One of the biggest mysteries for weapon historians today is what happened to James Bowie’s knife? The Bowie knife is iconic in the South, but its origin comes from more fabrication than fact. The legend of the knife is part of the larger legend of the historic hero who wielded it, James Bowie. Jim Bowie was known for many things, but he was most famously known for his ability to win fights with his big knife.
It’s unclear who designed the original version of this iconic knife. Many accounts state Bowie’s brother, Rezin, made it and had it forged by blacksmith Jessie Clift. Another account claims that Bowie designed the knife himself. In 1830, he allegedly presented a personally designed model to a blacksmith in Arkansas named James Black.
The knife became more widely recognized after the notorious Sandbar Fight in Natchez, near the Mississippi River. Bowie was shot by a group of men after a duel and stabbed multiple times with sword canes. Bowie, however, pulled his new knife and plunged it into the heart of one of the men, instantly killing him. The fight was written about and the legend of Bowie and his big knife spread across the nation.
When Bowie came to Texas, he used his knife to fight and kill three men, later discovering they were hired to kill him. The way Bowie killed these men showed the knife could split a skull, decapitate, and disembowel an opponent. This fight sparked notoriety throughout Texas, and the knife would go on to replace sword canes in the South.
Photo: @skaron via Twenty20
Bowie died with many other Texas heroes at the battle of the Alamo. He was sick and secluded during the battle when he was found by the Mexican soldiers. They shot and killed him in his chambers. It’s not known if Bowie put up a fight with his knife, but there are accounts that imply the knife was retrieved by one of the Mexican soldiers. However, out of all the stories, the whereabouts of the original knife remains a mystery.