20 Dec John Creaghe’s Hunting Knife
John S. Creaghe’s
In August 2022, Brett Dean, originally from Fort Collins contacted the CFHS website with a story about a knife. In 1982, Brett’s father, Marlin Dean, was deer hunting on the slopes of Baldy Peak just north of Hesperus, Colorado when he came across a mine which had been closed off with a metal grate. Being the adventurous type, he returned the next day, circumvented the grate, and entered the shaft. We’ll let Marlin take the story from here:
“We went back the next day after the storm and hunted that same ridge. At lunch time we went to the same clearing and while Chuck (hunting partner) tended the horses and took a nap, I grabbed a flashlight and a hatchet and crawled back into that mine. It went back only about forty feet or so before a pile of rocks and dirt where they had caved it in. I hoped to find some leftover gold in there, but so did anyone else I figured, so thought my best chance was to dig with the hatchet. Picked a spot along the floor and wall and dug around in there for about an hour or so before something went ‘tink’ instead of ‘thud’. That knife was buried in several inches of dirt, less than a foot but down a ways and in solid. Other debris in there you could tell came from people who had visited more recently, but this looked like it’d been there for awhile. Nothing else buried around it, and no gold of course. Showed it to Chuck and he was surprised. Wrapped it up and took it home where it’s been in a box until I sent it to you [Brett] with those other Westerns.”
Brett, an Army veteran himself – 82nd Airborne, Iraq – was curious about the inscription and began investigating. That led to an inquiry to the CFHS.
It was then confirmed that the knife had belonged to our John S. Creaghe by the inscribed service number: 17087466. Based on internet searches, this model of hunting knife was quite common, but I have not seen one with the plate on the handle where it was inscribed. Actually, the printing is quite evocative of John’s handwriting.
Then came the dilemma as to how the knife ended up on the floor of a deserted mine in the Colorado backcountry. The first clue came from the “Tang Stamp” on the blade. It can be cleaned up enough to reveal the words:
From the stamp we know that the 9 1/8” knife was made by the “Western States Cutlery and Manufacturing Company.” The company was formed in 1911 in Boulder, but the manufacturing process was not moved to Boulder until 1920. John attended the University of Colorado from 1939 until he was inducted into the Army after graduation in April 1943. It is reasonable to assume that he purchased the knife, perhaps in Boulder, near the time he went on active duty with the storied 10th Mountain Division.
The fact that he was, or was about to be, a soldier was important to him. The inclusion of his service number suggests that he was planning to carry it in the Army. My first hypothesis was that John had lost the knife while participating in the 10th ’s infamous, nearly month long “D Series” training exercise held in April 1943.
However, Marlin was able to identify the mine as probably being the “Texas Chief Mine” that closed in 1928 and is located over seventy-eight air miles southwest of Camp Hale, then the home of the 10th Mt. Div. Further research revealed that the “D Series” was conducted northeast of the Camp around Ptarmigan Pass, about five miles west of what is now Copper Mountain Ski Resort. So much for that idea.
John did not mention any hunting or wilderness camping experiences when interviewed in 2004. Therefore, it seems very unlikely that he personally left the knife there sometime before 1982. While it has been fun trying to figure this story out, I still have no idea how the knife ended up in the mine. Seems most likely that John lost it or gave it to someone who, for some reason, put it into the mine.
The CFHS owes a great deal to Marlin for finding and keeping the knife and to Brett for recognizing that he had something special and investigating further. and then passing it on to the CFHS in August 2022. John would have gotten a kick out of this story.
Stephen B. Creaghe, October 15, 2022.
Dean, Bett and Marlin, Communications.
Jenkins, McKay, The Last Ridge, Random House, 2003.
Wiki: western knives, etc.