View Full Version : What makes a Bowie knife ?

05-03-2003, 02:06 PM
Hello all:

Has anyone ever comprehensively traced the evolution of the Bowie knife? (forgive me if that is in the archives; tell me where to look).

The relatively little that I've read on the subject would tend to indicate that the Searles-type Bowie (and there are 'variations on a theme' even there) is pehaps the closest thing to the original Bowie knife (described, I think, as 'like a big butcher knife').

Since anything can be called a "Bowie knife" (or so it seems), I'd suppose that there really isn't any standard to go by (i.e., the above research would have to stop at 100 to 200 years ago, or it would be hopeless; maybe stop at the D-guard Bowie?).

It also appears that any large knife may be (rightly ?) called a "Bowie knife".

There also seems to be considerable "personal taste" in whether you like a particular design, or not (e.g., I don't like Randall or Ruana Bowies; to me they are just big ugly knives). Is that one of the reasons that there are so many different designs?

Any clarifications of this topic would be much appreciated !

Thank you for your courtesy !!

Ray Rogers
05-03-2003, 03:08 PM
I think you have it about right. No one really knows what Jim's knife really looked like although there are some good hints to be found, i.e. a large butcher knife. But, no matter what anybody tries to tell you, nobody really knows. We don't have the knife, we don't have a verifiable picture or drawing of the knife.

If you really want to know some Bowie history, subscribe to Blade magazine and get a bunch of back issues. It's a hugely discussed topic.

A bowie can be most any large knife but, for most people, I think The Iron Mistress personifies the idea of a Bowie knife. It's nothing like the real knife in all probability but it is the popular notion of what a Real Bowie should look like. It's very big, has a false edge, double guard, fancy handle. Lots of guys make similar knives or replicas of it. Research the Iron Mistress (the knife used in the Alan Ladd movie of the same name) .....

05-03-2003, 03:21 PM

Another disscussion with pics!

05-03-2003, 03:26 PM
Hello Ray:

Thank you for your comments !

I agree with the idea of subscribing to "Blade" magazine; don't know why I ever stopped.

As to continuing discussion about "What did Bowie's (or his brother Rezin's) knife actually look like?", I think that is a subject for which hope springs eternal; we all hope that one day someone is going to find proof (perhaps a letter with a crude drawing, if not the knife itself).

Otherwise, I can't quite understand why no one has ever undertaken a 'historical' study and/or book on the subject. Wouldn't it sell like hotcakes? (even if the same conclusion - we don't really know - was the result).

Chuck Burrows
05-03-2003, 04:02 PM
David there have been a couple of different books written on the subject specifically. Unfortunately they were high priced private printings and available copies are even more high priced now. Take a look at the book list in the Historical Inspiration (it's a sticky) and scroll down to my post where I have listed a few books on early American blades and the Bowie. Some of those are still available at a fairly decent price and have some good info on the Bowie and it's variant styles.
Here is an interesting link that may also shed some light including a description of the orginal "Sandbar Bowie" by Rezin, Jim's brother and reputed maker of the first ever Bowie.

05-03-2003, 04:44 PM
.........I hate it when i lose a five pargraph ramble:mad:

Chuck Burrows
05-03-2003, 05:01 PM
Happens a lot when you start reaching that OF time of life.:D :p :D Just ask Ray!

05-03-2003, 05:07 PM
Richards or Rogers?:p

That outta learn me about long winded posts!

Chuck Burrows
05-03-2003, 05:19 PM
OF#1 (Richards)

When I know I'm going to get longwinded I type up in my word processor and then copy over to here. That way I don't have to worry about my Internet connection crashing on me anyway.

Chuck Burrows
05-03-2003, 05:28 PM
David - Just remembered this link. You might be interested in the books for sale here.

There are probably as many ideas of what a "Bowie" is as there stars in the sky and don't even get started on the "Arkansas Toothpick"!:rolleyes: 8o :rolleyes:

05-03-2003, 06:37 PM
That's the great thing about the mystical bowie knife. It is whatever you want it to be. If you are a knifemaker you have to make the bowie that is in your mind at some point. I still haven't figured out what it is but I am working on it and at some point I will make it. In my mind it is a very simple knife with perfect proportions, exquisitley executed, with deadly attributes. Of course the knife was just a tool. I am sure Jim Bowie could have accomplished the same thing with a 40 cal. Glock.:smokin

05-03-2003, 07:56 PM
IMHO, "Bowie knife" has become synom. with "fighting knife"or more specificly, "A knife used to defend ones self successfully against overwheming odds".

I have gravitated to the Searles style. I like cooking , and this style lets me use a knife in everyday life, but can be used in a fight quite easily. Most knife related encounters are settled with kitchen knives.

The romance of the big clip-point Bowie has faded for me also. If You could imagine someone comming at you with a knife,this would be a good one to have on hand. Aside from the indimidating and deterring factor, used upsidedown, the sharpend false-edge and thick brass covered back has potential to stop a fight quickly by breaking your opponants knife or cutting his knife hand. I have a big edgebrand in my collection i took from a guy in a bar. The long draw he needed allowed me time to grab his wrist and pop him between his eyes. Wish now i would have taken the sheath. I also have an antique 13" horn handled italian pick-lock i got the same way when the cross guard got tangled in his back pocket.
The most dangerous to life and limb i would think is a gent. Most common use would be in close quarters where the vital organs are exposed. My brother was one or two brite flashes away from blacking out from being throttled be a bannana fingered gorilla when he pulled out a little three inch Sharpfinger and slid it into the guys belly. He said all the fight went out of the guy instantly.
luckily, my bro's date was the prosecutors secretary. When she related the facts, it was ruled self defence.
Gotta go, going to the flats in Cleveland tonight.
What should i carry?

05-04-2003, 05:35 PM
I have one story from The Gun digest book of knives 1973 edt.
This has been told be fore and i'll post more later. James black
is said to be the blacksmith that made knife that Bowie made famous and that Rezin chose Blacks knife over his own . Black
was blinded by a beaten from his pa-inlaw's cane .But back to the
knife .back then men needed a knife that could do it all and one that would SPLIT YUR BRISKIT MISTER:eek: It came from a need and the thought bigger is better:)

John McPherson
05-04-2003, 11:01 PM
There have indeed been many books and heaps of articles written on the historic bowie knife(s). Some are better than others. Batson's is pretty good IMHO.

Museums that display examples of known provenence include the Alamo and the Texas Ranger hall, as well as the Arkansas Territorial Museum.

There is also a bowie collectors club and newsletter. These guys are meticulous in running down leads in old newspapers, court records, etc. For example, one guy went to a lot of trouble to find the address of the cutlers in Philadelphia the year one of the Bowie brothers visited the area and had a presentation model made up as a gift. Found and photographed it in the Historic District. Freaked out the current tenants by wanting to tour the building post 9-11 and talkin' bout knives.

I was fortunate enough to attend the annual bowie seminar before the last Southeastern Custom Knife Show in Winston-Salem. If you can make it, I highly recommend it. Top name makers, collectors and authors show up for a roundtable discussion, slide show, and show & tell. :D

05-05-2003, 08:50 AM
Thanks !!! to all of you for your help and leads.

I am now motivated to find pictures of all of the variations of the Searles Bowie knife that are 'out there somewhere'.

I had Dan Graves (a member of this forum) make me a Searles Bowie (a very nice knife, by the way !).

Again, thank you for your courtesy !!! ..........jdc

05-05-2003, 11:42 AM
Jdave,........Well?........Post a pic of that bad boy!....It's not nice to tease the animals.:D

05-05-2003, 02:57 PM

This isn't a very good picture; I'm still learning how to work my digital camera:confused:

05-05-2003, 03:03 PM
Cut back on the caffiene....just kidding. My pics really suck. Thanks for the shot. Looks like one sweet blade. Dan should have a pic of that beauty.