.  With only these two attacks the Indian was an easy prey to a skilled knife-handler.  But mostly he used his knife against other Indians, and they fought in the same manner as he."  [CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION: What evidence exists of a Blackfoot warrior falling 'easy prey to a skilled knife-handler'?]

* Taylor 1975 p58 
"A broad double-edged knife commonly referred to as the beaver-tail knife was a favourite weapon of Blackfoot warriors in hand-to-hand fighting.
"'The warrior grasped the handle so that the metal blade protruded from the heel on his fist.  He used a powerful downward chopping motion to penetrate the opponent's body above the clavicle or a sidewise sweep to strike him between the ribs or the stomach.  It was a deadly weapon for close infighting afoot, of little use in opposition to a mounted enemy armed with war club or lance.  It was a favourite weapon for finishing off a wounded or disabled enemy and served as the scalping tool.'  (Ewers,  1955 p. 202)  The style was probably particularly popular amongst the Blackfoot because of its adoption in the Bear-knife medicine bundle.  In early days, perhaps prior to 1850, there were many such Bear-knife medicine bundles.  The chief object of the bundle was a large beaver-tail knife, the handle of which was the jaw of a grizzly bear." ...

Bear Jaw

* Bancroft-Hunt & Forman 1981 p70 caption
"The supernatural power of the bear is reflected in a Blackfoot knife which has a single-edged [CONTRA Taylor 1975 p58] metal trade blade set into a hilt made from half a bear's jaw.  Although referred to as a scalping knife, this type of heavy-bladed knife also served as a utilitarian tool on the warpath for a variety of purposes, including skinning game, as an eating implement, and for cutting wood and brush."

* Taylor 2001 p43
"Knife symbolism, with complex ritualistic ceremonies, is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than with the Blackfeet Bear Knife Bundle.  Although the style of knife used appears not to have been exclusive to the Blackfeet -- their friends the Gros Ventre also had such knives -- the rituals associated with the bear knife itself and its association with warfare appear highly developed by the Blackfeet.
"The chief object in the Bear Bundle was a large dagger-like knife, to the handle of which was attached the jaws of a bear.  Although the power of such a knife was considered to be very great -- so great 'that its owner was seldom killed, for its appearance frightened everyone into submission, after the manner of bears' -- few individuals owned these bundles.  One reason given was the brutality of the transfer ritual.  Thus, the recipient was required to like naked on a thorn bed whilst being painted.  At the same time, he was beaten with the flat of the knife.
"In battle, the owner was not allowed to use any other weapon than the knife; he was required to walk forward towards the enemy, singing the war songs associated with the Knife Bundle and to never retreat."

​* Peterson 1958 p127
"In addition to their ordinary uses, some Indian knives were also connected with ceremonial and religious functions.  Typical of these is the bear knife, used by members of the Bear Cult among the Assiniboin, Eastern Dakota, Blackfoot and Sarsi tribes.  This knife usually possessed a trade steel blade, but it was hilted with the jawbones of a bear.  It was a sacred object, used in ceremonials and carried into battle.  Obtaining such a knife was difficult.  When one was transferred to a new owner it involved a ritualistic ceremonial.  Among the Blackfoot this provided a particularly severe test for the new candidate.  As the ceremony drew to a close, the owner of the knife, after imitating the antics of a bear, would suddenly hurl the knife at the candidate.  If he failed to catch it, he was not thought worthy of the sacred object.  If he did catch it, he was thrown naked upon a bed of thorns and beaten thoroughly with the flat of the blade while the ceremonial paint was applied to his aching body."