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History of the Bowie Knife

James Bowie was born, according to some authorities, in 1796 in Logan Country, Kentucky, or in 1799 in Burke County, Georgia, according to others. He settled in the Mexican Province of Texas in 1828, becoming a naturalized Mexican citizen. He married the daughter of the governor of the province of Texas and established his family there.

After 1835, he took an important part in the revolt against Mexico, becoming a com-missioned colonel in the Texas army. In 1836, although he was sick with pneumonia and typhoid, Bowie took part in the defense of the Alamo along with Colonel William Barrett Traves, and Colonel David Crockett. He used his famous Bowie knife on many an enemy in this fight before losing his own life. He was 37-40 years of age.

But what about the famous knife that bears his name? Some say James Bowie designed it, but, as the following shows, the invention of the knifes rightfully belongs to his brother, Rezin.

On April 10, 1827, in Marksville, Louisiana, the Avoyelles county government seat, Rezin P. Bowie, James Bowie's brother, his wife, Margaret, Caiaphas K. Ham, and Jesse Clifft, rode into town to go into the office of Herzehian Dunham, the Notary Public in and for the parish (county) of Avoyelles. They had come to sign and have notarized a very important document. This document had to do with who was the originator of the first Bowie knife. One thing that is in the document is the statement of Rezin Bowie: "The first Bowie knife was made by myself in the parish of Avoyelles." He then goes on to describe the knife. It was single-edged, strong, from 10-15 inches long, with a horn handle. The back of the blade, straight for most of the length, tapered concavely toward the point.

This document provides further proof of the connection between Rezin Bowie and Clifft. When William Hargrove met with Rezin and Margaret Bowie on this day, Herzehian Dunham wrote up an agreement that explicitly links Rezin Bowie, the designer, with Jesse Clifft, the maker of the first Bowie knife.

There is a recently discovered letter to Colonel David F. Boyd, with the date of September 14, 1885, that says: "This instrument, which was never intended for ought but a hunting knife, was made of an old file in the plantation blacksmith shop of my grandfather's Bayou Boeuf plantation, the maker was a hired white man named Jessee Clift (Clifft), he afterwards went to Texas. My mother, Mrs. Jos. H. Moore, then a little girl, went to the shop with her father, heard his directions, and saw Clift make the knife."

Other accounts say that the knife James Bowie used was a later knife than this one, and that he designed it himself. Whoever the designer of this knife is, no one can take the credit from James Bowie for using it in the Sandbar fight near Nachez, Mississippi on September 9, 1827, where he killed Major Norris Wright of Alexandria, Louisiana. This affair helped James Bowie and his bowie knife to become famous. Nor can credit be given to any other than James Bowie for vigorously and valorously defending the Alamo with this knife, a fight that ended his life.

The Bowie knife is one of the most aggressive fighting knives that has ever been designed. It would not be a knife fighter's first choice because of its size. Most of those wishing a copy of this knife prefer that it lie with other beautiful knives in their collections, safe from hands that might abuse it.