Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A little reading . . . and scalping

I love interlibrary loan.

Two books came through this week, both exactly in the time period I'm digging into.Both are older books, but both have lovely maps, photos, and anecdotes as well as all that academic stuff to dig through.

Sylvia Van Kirk, Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870. University of Oklahoma Press, 1983.

Jennifer S. H. Brown. Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country. UBC Press, 1980.

But this morning's side trip is about scalping.

In Rivers of Stone, Catriona watches a card game where one of the players, a voyageur, plays with his scalping knife when he gets nervous.

Now I have never seen a scalping knife, so it seemed appropriate to find an image. This was a ghoulish side trip early in the morning. Apparently these scalping knifes are about the size of a butcher knife, typically 10 inches long, and slightly curving, though they come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Not all tribes used these scalping knives for they were considered ceremonial knives.

Some scabbards are simple leather; others elaborately beaded.
Along the way, I learned that in battle, scalping women and children was believed to be honorable as it meant the warrior had penetrated to the heart of the enemy.

After reading about this history online, I'm not so sure someone would just 'play with' a scalping knife, for I think these weapons carry the deadliest of intentions. These don't look like fighting knives that one would pull out for self defense.

Read a little more:
Hudson Bay Company report that early small pox epidemic could be traced to scalping of Snake Indians who had traveled from Mexico to Canada in the late 18th Century.
Image of scalping knife from Deadliest Fiction (Wikia).
An excerpt on the Hudson Bay Company in Oregon from William Henry Gray's A History of Oregon, 1792-1849 (Chapter XXII)

And where does your research lead you?


  1. Wow - no, I can't see anyone just playing with a scalping knife. That's a big freaking knife.

    It is so cool the wonderful things we can learn from book. The mistakes we might have made.

    As a reader just reading scalping knife - I'd think of something smaller more easily handled (not any more ;) But you know there would be someone out there that would say, "Wait a minute."

    Interesting blog.

  2. Nice to see you stopping by, Jai. I'm fascinated by what I find by reading, but the images stay with me far longer. Maybe that's the reason for visiting the places I write about. :)