My book Bowie Knife Fights, Fighters, and Fighting Techniques is available from Paladin Press. This blog contains additional information about the bowie knife, as well as the fighting knives of other nations.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Bowie-Knife Pistol

In 1837, George Elgin received a patent for a bowie knife-pistol, a single-shot caliber .34 percussion pistol with a 8.5-inch bowie-knife blade mounted under the barrel. In 1838, the US Navy ordered 150 of them from manufacturer C.B. Allen of Springfield, Massachusetts. The knife figured in several incidents during the South Seas Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842, led by Charles Wilkes, who left an account.

While on the coast of California, he wrote: "On the morning when the party were breaking up camp to embark, an Indian boldly seized the bowie-knife-pistol of Dr. Pickering, and made at once for the woods. He had chosen his time well, for no arms were at hand. Several of the men pursued him, but by his alertness he eluded all pursuit; and having gained the bushes, escaped with his prize."

While in the Fiji Islands, they were attacked by natives, and Mr. Henry, a crewman armed with the bowie-knife pistol, was killed. Wilkes described the circumstances: "Lieutenant Underwood also called upon Midshipman Henry to assist in covering the retreat of the men to the boats, to which Mr. Henry replied, that he had just received a blow from the club of a native, and would first have a crack at him. He then pursued the native a few steps, and cut him down with his bowie-knife pistol, and had again reached the water's edge, when he was struck with a short club on the back of the head, just as he fired his pistol and shot a native. The blow stunned him, and he fell with his face in the water, when he was instantly surrounded by the natives, who stripped him."

One of the bowie-knife pistols was stolen by a Moro prince in the Philippines, but the navy was able to effect its return.

In 1847, Lt. William F. Lynch of the US Navy applied for permission to mount an expedition to survey the Dead Sea. The 14-man expedition was supplied with arms including a blunderbuss, 14 carbines with long bayonets, 14 pistols—four of them with six revolving barrels, and ten with bowie-knife blades attached—and swords with pistol-barrels near the hilt. These last were declared by an Arab to be "the devil's invention."

In Miscellany: Consisting of Essays, Biographical Sketches, and Notes of Travel (1852), Thomas Asbury Morris includes a letter from a traveler written in 1841:
Brother Elliott, -- My last letter was dated at Manning's, Louisiana, December 13th. We left that place the same day, and immediately after passed out of Claiborne into Natchitoches parish, and in the afternoon reached brother Randolph's house of entertainment, south of the Big Bayou, having traveled seventeen miles over a country so poor that it is entirely desolate. While at Randolph's, we met with three men on their return from Texas, whose observations had been chiefly confined to Jasper county, and reported that the land there was rich in spots, and the balance poor. These appeared to be civil men, and conformed very respectfully to the rules of the family at evening and morning prayers; but one of them carried a deadly weapon, such as we had not seen before--a pistol and Bowie-knife in one solid piece; the back of the knife was welded to the under side of the barrel, and the blade projected some seven inches beyond the muzzle, and the butt of the pistol answered for the knife-handle. It had a percussion lock, and the whole was carried in a case made to suit its form, and worn on the side under the vest. When the owner of it undressed for sleeping, John Emory Clark, who had been put to bed in the same room, saw the instrument taken out and examined, and concluding that he was in dangerous company, slipped out of bed, opened the door, and, in his night clothes, ran across the porch and entry to the door of his father's bed-room, and called for quarters; and, when taken in, was evidently much agitated, being only nine years old, and having never seen the like before. Next morning he very shrewdly remarked, that he did not like the looks of that thing; it would kill a man twice, first shoot and then stab him. It is to be regretted that public sentiment does in any part of the United States tolerate the savage practice of carrying frightful instruments made on purpose to destroy human life, such as pistols, dirks, and Bowie-knives.

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