Bear Dagger

Steel bladed war dagger with carved buffalo horn pommel, whale bone handle scales and abalone inlay.

This dagger is made from a manufactured blade and not forged. This style of knife could be used for battle, but it could be used for utilitarian chores also. The overall length is 19.25 inches. The handle scales are from whale bone and the pommel is made from buffalo horn and is relief carved with a bear’s head.

This style of dagger is the most recent variation with the oldest type of dagger being the double -bladed forged dagger that was used for war pre-European contact. This is a two-piece knife by having the handle mounted to the blade. It is unlikely that this knife was used in battle because of the time period it comes from and the lack of features that would accompany a battle blade. The guard has a raven head carved on side and raven wings carved on the other, typically this is made from copper. This style of knife was also sought after by tourists so at times elaborate pommels would be attached, tourists also had interest in the double-daggers, but these had long and celebrated histories with clan attachments and were revered by their owners, they were definitely not for sale.

It was long thought that Tlingits did not forge steel but with new discoveries it shows they did, their doubled -bladed daggers were used against the first Europeans and were excellently forged which can be attested to by their vanquished adversaries’ testimonies.

Cultural Narrative: 

It was common for objects to be inlaid with abalone shell and careful consideration was needed as to the proper location to minimize damage or loss. Copper rivets were used to attach the handle scales and pommel.

Traditional Knowledge: 

Weapons had spirits of their own, so putting a Brown Bear on the handle would imbibe the weapon with the fighting spirit of the bear giving the owner and advantage over their adversary.


Collected by Lieut. G.T. Emmons 

NOTE: OTHER HANDWRITTEN: As described in Emmons' object list (see multimedia document 1906.0008 Annotated Object list.pdf): "War knife, from the Hoonah tribe, of Cross Sound, South Eastern Alaska. It consists of an iron blade secured to a handle of whale bone which is shaped and carved to represent a brown bear. It is inlaid with haliotis shell."


Steel-bladed Tlingit knife, a commercial Sheffield Bowie which has lost half of its volume through re-sharpening. The pommel and the scales are bison horn. Both pommel and base plates are of two sheets and are set by copper rivets. The pommel represents the bear; the base shows a pair of bird wings on its face, a raven head on the other. Length, 19 ¼ inches. Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation No. 9307