we read stories about the heroes of the Alamo,
namely Crockett, Travis, and Bowie, it’s very hard to separate fact
from fiction. Legends about the lives of these men are numerous,
and when the legend is more romantic than the fact, it seems fiction
takes center stage.
In the case of Jim Bowie, he has been labeled as a slave owner,
womanizer, and knife-wielding brawler. From the research that I’ve
found on the man, most of these descriptions of him seem fairly
Long before Bowie came to Texas his reputation as a formidable knife
fighter had already been established in the South. Although he was
said to be mild mannered, Bowie was quick to anger when he felt
that he had been insulted and he often used his knife to settle
The famous knife used by Bowie is surrounded by more legends than
the man himself. It is hard to find many stories that agree on who
actually made the blade and how Bowie came by it in the first place.
From what I’ve been able to glean from researching books and Internet
sources, there are several different versions to the story.
source claims that Bowie’s first knife was given to him by his brother,
Rezin, and that it was simply a large butcher knife. The Bowie brothers
were raised in Louisiana and the story goes that Rezin designed
the original blade and commissioned a blacksmith in Avoyelles Parish,
named Jesse Cleft, to make one from an old file.
It is claimed that this was the knife used by Bowie in the famous
Sandbar Fight in Natchez, Mississippi, where he was stabbed, shot,
and beaten half to death but still managed to win the fight. However,
after this altercation Bowie’s older brother claimed that it wasn’t
Cleft’s knife used in the fight but one especially made for Bowie
by a blacksmith named Snowden. So it’s really anyone’s guess as
to who actually made the knife.
the most popular version of how the knife originated comes from
the claim that the great knife-fighter himself, Jim Bowie, actually
designed it. The story goes that he carved a wooden model to represent
how he wanted the blade to look and then presented that model to
an Arkansas blacksmith named James Black in December of 1830. Black
was said to have had a very unique process for making knifes and
it was a trade secret that he shared with no one.
Black produced the knife ordered by Bowie, and at the same time
created another based on Bowie’s original design but with a sharpened
edge on the curved top edge of the blade. Black offered Bowie his
choice and Bowie chose the modified version.
After he took delivery of Black’s knife, Bowie went to Texas
and was involved in a bloody fight with three men who had been hired
to kill him. Bowie killed the three would-be assassins with his
new knife and the fame of the knife was established. Legend holds
that one man was almost decapitated, the second was disemboweled,
and the third had his skull split open.
The mystery surrounding the famous Bowie Knife goes much deeper
than how it came to be – fact is, it’s more important to historians
as to what actually became of the famous blade after Bowie died
in the Alamo
battle. History tells us that Bowie was in poor health, confined
to his bed, when Mexican soldiers came over the walls of the old
mission on March 6, 1836 – according to The Handbook of Texas;
Bowie was shot several times in the head.
Chances are that one of the soldiers recovered the famous knife
and it’s anybody’s guess as to what happen to it after that; but
once again, be they fact or fiction, numerous stories are out there
giving different versions of what became of the great knife.
version says that a Texas family named Moore hired a man of Hispanic
descent in the 1890s who claimed he had been a private in the army
of Santa Anna. Somehow he had acquired Bowie’s famous knife. The
story goes that he owed the Moore family some money and gave them
the knife in payment of the debt. There was another story going
around that the legendary knife was found on the ground after the
San Jacinto. It’s my understanding that none of these accounts
have ever been verified.
We may never know what happened to Jim Bowie’s extraordinary knife,
but one thing we know for certain its owner was one of those responsible
for the birth of a new nation – the republic known as Texas.
When Jim Bowie's mother was informed of his death, she calmly stated,
"I'll wager no wounds were found in his back."
Star Diary June
13 , 2013 column
| Columns | Texas
Town List | Texas
Subject: Bowie Knife
I don't know where Jim Bowie's famous knife is & neither does anyone
else. A collector in Dallas
claims to own it, but what he has is a late-19th century Mexican-made
I have, however, held 2 copies of it, one made as an exact duplicate
of the one Bowie himself carried. Both were made by Noah Smithwick.
In EVOLUTION OF A STATE, Smithwick says he was approached by Bowie
to make 10 exact copies of his famous knife for him to give to friends.
Smithwick then states "I developed quite a trade in knives of the
sort in various sizes."
In 1958, in
Austin, at his 'house
behind the house' on Castle Hill street, which housed his collection
of guns, knives, & other antiques, Mr. John A. Norris showed me
a Smithwick bowie. It was obviously a 'commercial' knife, not 1
of the 10. The unpolished blade was 10 1/2 inches long, point at
centerline. The clip--which had been sharpened at 1 time--was 3
inches long. The blade was 2 inches wide, 1/4 inch thick. The spine
of the blade was flat. There was a full tang, an iron guard, and
gripscales made of wood held on by copper or brass rivets. There
was neither fuller nor ricasso. The trademark, on the left side
of the blade, was Smithwick's post-1836 mark, a turkey-necked eagle,
feet toward the hilt, with N. SMITHWICK in an arch over it.
Just a few years ago I was allowed to examine a 2nd Smithwick bowie,
obviously a presentation knife. It, too, came from the Norris collection
& was given to a close friend of Mr. Norris by the Norris heirs
as payment for helping to catalog & market the collection after
Mr. Norris' death.
The knife, while dimensionally identical to the knife I examined
in 1958, was much more finely finished. The spine of the blade was
rounded & the blade, at one time, had been polished almost to a
mirror finish. Acid etched on the left side was a turkey-necked
eagle with about a 4 inch wingspread. The grip scales were of ivory
or bone & had been decorated with some sort of carving at 1 time,
but were so worn the details of the carving could not be made out.
The mark, also on the left side of the blade, was SMITHWICK BRAZOS,
Smithwick's pre-1836 mark. The gentleman who owned this knife has
since died. His heirs were approached by numerous collectors, all
of whom pronounced the knife a fake--and then tried to buy it! I
personally directed the man's daughter to Jackson Arms in University
Park to get it appraised. I knew Jackson Arms would appraise it
properly. The heirs, so I'm told, have since sold the knife. I don't
know who bought it or where it is at present. - C.
F. Eckhardt, Seguin,
Texas, June 16, 2013