There were four Bowie knives on display. (Unfortunately, photography isn’t permitted and my wife and I were the only ones on the tour.) The case also contained the sword that is in several photographs of Clay. The guide pointed out several pistols and swords that were documented as belonging to Clay. He said that, in his opinion, the Bowies are probably authentic. "Probably."Bob asked the tour guide about the persistent rumor that Clay penned a manual on bowie-knife fighting in or around 1869, after his return from Russia. The guide said that no one who's been involved with the restoration or maintenance of White Hall, any historian they've talked to, or any of Clay's descendants has ever seen a copy of the book. A search of the local libraries, Transylvania College, and the University of Kentucky holdings has turned up empty too.
One was a folder with a five-inch blade. The one on page 319 of your book is real close. [This is a J.A. Henckels spring-back knife.]
I got the same response--along with a weary chuckle--when I asked the Kentucky State Historical Society about such a manual. People have been asking about it for decades and not a trace of it has been found. The main source of the rumor about the manual would seem to be a lecture about Clay given by William Townsend to the Chicago Civil War Roundtable in 1952, published as a pamphlet called "The Lion of White Hall." Townsend later wrote a book-length biography of Clay with the same title.
During my research into this rumor, I was intrigued to come across a clue in the Publisher’s Weekly of February 13, 1886, p. 258. A publisher named Jansen, McClurg & Co., of Chicago placed the following ad in the section titled "Books Wanted": "The Use of the Bowie Knife. Probably pub. in Ark."
Could this refer to the fabled Clay manual or was the publisher pursuing a chimera? I can find no other mention of "The Use of the Bowie Knife."
Here is another reference to such a manual, from John W. Forney's Anecdotes of Public Men, Volume 1 (1873), though in this case what is referred to sounds like it describes the knife's use in dueling, rather than its general use:
I have heard it stated that a formal duel with knives lately took place in New Orleans; and it is alleged that two of the Southern members of the present House engaged in a fearful conflict with the ordinary bowie knife. Those who know say that there is a manual by which the use of the bowie-knife is regulated in prearranged fights; and it is notorious that many of those who carry this instrument of death use it with as much dexterity as the Indian uses the bow or the scalping-knife.