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Hand dags or dagues… this is a knife!

An interesting knife that comes out of the fur trade is the “hand dag.” Often this knife is considered a late western fur trade knife, but it dates back to the French regime and was a knife that was perhaps truly a WISCONSIN knife.
Although dag, is short for dagger; it is most likely an Anglicization of the French “dague.” This is especially evident in the fact that some British era fur trade lists and journals still use the spelling dague as opposed to dag. French fur trade lists show dagues coming west with the fur trade, most to Wisconsin (pretty far west in the early 18th century). Looking at the Montreal Merchants Records Project, we see lists from the 1730s-40s showing just this. In 1731 24 dagues are sent to the “Sioux Post” and in 1732, 12 large dagues are sent. Up to 1736, this post was located in present Trempealeau, WI (Perrot State Park), a mere 30 miles from my house. In 1736, 25 of these daggers are mentioned, 6 by the blacksmith Lacombe and 19 by Campet, also being sent to the Sioux post. Headed to la Baie (Green Bay, again in Wisconsin) in 1745 were 18 dagues. Another invoice from 1745 for Rainy Lake mentions 4 dague à la Sioux (in the Sioux fashion). This designation is interesting as the earliest mentions of these in the MMRP are being sent to the Sioux (Dakota) in western Wisconsin (and eastern MN). Also, Jonathan Carver pictures, in Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America, in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768′, a dagger that is labeled “A Naudowessie “(Sioux). It seems that these blades were early on common and used by the Dakota. The fact that they are also headed to Rainy Lake shows that other groups must have also taken on use of these as well. The Rainy Lake post mainly served Ojibwe as well as some Cree and perhaps other groups further west like Assiniboine, etc.
This dague seems to date back to the French era and continues through the British and American periods. Often called a dague or dag, it seems commonly destined to the “west” for use by native customers. John Sorby of Sheffield was making many of these by the 1790s and early 1800s for the Northwest Company. He seems to be the number one supplier of these knives and later these knives are continued by J. Sorby and Sons.As the fur trade pushes further west and later on, this type of cutlery also goes further west, and continues to be a common knife among both Native and Métis hunters in the Northwest.


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