Sword Cane No Match for Bowie’s Knife
“Another hero of the old Southwest was James Bowie, born in Tennessee in 1795, killed in action at the Alamo if 1836. His father, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, operated a small plantation near Elliot Springs, growing cotton, corn, sugar cane, and tobacco. When James was seven years old, the Bowies moved further into the Southwest, seeking more productive soil, bringing their half-dozen slaves along with them. They finally settled outside Opelousas, in Louisiana, and here they prospered.
James and his brothers John and Rezin, Jr., became known as “those wild Bowies,” because of the way they hunted wild cattle with lasso and knife, instead of using the conventional long spear and pistol. Rezin invented the famous Bowie knife, with its ten-inch long, single edged, slightly curved blade, and its guard at the handle. Jesse Cliffe, his blacksmith friend, first made it. But Brother James brought it fame.
The Bowie boys teamed up in 1818 with Jean Lafitte, the pirate leader who had distinguished himself at the Battle of New Orleans. Lafitte, during this period, was operating out of Galveston, in Spanish Mexico; his business was the smuggling of slaves into the United States.
But the most repeated stories concerning James Bowie dealt with his famous knife, which ornamented numerous encounters in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. For example, there was the fracas of September 18, 1827, which started at Natchez-under-the-Hill, rendezvous of brawlers, gamblers and worse. Eleven Louisianans, bent on arranging a duel between two of their group, met at Natchez to complete plans.
After picking up two doctors they recrossed the river to Louisiana near the village of Vidalia. The duelists were Colonel Samuel Welles and Dr. Thomas Maddox, bitter political opponents in a recent campaign. James
Bowie was acting as a second. Pistols were decided upon for weapons.
The duel proper turned into a fiasco when two shots, fired on each side, went wild. The politicians were about to shake hands and forget it all but the spectators had been stirred by the proceedings to remember certain grievances they had against one another.
Suddenly, a Colonel Crain fired at Jim Bowie without warning and wounded him in the thigh; another of Bowie’s enemies, Major Wright, attacked him with a sword cane. Calmly, Jim drew the famous knife and sliced the
cowardly Major to the backbone. “Damn you Bowie, you have killed me,” remarked the Major and expired.”
(Romanticism and Nationalism in the Old South, Rollin G. Osterweis, LSU Press, 1949, pp. 196-197)