Texas Primer: The Bowie Knife

The fearsome weapon that terrified enemies, ensured supper, and made its namesake a hero.

The bowie knife lives as a symbol of passionate times, when men were bold and brave and easily offended. They killed for their honor, hunted their food, and dealt personally with cheaters, murderers, angry Indians, and bears, and that’s just a partial list. There was a lot of fighting going on. Forged by the demands of survival on the Southwestern frontier, the bowie knife has a significance in the evolution of American weapons comparable to that of the Kentucky rifle and the Colt revolver. Almost any Texan can summon up a nightmarish image of its huge and shining form, with a sharpened upper edge specially designed for ripping out the guts of an adversary.

Jim Bowie, for whom the knife was made, was as much at home in the outlaw woods as in the best drawing rooms. He was born in the 1790’s and raised on a plantation in central Louisiana, and he studied fencing in New Orleans. Restless and hot-tempered, he frequently became involved in duels and fights and killed many men in his journeys through his home state and Texas. In those days pistols were unreliable, single-shot affairs, useless if one’s powder got wet. A dagger or a sword was necessary equipment for a gentleman, as was a large butchering knife for the frontiersman. Bowie was both.

Though the facts are obscure and contradictory, the first version of the bowie apparently was designed in 1827 for Jim by his brother Rezin. It was a hunting knife with a straight,


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