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, June 28, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt Teaches Man to Kill Bears With Knife

In 1902 the New York Times reported an incident which a Western man claimed to have survived a bear attack thanks to tips he got from President Roosevelt. Can any president since claim to have done anything nearly as useful?
Kills Two Bears With Knife
Rifle, Col., Aug 18. W.E. Tribble is the hero of a desperate encounter hand-to-hand encounter with two bears, and that he escaped with his life was due in part to the visit of President Roosevelt to this part of the country two years ago. Mr. Roosevelt showed the old guide just how to give the deathblow to a bear with the knife.

Tribble, while in the mountains, was surprised by a grizzly, and succeeded in dispatching it by the Roosevelt method. When confronted by another big bear he dispatched it in a like manner.

Tribble was covered with wounds, but managed to crawl to his horse and ride to camp, where he lost consciousness.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt Hoped to Kill Bear With Bowie Knife

Theodore Roosevelt in hunting garb. I think that's his famous Tiffany bowie knife in his belt.

From Works by Theodore Roosevelt:
There are, in different parts of our country, chances to try so many various kinds of hunting, with rifle or with horse and hound, that it is nearly impossible for one man to have experience of them all. There are many hunts I long hoped to take, but never did and never shall; they must be left for men with more time, or for those whose homes are nearer to the hunting grounds. I have never seen a grisly roped by the riders of the plains, nor a black bear killed with the knife and hounds in the Southern canebrakes; though at one time I had for many years a standing invitation to witness this last feat on a plantation in Arkansas. The friend who gave it, an old backwoods planter, at one time lost almost all his hogs by the numerous bears who infested his neighborhood. He took a grimly humorous revenge each fall by doing his winter killing among the bears instead of among the hogs they had slain; for as the cold weather approached he regularly proceeded to lay in a stock of bear-bacon, scouring the canebrakes in a series of systematic hunts, bringing the quarry to bay with the help of a big pack of hard-fighting mongrels, and then killing it with his long, broad-bladed bowie.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bowie Knife vs. Eagle

A news article from the 1880s:
FOUGHT WITH AN EAGLE
A Struggle on the Ground Ended by a Bowie Knife.

Anton Baccarine, who is employed at the dam at Cornell, N. Y., for the New  York city water works, reports having had a terrible battle with an eagle in the woods bordering on Croton Lake. Baccarine was out gunning for squirrels, and while eating some blackberries he heard a noise above his head, and saw an eagle trying to carry a rooster away in its claws. The hunter knew that the farmers in the neighborhood had been troubled greatly lately by having their fowl stolen, so he determined to kill the bird if possible.

He quickly knelt, and, taking careful aim, fired both barrels of his shotgun. Eagle and rooster fell to the ground. The terror to barnyards lay perfectly still, and Baccarine thought he had killed the monster.

He  cautiously approached the eagle, and when he was almost upon his prey the bird flew at him and sank its claws in his body. The attack was such a surprise that Baccarine dropped his gun. The eagle used its beak on the hunter's face and dug deep furrows in his cheeks. Round and round on the ground hunter and eagle rolled, but after each roll the bird of the forest was invariably on top.
Weak from the loss of blood, Baccarine made a desperate attempt to reach his bowie knife, which he carried in his belt, and succeeded. With almost a superhuman effort he plunged the blade into the eagle's breast, piercing the heart and causing almost instant death. The bird measured three feet from tip to tip.
All I can say is "Hmmm."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Machete Use on Guam


The only traditional Chamorro blacksmith currently on Guam, Tun Jack Lujan, forges a machete with his mattiyu (hammer) on the anvil. Photo © Nicole Santos

A report on the use of the machete in Guam from Oscar King Davis's Our Conquests in the Pacific (1898 - 1899):
One of the things we saw in the village was a forge and blacksmith shop where a sturdy Chamorro was hammering out machetes from a band of steel. The blades were short, broad and heavy. A hard wood like lignum-vitae was used for the handles, which were fastened to the hafts of the knife blades by big copper rivets. These are carried in soft leather sheaths swung from leather belts by cords made of the always useful cocoanut palm leaf. This cord is soft and very pliable, and tough and strong. Cocoanut palm leaf should make very serviceable rope .... They are a simple, hospitable people, these Chamorros. They sold their machetes to the soldiers, who wanted them as curiosities, for a song, and getting more is mighty difficult. They use the machete for everything, -- all the pursuits of peace and war. In peace they can make a shift to do without machetes, but, in their small rows it is different, as one old woman said when her husband parted with his big knife for two silver dollars: "Not can fight, with money."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rough and Tumble in the Ozarks

The following account of rough and tumble fighting among early settlers in the Ozarks comes from an on-line document available here.
Fist fights among men were of common occurrence, the gathering of any sort, except 'meetins' at which at least one did not occur being out of the ordinary. The queer thing from the modern viewpoint about most of the encounters was that the battlers were not the least bit mad at each other, had had no previous trouble and generally remained firm friends afterward. Indeed, the closest friendships existing between men of that day were between two men who had fought to a draw--perhaps more than once. Quarrels entered into some fights, liquor into some, general cussedness into some, and sometimes a man was soundly whipped for cause; but more than half the fights were simply to see which was the better man. If the battlers were of considerable standing and had a following of believers, these fights took on a good deal of ceremony, and at Vienna, Grove Dale, Stony Point, Spencer's Mill, and Coppedge's Mill, where a large part of the encounters occurred, most of them were held under roughly 'standard' conditions. The fight was matched anywhere from a day to two weeks beforehand; each fighter had a second who had to be a good fighter himself, and the seconds were permitted, even supposed, to be armed; pistols were not reliable those days and rifles were obviously in the way; so the seconds usually armed themselves with bowie knives.

The day of the battle having arrived, each second took his principal to a secluded spot where he made ready for battle. He was stripped to the waist, his hair cut as short as could be, his body and head greased, and he was admonished of any flaws in his opponent's technique that might have come to the notice of the second. The principals were then presented and searched for  82 weapons, the seconds armed themselves, and gave the word for the fight to begin. Rounds were unknown, also rules; each man did the best he could with the weapons nature gave him until one of them was licked and said so, or his second said it for him.

During the battle the seconds not only saw to it that their principals had fair play and the benefit of their advice, but enforced the former--and this is where their knives came in. More than often a partisan of one or the other of the combatants 'showed foul play' by endeavoring to help the man of his choice, in which case it was the duty of either second to discourage him in any handy way. If two jumped in, both seconds acted. If a 'whole passel' took a hand, the seconds used their knives. For this reason, selecting seconds who were known to be willing to use knives if necessary kept down the disturbances. On rare occasions the seconds had to 'correct' each other, and there are a few times recorded when the principals has to cut their own affair short and come to the rescue of the seconds. As a general rule, however, the fight was fair and without interference, and after one had 'hollered' hostilities ceased and the whole crowd adjourned to the saloon, where the fighters drank to each other's continued good health and strength. After this ritual had been observed it was the further duty of the seconds to return to the scene of battle and make at least cursory search for any pieces of fingers, ears, and noses that may have been chewed off in the conflict, it not being considered 'fitten' for their bosses to show any interest in such small matters.
 

A Knife Duel Between Comanches

From Three Years Among the Comanches (1859), by Nelson Lee, a Texas Ranger who was held captive by that tribe:
The most thrilling incident I witnessed during my sojourn with the tribe of the Rolling Thunder was an Indian duel. Among his warriors were two young men, both proud and spirited, between whom there had long existed a deadly animosity. The cause of their quarrel I could never fully understand, further than that it appeared there was a young squaw in the case. Time and time again their differences had been, brought before the Council without any adjustment being satisfactorily effected. At length, when negotiation had become useless, it was determined to settle the matter forever in a most bloody manner. 
It was a pleasant morning towards the close of autumn, when the whole tribe, save the squaws and papooses, assembled on a level piece of ground a mile from the village. Here they formed a large ring, into which walked the Rolling Thunder and Han-na-nos-ko-a, the Prophet. The latter pronounced a long discourse, setting forth, as nearly as my imperfect knowledge of the language enabled me to comprehend, the original cause of the quarrel, a detailed account of its progress, the inability of the Council to agree upon a satisfactory arrangement, and that, finally, it had been referred to the just decision of the Great Spirit, into whose presence their implacable brethren were now about to appear.

Having concluded, the brothers of the young warriors conducted them into the ring. One of them was, perhaps, twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, the other four or five years older. The younger was  somewhat the largest, though both were remarkably athletic and powerful. When they reached the centre of the ring, meeting from opposite directions, their left arms, as far up as the elbow, were firmly lashed together with stout, thick cords of buffalo hide. They were bound so thoroughly that the posibility of breaking away from each other was utterly beyond question.

Into the right hand of each was then placed a hunting-knife, having a heavy buck horn handle, and a blade about nine inches long, evidently prepared for the occasion, by being brought to a keen edge on both sides. The brothers then withdrew some twenty feet from the combatants, drawing from their belts similar knives, when the signal was given and the fight began. After that there was no call of "time" -- no retreating to the "corner" -- no planting the left heavily on the "mug" -- they "toed the scratch" but once, and ended the combat in a single "round."

The battle lasted but a moment, the bright blades, in the mean time, glittering and glimmering in the sun, and the contestants instantly presenting the appearance of men suddenly overtaken by a storm of blood. At length, a mortal thrust by one was followed by a fierce blow from the other, gashing through the side of the neck, from which the purple tide of life spouted up in a high wide arch, when both fell lifeless, to the ground. 
Had either survived the conflict, according to their code of honor, it would have been the duty of his brother to put him immediately to death. Throughout the exciting scene not the slightest partiality was exhibited. The faintest shadow of emotion could not be detected upon the countenances of the savage stoics as they gazed upon it. They were stretched side by side on the spot where they had fallen-- buried in the customary manner--and left to rest together in peace, at last.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Fencer Takes Confidence in His Skill

In A Legacy of Historical Gleanings (1875) by Catharina Van Rensselaer Bonney, we find this passage in a letter from Rensselaer Van Rensselaer to his father, Gen. Solomon Van Rensselaer, a Revolutionary War hero. The letter was dated March 17, 1829, and its author was traveling in Colombia.
One of Mr. Glen's clerks, a very clever native, sometime since after watching Cato and myself at our daily exercise of fencing, very civilly asked, if I would object to try my skill with him. I was quite glad of the opportunity of trying the science of the natives, and this man particularly as he had boasted frequently at table, of the superior agility of his countrymen at the exercise and of his own skill, I wanted to know how my broadsword would work on a pinch with the machete. The tilting match was against him, it has been repeated frequently with the same result; he could guard against all the cuts very well but two and five*, but the front give point would strike him every time. The trial has been quite satisfactory to me and to him too, for he is now taking lessons of me; but I hope and think there is no danger of coming to the real test of my skill. Another morning while Cato and myself were engaged, in our gymnastic exercise, the thumping of our sticks collected a crowd of admiring spectators round our door; among the number two expressed a desire to try my skill against their machetta exercise. I consented and was gratified to find that they could not parry a skillfully planted cut, nor guard against an occasional thrust. I was pleased as here every man carrys [sic] a machete, and as they always resort to it in a fight, the idea of being a match for the best of them in an extremity was not an ungrateful feeling.
*In fencing, the body is divided into quadrants, each numbered as to the angle of attack.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Caruso Trusts in His Bowie Knife

Enrico Caruso (1873 – 1921)

On a concert tour to the United States in 1910, the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso was approached by members of the Black Hand (as the mafia was then known) who demanded a share of his earnings. On March 6, 1910, the New York Times reported the matter in mocking fashion. Here is a representative excerpt:
With Pistols and Bowie Knife, Golden Voiced Enrico Caruso Defies Black Hand
I found the famous tenor in his pink and white suite at the Knickerbocker hotel scanning an artillery catalog. Two revolvers lay upon his dressing table. His sword cane stood ready for action near-by and his bowie-knife glittered ominously.

“Cowards, curs, canaille,” shouted that golden voice. “They think to scare the great Caruso. Ha! The fools. I laugh at them. See, I snap my finger. I cry, 'ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, so!

“Ah! But I shall spit them upon my sword cane. I will fill them full of bullets from my revolvers. I will rend them with my knife. Dogs they are; they will die if they attempt to separate Caruso from his money.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Michel Prevost: Custom Knifemaker

I recently stumbled upon the website of knifemaker Michel Prevost. The site is in French so unfortunately I can't read the text, but I wanted to share the beauty and originality of the knives by reproducing some of his photos here. These are true works of art. UPDATE: I contacted Michel Prevost through his site and he is happy to have his work displayed here for his American "amis," so I'm pleased to be able to add a few more pictures.



This is an example of Prevost's fixed-blade work. (Double click on this or any photo here to see a larger image.)


Striking use of cutaways on the blade and handle.


The artistry of the above folders strikes me as positively Elvish. I can imagine Legolas pulling one from his pocket in The Lord of the Rings.


Dagger à la d'Estaing

The type of knife shown above, in which the blade folds into the handle but extends beyond it so that the knife must be kept in a sheath, is called a "dagger à la d'Estaing," after Count Charles Henri d'Estaing, who came up with the idea in 1780. The design was popular enough to be manufactured and sold throughout the 19th century. It was intended as a hunting knife for dispatching game as well as other camp chores. Knives of this style were available in America and were commonly called bowie knives.