Bolo Knife Brought Back to Life

I found this model 1917 bolo knife in the bottom of my father’s toolbox. It was manufactured in 1918 in Philadelphia, PA. The before picture shows the knife as it was when I found it. The rough-hewn wooden handle made me think of my grandfather, but I can’t be sure of how it came down through the family. It’s my understanding that my grandfather, Arch Warnock, was in the Army at some point. Another possibility is that my father found it abandoned in an old apartment house he once owned.

I debated what to do with this knife and appreciate Tom Wing’s thoughts about preserving its history. He is a professor at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith and my go-to person on anything history related.

Through a trail friend (and artist) Gary Alexander, I learned about Steve Thompson and asked him about the possibilities of reclaiming this knife as a useful tool again. As you can see by comparing the before and after photos, he does great work! 

Since the blade was badly pitted and rusted, he cleaned and adjusted the blade and edge. He made a new handle of curly maple. The new pommel (end piece) is made from mild steel and soldered on. The 1917 sheath was long gone so Steve made a beautiful leather sheath to protect the knife. 

The 1917 model knife was originally used in World War I. While reading, I came across the story of Henry Johnson. He was a member of the Harlem Hell Fighters, an all-black regiment. While in France, Johnson’s position was attacked by as many as 36 armed German soldiers. The soldier with Johnson was killed leaving Johnson alone to defend the French position. Henry Johnson, using his rifle, gunstock, and a 1917 bolo knife, drove the Germans into retreat killing several. He sustained severe injuries in the fight but survived. The French Army gave Johnson special recognition and awards. He received no awards from the US Army during his lifetime. He died in poverty in 1929. On May 14, 2015, it was announced that Johnson would receive the Medal of Honor posthumously.

I originally thought I might use this knife for trail maintenance. Clearing brush was one of its uses in the military and its quarter inch thick blade makes this a good application. Once I saw Steve’s work, I knew it would probably not be carried in the woods. I’ll keep it nice and dry as something to be passed down in the family.

Some have asked if I’ll carry this knife when backpacking. Below is my answer. The Swiss Army knife is what I carry when counting pack weight ounces. Bears have nothing to fear from me.

3 thoughts on “Bolo Knife Brought Back to Life

  1. THAT is an incredibly interesting and touching story, Jim! What a treasure, and I’m so glad you found what sounds like the perfect people to restore this heirloom.

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