Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.

Jim Miller

Friday, May 6, 2011

An Evolutionary Tale of Two Knives, One I Liked and One I Love.

     In a previous posting on period labels I put forth my idea of Living History as an evolutionary pursuit. In light of that, I must confess that there was a time when my creative juices were stirred by the desire for artistic license. I had an epiphany when I first felt the need to replicate accurately just for the sake and challenge of it. Historically reminiscent or historically based fantasy objects should always have their place but I think they need to be identified as such. There's enough confusion out there already.  Please don't get me wrong, fantasy is fun and that's where this story begins.

    Back around 1995, I began to research Bowie knives and their place in the Gold Rush. What I really wanted was something cool to hang on my belt besides a butcher knife (which by the way, would have been a good choice). There were some replica bowies available but nothing grabbed me. I eventually decided to create my own "historically based" bowie with a coffin-shaped handle. I purchased a large bowie blade blank from Dixie Gun Works and discovered it was tempered and profiled but had no taper to the blade. The 1/4" slab needed to be flat-ground to a finished form. Yikes!! Grinding that hardened blank on a wheel turned out to be a chore as untempering and retempering the steel was out of the question.

My Fantasy Knife Circa 1995
Photo by Floyd Oydegaard
       I wanted the handle to make a statement and decided to design and carve an American Eagle motif for the pommel. I sent off the carved pattern to a brass foundry and had them sand cast two for me. I had previously decided to make all the fittings in brass but found out later that nickel would have been more common. What did I know?  Before I assembled the brass cross-guard, walnut scales and eagle pommel, I etched the blade with muriatic acid after painting a period appropriate motto of my own design on it. I discovered that enamel paint made a good resist to the acid. The motto read "Gold Seeker's Protector". Pretty cool eh?

Carved Pommel Pattern
Photos by Lindy Miller 2011
     After the knife was completed, I fashioned an appropriate sheath with brass fittings. The knife saw some service but was eventually sold to a friend. This entire project would only be a memory if not for the picture that Floyd Oydegaard took of it before it went away. Thanks Floyd ! Surprisingly, I still have the eagle pommel pattern which is shown here.

    So, that's the tale of the knife I liked, now on to the story of the knife I love. A long-time client from my antique restoration days, had the habit of dropping in on me for visits when I had the Carpenter's Shop in Columbia. His specialty is buying, selling and collecting original Gold Rush material. During one of those visits in 2001 he showed me an antique, guardless bowie knife that he had just purchased. What struck me about this rare bowie was its simplicity, balance and pure, no-nonsense look, but what really got me going was its history. The knife was the product of Joseph Bache and was marked with his cartouche, "J. Bache, Sonora". Bache was a French blacksmith who was active in Sonora in the 1850's. So far, a hammer and rifle have been discovered, marked with his name in the same manner as the knife. The man was obviously multi-talented and he had lived just down the road. This knife was screaming at me to be replicated and the owner was willing to let me document it. Woo hoo !!
My Replica of the Joseph Bache Bowie
with Collected Data and Probable Sheath

    I don't own a forge and even though the original knife was likely the product of one, I decided to use the reduction method for my close-copy.  I purchased a length of 1/4" X 2"  01 Toolsteel from Texas Knifemaker's Supply  in Houston. The original  knife is a hefty 15" long with a full thickness tang for balance. The untempered tool steel proved to be a delight to work with compared to my previous experience. This time I tapered the blade on a belt sander and found it much easier. I decided to copy the wear pattern of the orginal blade to give my replica a feeling of having been used. When the blade was finished, I sent it back to Texas to be heat treated. The simple "dog-bone shaped" oak scales replicate the original as do the custom steel rivets. The finished knife holds an edge beautifully and is a pleasure to use in the kitchen when it's not doing history work. I really do "love" this knife and what it represents to my personal journey as a historian / craftsman.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    I'm a french woman (so would you please excuse me for my english ...) and in order to complete my family tree, I'm looking after Joseph Bache who lived in Sonora, California.

    I just know that he should be born in France (about 1814-1815) because he had two children who were born in Perpignan (66 - Pyrénées Orientales) named Joseph Bonnaventure Alexis BACHE (born in 1841) and Alexis Emmanuel Jean (born in 1844) he had with Eleonore SOUVRAS.

    After that, I know he lived in Sonora because it's written on the marriage act / document (is it te correct name .. ?) of his first son in Sétif (Algérie).

    But I don't have anything more ! I would like you to tell me what do you know about him ? Do you know if he had another wife ? or chlidren ? Do you have any documents ?

    Many thanks for your help,
    Celine from Aix en Provence