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.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bowie Knife Fighter: Jim Crooks (?)

James "Buck" Barry in 1860

James Buckner Barry was a veteran of the Mexican War, having fought as a volunteer with the First Texas Mounted Rifles. He kept a journal that was published in 1932 under the title Buck Barry, Texas Ranger and Frontiersman. It contains a rather extraordinary account of an incident said to have occurred at the Battle of San Jacinto. I would not go so far as to suggest that it's true, or even possible, but it's at least interesting.
Our captain had his company to parade in double file, saying he wished to introduce us to Mr. Crooks, who wished to join our company, and, as he had been acquainted with Mr. Crooks a long time, he felt it his duty to give us Crooks' general character before he enrolled him. Then, he said, he would leave it to a vote whether he should muster Mr. Crooks into service. His introduction was about as follows, “I have known Mr. Crooks for a long time and have never known but one good thing he has done. He helped whip the Mexicans at San Jacinto. He has committed every crime known in the catalogue of crimes and is the d-----est rascal that is now going unhanged. But there is no counterfeit in his being a fighter.”

This man [Jim Crooks] made his way to the Rio Grande, joined another company and was in the thickest of the fight at the battle of Monterey. That night, while in camp, Captain Chandler gave us a more detailed account of Mr. Crooks. He said it was probable that this man Crooks had caused the tide to turn at San Jacinto in favor of the little band of Texas patriots and veterans, commanded by General Sam Houston. As Houston had fallen back before Santa Anna's army he had sent word of the approach and helped all he could to get the women and children to go east out of the way of the Mexican army.

This man Crooks was one of the detail to notify and help the fleeing women and children. While among them and helping them he committed a rape. The outraged woman came into Houston's camp and pointed out the criminal to him, whereupon, Houston summonsed a court-martial that tried Crooks and sentenced him to the death penalty. There were several other prisoners under penalty, but the captain only told of Crooks' crime. When Houston reviewed his little army and found more men were leaving him than recruits were coming in, he determined to hazard a fight. He rode to where these prisoners were and told them, addressing himself principally to Crooks, “I am going to fight the Mexicans. The sentence of death will be executed on you unless you promise to go into the thickest of the fight and stay in it until the fight is ended. I will reprieve you.” All the prisoners agreed to this.

When a charge was ordered on the Mexican line of battle, Crooks fired his gun one time, threw it down and ran through the Mexican line. (Perhaps they thought he had surrendered to them.) He went down the line in the rear, drove his bowie knife into every Mexican who was in the rear line, while their attention was fixed on the charging line of Texans. Others of the prisoners and daring men followed Crooks' action, which threw the Mexicans into confusion and then into flight. Captain Chandler said that when the fight was over, Crooks was the bloodiest man he ever saw and did not have a scratch on him. Crooks was a stout, active man and may have killed at least a hundred or more Mexicans in the short time the battle lasted. Crooks' story after the fight was that he took down the rear of the Mexicans' line and killed them or drove his knife into them nearly as fast as he could count. About the time he got to the end of the line, he said the other end of the line was fleeing. There was a general rout in a few minutes, but he kept up his part of the fight and killed all he could outrun.

The captain never told us, but we naturally came to the conclusion that he and the majority of the Texas army never took time to load their guns after the first fire, for he told us that out of the several hundred Mexicans killed, three-fourths of them were killed with bowie knives. Houston lost seven men who were killed. He and others were wounded, while his little army killed twice its numbers, took as many prisoners as he had men, and drove the other division of Santa Anna's army back across the Rio Grande.

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