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Dec 23, 1998
I thought I would continue the Bowie thread here since it is getting rediculously long, and I have some questions. We apparently have several people that know a considerable amount about bowies, and I'm definitely not one of them, so here are my questions:

What was the size of the original Bowie?

What ended up being the most common size, thereafter?

I noticed that the Smithsonian Randall Bowie is 3/8 inch thick. Was this typical bowie knife thickness?

What was the orignal style bowie most like? Bagwell, Cold Steel, Randal? etc.

I'm trying to understand the bowie styles a little better.
I have decided not to let others put down my interests. I have felt and tried the balance of the Randall Smithsonian Bowie. It may not be the ultimate, I have not felt the balance of a Bagwell blade, but it is surprisingly well balanced and fast. Sort of like a well balanced broadsword, if you follow me. The knife may not be historical, but it is a dead-on copy of the "Iron Mistress" blade that was also used in the Jim Bowie tv show and, I believe, in John Wayne's film "The Alamo". All of these are a part of my youth and what got me interested in knives, so I still yearn for one. I may actually get one one day. Right now, I am looking into the Bart Moore Bowie that Mr. Fisk put me onto. As I said before, this knife was reputedly carried out of the Alamo by a Mexican officer and there are some other indications that it may have been Jim's knife. It is a most impressive weapon and, forged or not, a fascinating piece. Another form of Bowie is the Searle Bowie. G.D. Searle was a knifesmith in Baton Rouge, LA, and made a number of knives in a pattern of the Mediterranean Dagger, a sort of butcher knife shape. Dixie Gun Works has one, the stud sheath being extra, that is a very good replica. I would be careful of the Bowies, including a Searle Bowie, sold by Atlanta Cutlery, if what I have heard of the quality of their swords is true. In any case, Rezin Bowie, Jim's brother liked the Searle Bowies and, apparently gave them to friends as gifts. I have read that the knife that Jim carried at the Sandbar Fight was a Searle Bowie.

Walk in the Light,
Very interesting! As a San Antonio native, I have seen the original Bowie many times at the Alamo. It is displayed under glass for all to see and it is AWSOME. I can't tell you any specifics abou the knife, but I can tell you that it is not pretty in the usual sense. What does strike you though, is the thought of how many people he fought with it and how many Mexican soldiers he killed with it. The Alamo is, of course, a shrine so you can't take pictures inside except on Texas Independence Day( PeeWee be damned) but you might find some on the web.
Joe "I Say Secede!!!" Rosenthal

Rock On!

The knife that James Bowie was handed at the sandbar duel was a butcher knife made on the farm by their blacksmith Snowden.

The Bowies, James and Rezin had several "Bowie" knives made for them to be presented to various people. A couple of these would be Shively and Searles. Both of these are essitenialy straight backed with some degrees of differences.
While traveling to Arkansas James stopped in Washington Arkansas and had James Black make a bowie for him. This one and two others made by Black are documented and two of the knives are on exhibit at the ATR/American Bladesmith Society Hall of Fame and Museum. The big one approx 12inch blade has the name "Bowie #1" engraved on the side plate. It is a coffin handle with the oddity of the handle being placed what looks like upside down. The Bart Moore bowie believed by some people to also belong to Bowie is also on exhibit there. I have played with each of these knives and all have good balance and good w
orkmanship. The designs are much different. As to what big knife he had at the alamo when he fell we will never know. It is acknowledged that he did have one knife with him for sure. The knife was stolen from the Alamo in the 1940's. The sheath remains. It is approx. 6 inches long and apears to be of English orgin. My guess was that is was one of the little silver handled bowies to preform light duties with.
The Searles is on exhibit at the Alamo. They let me play with that as well as the little sheath. The Searles is on exhibit because that is the only knife they have that they can tie to the Bowie family. There are several Searles bowies out there as well as a number of fakes. All of the Searles have very good workmanship.
It is generally accepted that "The Bowie" was generally 9 inches to 9 1/2" long in blade length. When Shieffield got into the act of making bowies and sending them over here they got to making the blades longer and with many logos etched on the sides of the blade to attract clients. Much as makers do today. By the time the civil got here and finished the bowies had gotten smaller. Most bowies made after the war are much smaller. A lot of 6 inch blades etc. A few large ones were still put out.
Most of the bowies were not thick in the spine. I have seen only a few that were measured at 3/8" thick. The Iron Mistress was made for a movie even though people think of it as historical. I have handled that knife as well it is also 3/8" thick. Most of the ones I have handled were 1/4" or less in spine thickness.
During the late 30's and through the 40's the blades were at that largest size and most popular. Even the collectors of today that collect the old bowies give more for the bowies from this time period.
The term bowie knife came to be associated with any large knife. It did not even have to have a clip on it. I have seen as many bowies with a false edge as I have with a sharpened top edge. Probally a bit more with the false edge. There are literaly hundreds of bowie patterns out there from the last century. Hundreds more varations from modern makers. I have access to two of the orginial blue print books from the Joesph Rogers Co. that was in Shiefield and they show several hundred themselves.
My standard bowie I make is from a Noah Smithwick style. He as an old Texas Ranger. However I do get up the occasional orginial style that I like since there are hundreds to choose from.
The ones claiming fame to being the one he had when he died is the Musso Bowie, The Bart Moore Bowie and the Bowie #1. The Edwin Forrest bowie is also claiming to be an orginial owned by bowie. Of these all the Bowie #1 is the only one I agree with being owned by bowie. No telling what he died with in his hand.
The only man that we can be sure of he killed with a knife is at the sandbar duel. They have not been able to prove any others.
This is all my opinion. There may be better sources that this out here.
On april 30 we are having a James Bowie/Bowie knife symposium at the ABS knife shool. I should learn more then.
We are also having our annual spring cutting competetion. That should be a hoot. This spring it is Camp knife or Bowie knife, their chose. I have some new things for them to try. Hope this helped some. If not I can try and scratch my head again.
Sorry for all of the bad spelling. I was sick the day they had spelling in grammer school. fisk
FullerH and cobalt
Bythe way the orginial Iron Mistress is very awkard and heavy. It is 3/8" thick on the spine and only ground half way up. Short handle. Take about a chunk! However you cannot deny the romance of it.Which is why I got into forging in the first place
Fuller, I saw the Smithsonian and it is one heck of a blade. You don't even need it sharpened. Blunt, it would still do damage to anything in front of it. I do like it.

Jerry, there are so many bowie styles floating around out there, that I have never been able to nail down the original style. For example, I always thought that the style similar to the Ontario marine raider bowie shape was the typical style. But from what you mention, the style would apper to be closer to the Busse batle mistress. I mention these bowies, because that's what I have seen.

Does this mean then that the Bagwell and Blackcloud bowies are basically a modernized, advanced fighting bowie, and not spinoffs of the original?

Also, 9 to 10 inches seems like a really good blade size for me, but I always here people say that the originals were much bigger, closer to 12 inch blades. Yet the typical bowie made today is around 9-10 inches in blade length.
Also, the original bowies, were 1/4 inch thick? I assume the steel was much more maleable or ductile than what is used today.
The standard models that bagwell did as well as myself and I think the Busse knife are all the Smithwick style bowie. This does not include Bag's Hells bells model. Bagwell taught me for several years he always said that was one of the best all around bowie knives ever made. I agree with him. You just can't hardly beat them.

Onthe thickness of the old bowies. I have seen them in all manners of thickness including down to 1/8". Most centered somewhat around 1/4" but certainly not all of them. The steels then were no more ductical or malable than some steels today with our simple steels and good heattreating. James Black when he died had in his possession several bars of Shear steel. That is not all that good of steel. I have tried using everyting Black could have possibly have used except take sand and make my steel first. I have used files, shear steel even the meteroite that was said to have been used. Getting that last one was a problem. I set outside holding a basket just waiting for one to drop. Sure was slow.
One of the things that will be covered in this Bowie symposium is how to spot a fake.
Jerry, you know that there is a crater near phoenix that you may be able to sneak into.

So, in other words, big with some sort of a clip point and it's a bowie. Generally.
I have seen some bowies were the clip point is extremely low below the center axis of the knife, others were the clip point is very high or very upturned above the center axis of the blade and others that looked more like modified daggers. Is this variation typical of these knives. The only common denominator is that they are heavy bladed knives.
Sorry to have to say so, but if you'll check the Bowie that's under glass in the Alamo chapel you'll find it's either stamped Solingen or Sheffield (can't remember which since it's been several years since I examined it) It doesn't propose to be Col. Bowie's knife but is displayed as a "Bowie Type."

It's obviously a later "production knife" which were imported by the thousands in later years. When I was a kid they were in all the pawnshops.

Ben R. Ogletree, Jr.
Jerry, do you know of any places were I can see these older bowies on the web. I would like to see the different styles.
The following is a quote that I thought was interesting about the Bowie knife:

"Bowie knifeby Jim Bowie

Jim Bowie and the Bowie knife have almost become synonymous. In the early 1800's it was common place for men to carry a knife as a sidearm but it wasn't until 1830 that the famous Bowie knife was made that forever carved a niche in history for Jim Bowie

The actual making of the Bowie knife was a progression of knife designs. The first knife was claimed to be designed by his brother Rezin in Avoyelles Parish in Louisiana and made by a blacksmith Jesse Clift in order to protect his younger brother from some of the company he was keeping

This knife was referred to by many as Bowie's butcher knife that was used at the Sandbar Fight. Another rendition of the story according to Jim's older brother John was that a blacksmith named Snowden, made a hunting knife for Jim which was used during the duel. Either way the prototype and the legend had begun

In 1827 the infamous duel occurred across from Natchez, Mississippi on a Mississippi River sandbar. As a second in the duel, Bowie found himself in the middle of the ruckus armed with a butcher knife. In the events that followed Bowie found himself badly beaten, shot and stabbed but before him laid one man cut to ribbons and another one disemboweled

In 1830 in Texas, Jim Bowie armed with the famous Bowie knife made by James Black, was attacked by three men hired to kill him. The stories flourished as Bowie wielded the heavy knife against his attackers. In the end, one man was almost beheaded, another was disemboweled and the third had his skull split open

The original Bowie knife was two inches wide and a quarter inch thick with the blade being about 12 inches long. The back of the blade had a soft metal inlaid to catch the opponent's blade during a scrape. Razor sharp was the top edge of the clip point. In order to protect the hand a brass quillon was in place

At the Alamo, Jim Bowie had his trusted Bowie knife. As the Alamo was overrun by the Mexican army, Jim Bowie laid on a cot in the Low Barracks with his Bowie knife and pistol at hand. Tales exist that before he was killed that he took out nine of the oncoming soldiers

In the end, the bowie knife lost the capital B but its' fame has continued to grow. The original Bowie knife was never found "


Here is some more info I thought might be of interest:

"Born: 1795 in Georgia
Died: March 6, 1836 at the Alamo near San Antonio, Texas

Jim Bowie was a striking bold and adventuresome, Bowie knife wielding, fighter. Jim Bowie was an aggressive frontiersman that lived most of his life in Louisiana. Jim Bowie had a bountiful passion for dealing in land speculation

Jim Bowie was famous for his long knife that was named after him. The Bowie Knife is a master piece by design not out done yet today. The Bowie Knife is one of the most aggressive fighting knives ever designed

The Bowie Knife is not necessarily a knife fighters first choice because of its size. You ask any skilled knife fighter with their favorite knife in hand how they feel about fighting a bowie knife and its time to get a gun or run. The bowie Knife in skilled powerful hands is a mean tool made win

Jim Bowie moved to Texas in 1828 and married the governor of the province of Texas' daughter. Establishing his home and family, his roots were buried in Texas

The call to Jim Bowie to protect his home land rang out clear and Jim Bowie joined the fight against Santa Anna for the independence of Texas from Mexico and was the commander of the volunteers at the Alamo."


I have some info on the Bowie - He was born in Tennessee in 1795. In 1827 Rezin Bowie was attacked by a bull. He stabbed the bull's head with the knife he had but it didn't go through it's skull. Instead ,the blade ended up going through Rezin's hand. He had Jesse Cliff take a file and grind it into a single-edge about 9"+ long and 1.5" wide. This matches the one on display at the Alamo