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The History Of The Bowie Knife

Aug 17, 2007
The Bowie knife could be the most famous knife on earth; it is definitely rooted in history with many legends and stories attached to it. The knife gets its name from Colonel James "Jim" Bowie the 19th century pioneer and soldier who was a prominent force in the Texas Revolution and was killed at the Battle of the Alamo. The knife became known as a Bowie knife because he always had his with him and there were many stories in which he used the knife to defend himself.

One such fight was the "Sandbar Fight", a famous fight that pitted Bowie against several other men including Major Norris Wright from Alexandria, Louisiana. The fight occurred in 1827 on a sandbar in the Mississippi River across from Natchez, Mississippi. Bowie was stabbed, shot, and beaten half to death and still one the fight. It was claimed by Bowie's brother, Rezin that the knife used in this fight was made by a blacksmith by the name of Snowden, not Jesse Cleft who is generally given credit with making the original Bowie Knife after Rezin's design from an old file.

Bowie returned, with his knife, to Texas and was involved in a knife 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 says that one man was almost decapitated, the second was disemboweled, and the third had his skull split open. Bowie died at the Battle of the Alamo five years later and both he and his knife became immensely famous. The fate of the original Bowie knife is unknown; however, a knife bearing the engraving "Bowie No. 1" has been acquired by the Historic Arkansas Museum from a Texas collector and has been attributed to Black through scientific analysis.

Possible the most famous of the Bowie Knives was the one designed by Bowie himself and given to an Arkansas blacksmith named James Black as a carved wood prototype. Black made the actual knife to Bowie's specification and also created another with a sharpened edge on the curved top edge of the blade. Bowie was given his choice of the two and he chose the one that Black had modified. This type of knife is known as the Sheffield Bowie today, so named for the cutlery factories in Sheffield, England who due to the knife's popularity began mass producing it and exporting it to the U.S. by 1850. These knives usually had a handle made from hardwood, stag horn, or bone and occasionally came with a guard.

The blacksmith James Black soon did a booming business making and selling these knives out of his shop in Washington, Arkansas. Black continued to refine his technique and improve the quality of the knife as he went. In 1839, Black was nearly blinded by an attacker and was no longer able to continue in his trade.

Black's knives were known to be exceedingly tough, yet flexible, and his technique has not been duplicated. Black kept his technique secret and did all of his work behind a leather curtain. Many claim that Black rediscovered the secret to producing true Damascus steel.

In 1870 at the age of 70, Black attempted to pass on his secret to the son of the family that had cared for him in his old age, Daniel Webster Jones. But Black had been retired for many years and found that he himself had forgotten the secret. The only thing Black could remember was that ten separate steps were involved. Jones would later become Governor of Arkansas.
About the Author
Gregg Hall is a business consultant and author for many online and offline businesses and lives in Navarre Florida with his 16 year old son. For a great selection of knives go to http://www.only-knives.com
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