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Image of a History Mystery item.
Do you or any of your friends know what this item is or what it was used for? Let us know!

History Mystery #116: Sam “Long Knife” Clark

By Debby Carter, Sierra Historic Sites Association

Sam Clark and his wife, Trudel, were fixtures in Oakhurst for many years. They both had very interesting pasts and loved to tell their stories. They were early members of the Sierra Historic Sites Association, and when Sam died his wife left a large collection of his things to the SHSA, which you will find on display in their museum.

Image of the Fresno Flats logo.Sam was born in 1899 just outside of an Apache reservation in the Arizona Territory. His father was a freight hauler, and the family travelled the west following job opportunities, so Sam learned the skills he needed to survive. He eventually became a civil engineer and in 1926 helped build the old, arch-type Exchequer Dam for the Merced Irrigation District. It would eventually be replaced by the New Exchequer Dam in 1967.

Image of Sam “Long Knife” Clark.

Sam “Long Knife” Clark.

But one summer he decided to explore Yosemite and ended up as a patrol ranger in the Mariposa Grove area. Sam worked as a Yosemite ranger from 1923 to 1963, in various positions including district ranger and information officer at park headquarters.

During World War II, he served as an officer at a German prisoner of war camp in Colorado. Some of the prisoners were craftsmen, and he had them make him a machete with an elk horn handle.

Over the years, Sam fancied himself as a “Mountain Man” and was a member of the Buckskin Brigade. He wanted his costume to be as authentic as possible and acquired pieces from all over the country. He had his rifle custom made. The barrel he ordered from the best rifle maker in the country, Bill Large. Bill, seeing that Sam’s middle initial was “L,” addressed him as “Honorable Sam Long Knife Clark” and the name stuck.

Image of a mystery item from Sam “Long Knife” Clark's collection.

Do you know what this is?

Now to our mystery. The Sam “Long Knife” Clark collection at our museum has many identified items that were used as part of his Mountain Man persona.

Among them is this metal device which has not been identified. It appears to have a reservoir and two curled prongs coming from the reservoir.

  • Is it some kind of a lamp?
  • Was it used to melt lead to make bullets?
  • Could it still be used today?

We know that Sam used to give talks and demonstrations to share his knowledge of the Mountain Man life, but we don’t know how this item would have been used. Perhaps when we do, we can demonstrate it once again.

In case you missed it: History Mystery #115: Antique Homestead Tools

Who were the Mountain Men? 

Image of a collection of beaver pelt hats. The Mountain Men were a group of rugged, adventurous fur trappers and traders who roamed the western United States in the 19th century. These men were the pioneers of the American West, and their adventurous spirit and resourcefulness helped to open up new frontiers for settlers and traders.

The Mountain Men were drawn to the western frontier by the lure of the beaver trade, which was a major source of income in the 19th century. The beaver pelt was a sought-after commodity due to the growing demand for fashionable fur hats in Europe.

The Mountain Men were skilled hunters and trappers who roamed the wilderness, setting traps and trading with Native American tribes to acquire the beaver pelts they needed.

Image of a pack of wolves.

Image by Thomas Bonometti.

Despite the harsh conditions and danger that they faced, the Mountain Men were a hardy and resilient group of men. They braved the rugged wilderness, facing down danger from both the elements and from hostile Native American tribes. They also had to contend with the threat of disease and injury, as well as the constant danger of wild animals such as bears and wolves.

Despite these challenges, the Mountain Men thrived and helped to lay the foundations of the American West. They paved the way for the westward expansion of the United States and opened up new trade routes that allowed settlers and traders to reach the western frontier.

Image of a grizzly bear.

Image by John Thomas.

They also helped to forge relationships between the American settlers and the Native American tribes, and their legacy continues to inspire those who admire their adventurous spirit and pioneering spirit.

The Mountain Men were a vital and influential group of individuals who helped to shape the history of the American West. They were rugged and resourceful adventurers who braved the dangers of the wilderness to lay the foundations of the American West and open up new frontiers for settlers and traders.

Their legacy continues to inspire those who admire their adventurous spirit and pioneering spirit, and their impact on American history will never be forgotten.

Check out this short video on Jim Bridger, King of the Mountain Men!

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