Given that modern “Buckskinners” consider 1840 the end of the classic Rocky Mountain beaver-trade era, there is probably only one American cutlery company that can lay a reasonable claim to have been carried by the mountain men: Lamson & Goodnow. Founded in 1837, the Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, company quickly expanded to supply the western frontier trade with a wide range of butchering and hunting cutlery. By 1860, the company was actually the largest cutlery factory in the U.S.
When the steam ship Bertrand sank in the Missouri river on its way to the Montana buffalo herds in 1865, a significant part of its cargo was L&G knives. A lot of those skinning knives would have been needed out on the buffalo range. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs also bought thousands and thousands of blades off the company for treaty reparations to western tribes. One single government order during the 1870s was for 18,852 knives! If someone were to ask what the most common knife found on the belt of a Plains Indian warrior would have been, I would have to say the odds were very high that it was one of Lamson & Goodnow’s.
Obviously, these knives weren’t just used by the Plains Indians. I know of one L&G hunting knife on display in Deadwood, South Dakota, that is stated to have belonged to Wild Bill Hickok. There is also a photo taken when Hickok was working in a wild west show with what, to my eye, appears to be a large Lamson & Goodnow hunter thrust under his belt. L&G blades may have been plain, but they were hard-working tools fully up to handling frontier life.
By the 1880s, L&G was offering a complete line of cutlery that included tableware, carving sets, butcher and skinning knives, hunters, leather working tools, sailor deck knives and machetes. While I’m not aware of any records being kept, I think it is safe to say a fairly high percentage of the buffalo killed for the hides during the period were skinned out with L&G blades.
Like most cutlery companies, L&G has had many ups and downs over the years. The company has also produced a number of cutlery lines under private labels for a wide variety of customers, so many have probably used an L&G blade without ever knowing. In recent months, Lamson & Goodnow has been refocusing on its own line with a wide range of new models well suited to life on the homestead.
Probably the most essential cutting tool in any kitchen is a good, large chef’s knife. L&G’s 10-inch Wide Chef (MSRP $170) is a respected workhorse among culinary professionals. This hot-drop-forged stainless blade has the balance and cutting power to handle 75 percent of your kitchen needs. Its resin-impregnated wood handle will also stand up to the hot, wet environment of canning season with the best of them. Combine this knife with the company’s 6-inch forged Boning knife (MSRP $100) and 3.5-inch forged Paring knife (MSRP $70) and you will have a cutlery battery that will serve practically every kitchen need.
I understand that not all home cooks feel that a 10-inch blade is something they can manage. The modern Japanese answer to that was the creation of the all-purpose santoku style knife. L&G offers a very handy one with a drop-forged, 7-inch blade (MSRP $130) that is useful for a wider range of cutting chores. If you are really into Asian cuisine, it is hard to beat its Walnut Chinese Vegetable Cleaver (MSRP $60) for slicing and dicing stir-fry ingredients. One warning, though: This is not a bone chopper, but rather the classic Chinese version of a chef’s knife.
Professional meat cutters will tell you there is very little need for anything but the skillful handling of a knife when breaking down a large carcass. The problem is that most of us homesteaders and hunters don’t get enough practice to develop that skill. In the past I’ve used a hand bone saw when cutting and wrapping my annual venison. This year I couldn’t locate it at the right time so I grabbed an antique butcher’s meat cleaver I found at a knife show some time ago. All I really needed was to cut through a few joints after I had circled them with a boning knife. I quickly found that one easy blow of the cleaver did this very cleanly. L&G offers a Walnut 7.25-inch Meat Cleaver (MSRP $60) that should work equally well for this task.
Folding Batard Knife
Another interesting item in the line is the Folding Batard Knife (MSRP $32.50), which is basically a 5.5-inch-bladed folding bread slicer. To make the model even more useful in your picnic basket, there is also a corkscrew folded into the handle. I should point out that this is one model not actually made by Lamson & Goodnow but rather imported from China.
Walnut Sheet Cake/Tree Pruning Wave Edge
Finally, there is a model that seems to have as many names as it does uses. If you are a catering chef, you probably know it as a “standing rib roast slicer.” In the L&G catalog the model is described as the “Walnut 16-inch Sheet Cake/Tree Pruning Wave Edge” (MSRP $50). While I don’t know much about sheet cake slicing, every grower of Christmas trees will recognize this thin, machete-like cutter as a “shearing knife.” The razor-sharp blade is used to slash off just the very ends of growing Christmas trees limbs, thus making the fir bushy and filled in. The knives are also used to shape the entire tree into the preferred form for decoration. If you ever decide to go into the commercial Christmas tree growing business, you are probably going to need a box of these.
As most homesteaders probably know, finding real made-in-the-USA cutlery is getting harder and harder. That said, you can’t go wrong with the products from a legendary company like Lamson and Goodnow.
For more information, visit lamsonsharp.com or phone 800-872-6564.
This article was originally published in the NEW PIONEER ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.