Bowie trafficked in slaves, participated in land fraud and drank too
much – but he did not lack for grit.
Eight years after his death in the Alamo,
the New Orleans Picayune carried an article titled “Col. James Bowie”
that offered insight into his personality and preserved for posterity
an incident reflecting on his mettle.
author of the newspaper piece, a roving Irish-born adventurer and
journalist named Matt Field, did not get off to much of a start: “We
are in possession of a little anecdote highly characteristic of those
remarkable men…Bowie and his brother Rezin, which has never, we believe,
yet appeared among the various printed relations of their battles,
dangers, bravery, etc., that have met the public eye.”
Field went on to relate the tale, which after his telling languished
for another century before John E. Sunder collected Field’s literary
productions for the 1960 University of Oklahoma Press book, “Matt
Field on the Santa Fe Trail.”
story Field told about Bowie happened “among the wild prairie regions
of Texas.” Field does not offer a more specific location or date,
but his anecdote is an artifact of a fight Bowie and his brother,
along with six other men and a boy, had with Indians on Nov. 21, 1831
in what is now McCulloch County. The Bowies had left San
Antonio earlier that month in search of the fabled Lost San Saba
Not only did Field back into his story, he rambled on a good bit about
Bowie before he got to the finally got to the point. In doing so,
he did at least offer some insight into the famous man’s character.
| Field viewed
Bowie as “undoubtedly a man of vigorous intellect, as well as of firm
and flintlike nerve. His character is one of bold and captivating
individuality, and would form a magnificent study for some native
Despite a well-deserved reputation as a fighter, Field continued,
Bowie came across as “bland and gentle, so much so as to heighten
materially the interest of his character. He spoke with slow and impressive
intonation, nicely articulating every syllable he uttered, and with
strict yet easy politeness observing every form of delicacy and good-breeding.”
Unless he had a drink or three under his belt, or faced an enemy.
and his brother, at the head of a “brave little band” in the “Texan
wilds,” ran into a large number of Indians. Field called them “Camanches,”
but Bowie reported them to have been Tawakonis. (Their leader was
Tres Manos, a moniker he picked up because of the mummified hand that
hung from his neck.)
Seeing that the Indians badly outnumbered his party, Bowie “maneuvered
his men as completely to conceal his inferiority of force, and, securing
a position for defense, he very coolly awaited the moment for action.
“A favorable chance for execution soon occurred, and a few American
rifles began to blaze away upon the savages in such a manner as to
convince them that the party told about double its actual number.
Still the Camanches were appearing in all directions, flying about
in great force, and the condition of the little American party became
Though all the Americans possessed long rifles, Rezin Bowie had the
best weapon, “a perfect prince of shooting irons.” Not only that,
Rezin “was as sure of his mark as of lifting food direct to his mouth.”
When James noticed that Rezin had propped his rifle across a log,
had his eye to the sight and his finger posed on the trigger, he drew
an imaginary line with his eyes from the end of Rezin’s rifle to his
target: The obvious leader of the Indian war party. Near him rode
an Indian who, judging from his plumage and bearing, carried equal
or nearly-equal rank.
“Brother Rezin,” Bowie said, “do you not see these two red rascals
wheeling about there, near each other? Why don’t you pull one of them
down from his horse?”
Rezin told his brother not to hurry him.
“If I pull one…down, brother, the other…will get out of my reach,”
he continued. “But wait till they lap, and then I’ll pull them both
Rezin waited patiently until both Indians lined up on an imaginary
line extending from the end of his rifle.
As James Bowie later told it: “Rezin pulled the trigger – and, as
I am an hon-est gen-tle-man, they both fell from their horses!”
The Indians had managed to kill one member of the Bowie party, but
both brothers left the field with scalps intact, living “to pass through
many perilous adventures after that.”
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" October
19 , 2006 column
by Mike Cox - Order Here