Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole


Although seldom mentioned, a whetstone or sharpening stone must have been a part of every mountain man’s  personal outfit.  George Ruxton in Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains 1846-1857 provides us with the following description of a typical trappers outfit.  “...Round the waist is a belt, in which is stuck a large butcher-knife in a sheath of buffalo-hide, made fast to the belt by a chain or guard of steel; which also supports a little buckskin case containing a whetstone. “

At least some whetstones must have been quarried and manufactured for shipment to the mountains.  Although this item is conspicuous in its absence on most inventory lists, a memorandum of goods left at Fort Hall dated 1834 does note the presence of five whetstones.  

It is my opinion that most whetstones used by trappers and hunters were simply stones picked up along the trail which had the appropriate size and shape with proper properties.  To be useful such a stone would need to have a flat surface and be composed of very fine grained material as hard or harder than the steel of the edged tool to be sharpened.  In most cases this would be a quartzose or siliceous material.  Wilson Price Hunt in his journal of 1811 describes the following: “On the 12th [August] we forded two tributaries of the Grand River that flowed from the southwest, one of them appearing to be the main branch. We saw many petrifactions that several of our companions collected to use as whetstones. “  Once a stone was located which functioned well for sharpening it was likely safely stowed for future use.

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