Carrying a belt knife in the Old West offered a few more challenges than we normally face today. For starters, most commercial hunting knives were not even supplied with a sheath. It was pretty much left to the user to come up with his own leather. Sometime after the Civil War, the big mail-order houses started offering generic, one-size-fits-all-type sheaths in a variety of lengths, but, in my experience, these tended to be of very questionable construction. The classic Sheffield-made Bowie knives were often even less suited to hard use, in that their sheaths tended to be cardboard with only a thin veneer of brightly colored leather over the surface. While that probably looked plenty flashy on a Barbary Coast gambler’s gun belt, it left a lot to be desired for use out in the real wilderness. With the first heavy rain you stood a very good chance of having your fancy Bowie sheath simply fall apart!

RELATED: Handcraft A Knife Sheath

FRONTIER PROTECTION: The easy answer to this frontier problem was to find your nearest holster maker and have him sew you up a custom harness leather scabbard that you could count on for serious use. Check out any collection of 19th-century Bowies and hunting knives. The ones in the nicest condition are the blades that are also most likely to be in original, factory-made scabbards. On the other hand, the knives that have obviously seen rough and tumble use in the field will almost always be paired up with hand-crafted leather sheath.

Chisholm’s Trail is continuing that tradition by offering a wide variety of 19th-century-style knife scabbards for both Bowies and period-style hunting blades. I was particularly impressed with its wide selection of Mexican loop-style Bowie sheaths. If you have looked at the old photos of Texas Rangers, you have probably noticed this type of replacement leatherwork was very common on their belts. Other models available include scabbards carried by General George Crook, Geronimo and a number of famous Hollywood movie cowboys. Depending on the model, these are offered with or without a period-style knife. As with the combat knife scabbards, Chisholm’s frontier patterns are some of the highest quality I’ve handled in a long time. Match one up with a handgun holster from the company and you will be ready to walk the streets of Tombstone with the most weathered of hard cases!

RELATED: Tanning Tutorial: Turning Your Critter Hides Into Workable Leather

This article originally published in AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN®  Issue #191. Print and Digital Subscriptions to AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN®  magazine are available here.

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