Texas historians have written volumes about Jim Bowie, who died at the Alamo, but what people remember most about him is a big hunting blade he carried--a weapon known in history simply as the Bowie Knife.
In 1838, two years after the Alamo’s fall, Rezin Bowie, Jim’s brother, claimed he made the first Bowie knife while the Bowie family lived in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. He designed it as a hunting knife and gave it to Jim after he had been shot in a fight.
But the man who actually made the famous knife, was Jesse Clifft, a blacksmith who was a friend and neighbor of the Bowies.
The Bowie knife gained widespread popularity after the celebrated sandbar fight on September 19, 1827, near Natchez, Mississippi.
On that date Samuel Levi Wells confronted Dr. Thomas Maddox on the sandbar. After firing pistols at each other without effect, Wells and Maddox shook hands and started off the field. But members of the Maddox group suddenly fired at Wells’ followers, which included Bowie. Bowie fell, shot through a lung,
An arch-enemy, Norris Wright, who along with Alfred Blanchard, stabbed Bowie repeatedly with sword canes. Bowie raised himself, grabbed Wright and sank his big knife into Wright’s heart, killing him instantly.
Newspapers across the nation printed lurid and detailed stories of the Sandbar Fight. The public reveled in the prowess of Bowie and his knife.
Later, W.W. Bowie, a kinsman, wrote that Bowie gave his Sandbar Fight knife to the famous actor Edwin Forrest, whom Bowie had met in New Orleans in February, 1824.
In the history of American arms, three weapons stand out above all the rest: the Kentucky rifle, the Colt revolver, and the Bowie knife. Each became an American legend.
What happened to the original Bowie knife after Bowie died at the Alamo?
It’s a mystery. One supposed original is on display at the Alamo. Another was supposedly lost by Bowie when he left it on the ground after killing a deer near Goliad, returned to retrieve it, but could not find it. And a museum in Arkaansas claims it has the original in its collection of knives.
(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)
Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com