Knife with Carved Wooden Handle


This large, double-edged dagger with a wooden handle carved in the shape of a bear's head was purchased in 1881 by John J. McLean from the manager of the Northwest Coast Trading Company, Mr. Carl Spuhm. The Northwest Trading Company operated out of Angoon at this time, and the manager collected items from Tlingit people which he offered for sale to McLean.

McLean described the purchase as "a large collection of ancient stone and bone carvings, carved wooden household utensils such as spoons, bowls, dishes, eating trays, a fine collection of war knives with quality carved handles and bead embroidered sheaths, and among them a finely carved stone pipe, a stone axe and several pestles and mortars. All of the above fine collections were secured in Hoochenoo [Angoon] among the tribe of that name."

McLean was a naturalist who made weather observations for the U.S. Signal Corps. in Sitka. He was one of Spencer Baird's team of collectors that were sent to outlying areas with instructions to acquire a broad range of biological and ethnological objects for the Museum. While in Sitka, McLean collected plants, animals and birds, and made investigations into the physical and natural history of Sitka and the surrounding region. He traveled north to the Chilkat country aboard the NW Trading Company's steamer, the Favorite, in search of ethnological items to add to his collections. He sent 142 articles back to the Museum in November of 1881. He reported he was in competition with Dr. Aurel Krause and visitors traveling by steamer in the area collecting for college museums.

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