Jim Bowie

Jim Bowie was a frontiersman who died at the Alamo along with Davy Crockett. The Bowie knife is named after him.

The Inventor Of The Bowie Knife Isn't Who You Think

James "Jim" Bowie was, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, part of a pioneer family who "who settled in early Arkansas and Louisiana" and was notorious for "kill[ing] one man and seriously injur[ing] another with a 'big knife”' in a brawl that came to be known as the "Sandbar Duel" on September 19, 1827 in Natchez, Mississippi. Per Legends of America, the duel was actually supposed to take place between Samuel Levi Wells III and Dr. Thomas Harris Maddox Bowie had merely accompanied Wells. "All hell broke loose," however, after Wells and Maddox fired at each other and missed. One thing led to another. Eyewitnesses spread the word about the guy with the big knife and his "prowess with the lethal blade." People started asking blacksmiths to make them "Bowie knives."

Just what makes a knife a Bowie knife, anyway? According to Field & Stream, even knife experts can't agree on what makes a "true Bowie," but they have nevertheless "shaped American ideals of what a knife should be for nearly 200 years." Common characteristics include a coffin-shaped handle, a heavy cross guard — the piece of metal found at a right angle to the blade above the handle — and a "sweeping clip blade" with a "partially sharp top edge." The blade itself might measure anywhere from 9-12 inches in length.

James Bowie

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James Bowie, byname Jim Bowie, (born 1796?, Logan County, Ky., U.S.—died March 6, 1836, San Antonio, Texas), popular hero of the Texas Revolution (1835–36) who is mainly remembered for his part in the Battle of the Alamo (February–March 1836).

Bowie migrated with his parents to Missouri (1800) and then to Louisiana (1802). At 18 he left home, clearing land and sawing timber for a living. Later he reportedly engaged in the slave trade with his brothers John and Rezin. With the latter he also bought and improved a sugar plantation in Louisiana, where he served for a time in the state legislature and spent much time in New Orleans society.

After he reportedly killed a man in a duel, Bowie went to Texas about 1828, where at Bexar (now San Antonio) he became friendly with the Mexican vice governor, Juan Martín de Veramendi. He assumed Mexican citizenship, acquired land grants, and married Veramendi’s daughter, Ursula (1831). He was one of thousands of U.S. settlers and adventurers who swelled the non-Mexican population in Texas, and restrictive Mexican legislation to curb the newcomers soon interested him in the Texas revolutionary movement. As a colonel in the Texas army, he fought with distinction in several battles and finally joined Col. William B. Travis in the gallant defense of the Alamo, an abandoned mission house in San Antonio. Already confined to his cot by illness, Bowie was killed with the other defenders when the Alamo finally fell to numerically superior Mexican forces.

Bowie’s daring and courage have become legendary through Western song and ballad. His name is also associated with the Bowie knife, a weapon (sometimes called the “Arkansas toothpick”) invented by either him or his brother Rezin.

The Original EDC Knife?

After the Vidalia Sandbar Fight, Bowie may have decided that carrying a social knife full-time was prudent, and may have had the knife that bears his name forged by an Arkansas blacksmith named James Black, and may have used it in a duel with a gambler named Jack Sturdivant, in which he crippled Sturdivant, and may have used it to butcher the three assassins Sturdivant sent after him.

Possibly having run out of people to kill, Bowie moved to Texas in 1828. There he became fluent in Spanish, took out Mexican citizenship, and married a well-born young woman named Ursula Veramendi, with whom he had two daughters.

Marriage did little to settle him. He and Rezin searched for the lost San Saba silver mine, and in the course of hunting for it got into a pitched battle with a mixed-tribe force of Indians, whom his group fought for 13 hours, losing only one man and killing 40 of the other side. Already famous, Bowie became far more so.

Fate had spared Bowie several times, but not his wife and daughters, who died in a cholera epidemic in 1833. It wrecked him. He became an alcoholic, but was saved by the movement for Texas independence which gave him something to live for again. He was made a colonel in the Texian Militia, was offered a colonelcy in the Texian Army on the staff of Stephen Austin. Bowie declined the regular commission, saying that he would rather be a private, and enlisted in that rank.

However, as the war with Mexico progressed, he so distinguished himself that he received the Army colonelcy anyway, and eventually found himself at the Alamo with David Crockett, William Barrett Travis, and somewhat under 200 volunteers. They faced 4,500 Mexican regulars commanded by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana.

Bowie met David Crockett at the Alamo, and the two apparently hit it off. At one point Bowie unsheathed his knife and Crockett is alleged to have said, “You might tickle a man’s ribs a long time with that before you’d make him laugh.” Which was true, and sounds like Crockett.

The siege of the Alamo began on February 24, 1836. It fell on March 6. Bowie had been bedridden with pneumonia through the battle, and met his death fighting from his cot. Dying, he is supposed to have killed nine soldados. The bodies of Bowie, Crockett, and Travis were burned.

Who has Jim Bowie’s Knife from the 1836 Battle of the Alamo?

Nobody knows. Like most, if not all, of the personal things left behind by the defenders of the Alamo mission in San Antonio, Texas, historians have no clue what happened to defender Jim Bowie’s knife, or any other.

James Black, the blacksmith some historians credit for creating the knife that made Jim Bowie famous (others credit brother Rezin Bowie), is allegedly depicted (above right) with Judge Jacob Buzzard, holding up “guardless coffin”-style bowies.
— Courtesy Historic Arkansas Museum —

Soldiers are great collectors of souvenirs, so one of the men led by Mexican Revolution Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna could have grabbed it.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at [email protected]

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Land scammer

In late 1820, Jim Bowie and his brothers turned to land speculation. They hoped to take advantage of rising prices as Americans poured into Louisiana and Arkansas. Though the Bowies bought some land, including a sugar plantation named Acadia on Bayou Lafourche near Thibodaux, southwest of New Orleans, they sold more through fraud.

When the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory, it promised to honor all documented claims to ownership of land that had been granted when the territory was under Spanish rule. The Bowies forged Spanish grant documentation for uncontested land that was in the public domain. They then transferred these claims from fictitious persons to themselves for fictitious sums. They submitted the fake claims to the US land office for approval. Once they had established legitimate title, the brothers could sell the land for pure profit.

In 1824, Congress gave the Superior Court of Arkansas jurisdiction over any new cases arising from Spanish land claims. In late 1827, the court was presented with over 120 claims, collectively involving some 50,000 acres of land, all based on the same documentation. Although the court initially approved most of the claims, in 1831 it invalidated them after a federal investigator found that the documents had been forged. Meanwhile, the Bowies – who, with a couple of associates, were behind this scheme – had already sold some of the land. One of the purchasers sued the government to obtain a claim he had bought from John Bowie. The case was appealed to the US Supreme Court (Sampeyreac and Stewart v. the United States), which in 1833 confirmed that no legitimate title had ever existed.

By this time Jim Bowie had moved to Texas, where he continued to speculate in land. He died on March 6, 1836, at the age of 40, in the Mexican attack on the Alamo in San Antonio.

Bowie was a legend – a gaudy legend of gaudy violence – before he died. No deus ex machina in Greek tragedy ever extricated a character from peril more neatly than the Alamo extricated Bowie from defeat in life and from tarnish on reputation. For the popular mind, particularly of posterity, the Alamo blotted out all but the heroic and noble from the records. (5)

Where is Jim Bowie’s Famous Knife? The Lost, Original Bowie Knife

One of the biggest mysteries for weapon historians today is what happened to James Bowie’s knife? The Bowie knife is iconic in the South, but its origin comes from more fabrication than fact. The legend of the knife is part of the larger legend of the historic hero who wielded it, James Bowie. Jim Bowie was known for many things, but he was most famously known for his ability to win fights with his big knife.

It’s unclear who designed the original version of this iconic knife. Many accounts state Bowie’s brother, Rezin, made it and had it forged by blacksmith Jessie Clift. Another account claims that Bowie designed the knife himself. In 1830, he allegedly presented a personally designed model to a blacksmith in Arkansas named James Black.

The knife became more widely recognized after the notorious Sandbar Fight in Natchez, near the Mississippi River. Bowie was shot by a group of men after a duel and stabbed multiple times with sword canes. Bowie, however, pulled his new knife and plunged it into the heart of one of the men, instantly killing him. The fight was written about and the legend of Bowie and his big knife spread across the nation.

When Bowie came to Texas, he used his knife to fight and kill three men, later discovering they were hired to kill him. The way Bowie killed these men showed the knife could split a skull, decapitate, and disembowel an opponent. This fight sparked notoriety throughout Texas, and the knife would go on to replace sword canes in the South.

Bowie died with many other Texas heroes at the battle of the Alamo. He was sick and secluded during the battle when he was found by the Mexican soldiers. They shot and killed him in his chambers. It’s not known if Bowie put up a fight with his knife, but there are accounts that imply the knife was retrieved by one of the Mexican soldiers. However, out of all the stories, the whereabouts of the original knife remains a mystery.

How did Bowie Die at the Alamo?

Andrea Castanon de Villanueva, more commonly known as Madam Candelaria, gave several different accounts as a witness to the siege at the Alamo. They all conflict as to the manner in which Bowie was killed but concur as to the symptoms of his illness. Descriptions of Bowie's condition by other witnesses concur with Candelaria's account of him having shortness of breath, a continued cough, rapid pulse and fever, and the loss of "considerable flesh." [12] It must be noted however, that the credibility of Candelaria must be closely scrutinized as she had no medical or nursing background and often contradicted herself in interviews. In an 1890 interview she was convinced he was "very ill of typhoid fever," while in an interview from 1899, she stated that Bowie was "afflicted with consumption." [13]

Generally, there are no respiratory symptoms associated with typhoid fever. [14] Henderson Yoakum, a prominent lawyer, historian, and congressional representative from Texas made a strong argument refuting Candelaria’s claim to having been Bowie’s nurse. In a letter dated January 8, 1870, to an unknown recipient, Yoakum argues that Juana Alsbury nursed Bowie at the Alamo and that Madam Candelaria was not even present at the time of the siege. [15] Yoakum deduced that Mrs. Alsbury would have been the choice to nurse Bowie as she was the niece of former governor Veramendi and Bowie’s sister-in-law. The note claims that Alsbury was not aware of another woman nursing Bowie.

Conflicting evidence is not new to the story of the Alamo as myths and legends have been abundant since March 6, 1836, the day Santa Anna's troops toppled the Alamo and slaughtered its defenders. One that was once believed to be fact, which has since been refuted by historians, is that Bowie fell from a parapet resulting in an injury that caused his physical decline. Medically this was possible if his injury resulted in a pulmonary embolism. Emboli are often the result of a blood clot traveling from the leg to the lungs however, they can also develop from a fatty deposit dislodging from a broken bone. If Bowie had fallen from such a height, a fracture of one of his ribs, or any bone, was highly probable. Untreated emboli are fatal and the symptoms, which include shortness of breath, chest pain, and a bloody cough, present themselves with sudden onset. [16] All of these elements fit the description of Bowie’s illness, yet there has not been documentation found to substantiate him having fallen. The only documented and undisputed testimony is that Bowie was bed-ridden at the time of the assault on the Alamo.

All of Bowie's so-called nurses agreed that he was bedridden at the time of the siege, yet a soldier with Santa Anna's army denied seeing Bowie or anyone else in bed when the Mexican army stormed the compound. In his diary, With Santa Anna in Texas, Jose Enrique de la Pena vividly describes the scene on the morning of March 6, 1836, as one of bloody confusion and unfathomable carnage. According to de la Pena, Travis did not withdraw when the Mexican troops scaled the walls of the fortress rather he died fighting. He described the others as "terrified defenders" who " withdrew" and "bolted and reinforced the doors." [17]

Jim Bowie - History

The Adventures of Jim Bowie: The Squatter

TV western series. In this episode, Jim Bowie helps a man whose wife is pregnant.

The Adventures of Jim Bowie is an American Western television series that aired on ABC from 1956 to 1958. Its setting was the 1830’s-era Louisiana Territory. The series was an adaptation of the book Tempered Blade, by Monte Barrett.


The series stars Scott Forbes as the real-life adventurer Jim Bowie. The series initially portrayed Jim Bowie as something of an outdoors-man, riding his horse through the wilderness near his home in Opelousas where he would stumble across someone needing his assistance. He was aided by his ever-present weapon the Bowie Knife, something he designed in the first episode The Birth of the Blade. Although Bowie used the blade quite a bit in early episodes, its prominence was downplayed as the show went on.

Gradually the series shifted from the country to the city, having Bowie instead spend the majority of his time in New Orleans. He was frequently shown looking to invest his money in real estate, or coming to the aid of someone who had been swindled.

Story lines focused on the exploits of Bowie before he moved to Texas (then part of Mexico), and his death at the Alamo in 1836. During the series’ two season run, Bowie encountered many historical figures of the era, such as President Andrew Jackson, Jefferson Davis, John James Audubon, Sam Houston, and Davy Crockett.

Among the actors and actresses who guest-starred more than once on the series were William Schallert, Denver Pyle, Michael Landon, Chuck Connors, Walter Coy, June Carter Cash, and Lurene Tuttle. Jimmy Noel made walk-on appearances in six episodes. Those making single guest appearances included Yvonne Lime Fedderson, Douglas Kennedy, and Carole Mathews.

Jim Bowie did not appear in the last episode of the series. Instead, he was said to be away on an important assignment, and the attention was placed on criminal Jess Miller. Miller was given the task to retrieve a great sum of money, and the episode focused on whether Miller would complete his assignment or take the money for himself. At the end there is an indication that Miller would join up with Bowie on further adventures, but no further episodes were produced.

Douglas Brode wrote in his book, Shooting Stars of the Small Screen: Encyclopedia of TV Western Actors, 1946–Present, that Scott Forbes, who had the title role, “stormed off the set” when he learned that the series was being canceled after two seasons, when he had understood that it would run for five seasons. He added, “In desperation, the writers fashioned the final script” without the star.

Theme Music

The theme song was “Adventurin’ Man”, performed by the Ken Darby Singers. The series’ music was unusual in that it was primarily vocal, provided by Ken Darby and The King’s Men (save for a few episodes in season two).

Sheffield Bowie Knives

In the mid 1800's Sheffield was then the world's major centre for cutlery production and the city's manufacturers geared up to the production of Bowie Knives to meet the demand from America. Bowie knives actually became England's second major exported item to America at the time.

Over the years, Bowie knives have continued to be made in Sheffield but the city's industry is much smaller than it ever was. There are still a few master craftsmen in Sheffield and the local term for these is "Little Mesters". A Little Mester is traditionally a one-man business specialising in a few, or even single, lines, often working long hours to make ends meet.

Please see elsewhere on this web site for Little Mester producers whose craftsmanship we are proud to offer.

Click Here For Sheffield Bowie Knives

Jim Bowie - History

Has the Sandbar Bowie Knife Been Found?
The knife I discovered in a Maryland antiques shop could be a contender — or a pretender.
By Mark McLean
Photos by Craig Gerhart

I collect antique knives, primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries, that are mostly big American-made knives: hunting, long, belt, butcher, and Bowie knives. I especially like old, individually hand-forged knives. Like a lot of young boys, I suppose my interest was sparked by TV shows from the 1950 and ‘60s featuring frontiersmen such as Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and Jim Bowie. My father gave me my first hunting knife with an antler grip when I about ten years old. I went on to collect a few more knives here and there, but didn’t take the hobby seriously until about eight years ago.
While looking through an antiques and collectibles store in Maryland a couple of years ago, I happened upon a cardboard box full of old kitchen-type knives. Among the various knives was one that had been hand-forged. For this, I paid a princely sum of $10.00. It is this knife that this article is about (figure 1).

Here is where I see the most compelling evidence supporting my hypothesis. In figure 7, you can see — close-up — that there are a number of small sharp nicks down the blade’s back. There are about ten or so, all facing downward from the point.

My hunch is that these nicks were the result of hits to the blade-spine from another blade-like implement. Their similarity in appearance makes me think that the nicks may have resulted from the same incident.

The Sandbar fight was precipitated by a pistol duel. The two protagonists fired at each other twice, missed both attempts, and ended the duel in a draw. However, each had a small group of backers whose tempers were still raging from the initial confrontation when a furious fight broke out. During this post-duel melee Jim Bowie, who was not a principal in the original duel, was badly wounded. Two men on the opposing side (Major Norris Wright and Alfred Blanchard) had a previous grudge against Bowie. Seeing Jim was hurt, they took the opportunity to finish him off with sword canes. Flayderman wrote that Bowie, in a crouch-like position, deflected the two men’s sword cane thrusts with both his free arm and the arm wielding the big knife (reference 3, page 289).

Ben Palmer recounts that Bowie’s manner of grasping his knife was considered peculiar he held it as one might grasp a sword (reference 4, page 12). If true, then I imagine that Bowie’s blade would have protruded up from his clenched fist, rather than down. Typically when fighting with a knife, one tends to hold the handle with the blade pointing from the bottom of the fist — but from a crouched position Bowie’s blade would likely be pointing skyward.

Palmer goes on to say that the technique of fighting with a knife is not the same as in sabre fights, where the swords themselves are used to parry blows (reference 4, page 12). Palmer notes that this could account for the lack of parry-marks on the blades of the numerous bowie specimens he’s examined. I think the nicks on my knife’s blade-spine could be the parry-marks of sword cane blows. Picture it: Bowie, in a crouched position with both arms raised, points his knife up to the sky like a sword. Using that knife, he manages to fend off Wright and Blanchard’s sword cane strikes before finally thrusting his knife up and decisively dispatching Major Wright.

Now, why would the original Bowie knife be found in an antiques shop in Maryland almost two centuries after the Sandbar fight? It’s hard to say, but here are a couple plausible scenarios: First, Jim was severely wounded and close to death. As such, he probably did not think to secure his knife. Any of the various duel participants or spectators could have kept it as a souvenir. Second, the Bowie brothers supposedly had relatives in Maryland. Many Bowie knife historians say the original knife was of a non-descript butcher variety, and therefore not high caliber enough that one would necessarily want to keep it, especially since the knife was also a murder weapon at an illegal duel. The knife could have been returned to someone in the Bowie family, and because it was used to kill Major Wright, they may have decided to keep it hidden from view. One indication of this scenario is that my knife’s blade-edge shows little sign of sharpening. If my knife is as old as I believe it to be, then either it was simply not sharpened that much over the years, or it was discreetly put aside, hidden and then forgotten.

Finally, there appears to be a bit of dried blood on my knife. The markings were there when I bought it and are still visible (figure 8). I shared this intriguing mystery with a pathologist friend of mine and she agreed, after a visual inspection, that the stains do look to her like dried blood. Of course, it would need a scientific test to determine whether it’s actually blood of human origin. And if it proved to be human material, then perhaps DNA testing could be done. That’s presuming of course that descendants of the Bowies, Wright, and maybe even Blanchard too, still exist and could be found. If DNA testing can’t be done, maybe it can at least be shown that there are multiple sources of human blood.

Personally, I do not have the wherewithal for expensive undertakings such as laboratory analysis and genealogy research. At a minimum, testing of my knife to determine its age should be done. And of course, it should be examined and compared side-by-side with the Cephas knife.

This concludes my astounding story that I may actually own the original Bowie knife. I imagine naysayers are already formulating rebuttals. However, as Norm Flayderman writes “There is little doubt that weapons attributed to Jesse James and Jim Bowie and other famous and infamous figures will continue to surface. Among them, it is quite possible for an authentic specimen to appear” (reference 3, Chapter 16, page 457). If my knife is the authentic specimen, then just think how satisfying it would be to add a definitive final chapter in the history of the Bowie knife, and to actually see and know the fabled weapon that first enshrined Jim Bowie as an American icon and legend.

If ever there is a knife fight (competition, that is) as to what knife will wear the crown as the true “Bowie” original, I offer my Big Knife up as a contender.

American Tradition, The Journal of the Contemporary Longrifle Association Volume 3, No. 2, July 2012

The Knife in Homespun America and Related Items by Madison Grant Published by Madison Grand Copyright 1984 by Madison Grant Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 83-83195

Watch the video: Jim Bowie Real West (January 2022).