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This blog contains additional information about the bowie knife, as well as the fighting knives of other nations.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rezin Bowie Advertises for Runaway Slave

There is not much information available about Rezin P. Bowie in the last years of his life, but in scanning newspaper archives I came across the following want ad in the New Orleans Times Picayune of March 14, 1840, that was apparently placed by him. Ante-bellum New Orleans newspapers always featured ads requesting help with the recapture of runaway slaves.

$20 REWARD-- For the apprehension of DAVID, a slender black man, about 18 years old, 5 feet 10 or 11 inches high, long arms, large hands and feet, rather a downcast look when spoken to, has a lump about the size of a bean on the point of the left jaw below the ear. Apply at 125 Bienville street to R.P. Bowie.

Big Knives Stop Bullets

One of the side benefits to carrying a heavy steel knife two inches wide and a foot long is that it may occasionally stop a bullet.
--At the Siege of Bexar in December 1835, a picket named Pen Jarvis was struck by a Mexican musket ball. He cried out and fell to the ground and his comrades initially thought he must have been killed or severely wounded. However, it turned out the ball had struck his bowie knife, inflicting painful cuts and a large bruise on his leg but nothing more serious. After this, he was dubbed "Bowie Knife Jarvis."
--On August 1, 1843, when the abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay was shot by Sam Brown, he too was saved by his bowie knife, or rather, its scabbard. The bullet was stopped by the scabbard's silver tip, leaving a red spot just over his heart.
--In gold rush days, a man named Carder, the editor of the Columbia (California) Gazette, was saved by a bowie knife he carried. As the newspaper article reports, "John Cardinell, alias Long John, and [first name omitted] Shaw, were standing in Pete Ferguson's door, in Columbia, on last Tuesday about noon, and Mr. Carder, of the Gazette, was passing by. Cardinell stepped behind some boxes, took deliberate aim at Carder with a derringer, and fired, the ball striking the blade of a small bowie knife, which Carder hid in his bosom immediately over the heart. The ball flattened to about the size of a quarter dollar, and glanced downward, inflicting a flesh wound about five inches in length. Carder drew and fired once at Cardinell, missing him. Shaw then drew his revolver and commenced firing at Carder. Seven or eight shots were fired, none of which did any damage except the one fired by Cardinell. Cause: 'an old grudge.'"
--Sergeant William F. Potts, who was wounded in the foot on September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, describes how a bowie knife saved a comrade, William T. "Bill" Daller: "The company was lying down, and two of us started out in front to find out where the balls were coming from: we found that some bushes along a ridge of rocks were full of Rebels, and they hit us both. I think it was 'Bill' Dollar [sic] that was with me, and they hit him on a heavy bowie knife that I had given him to carry for me -- it was bent nearly double, and, no doubt, saved his life."
--In a firefight on February 5, 1970, in A Shau Valley, Lance Corporal Tommy Sexton, USMC, was the only member of his four-man recon team to emerge unscathed, thanks to his KA-BAR knife. Sexton recalls: "When they opened up on the team, I was in a kneeling position and immediately began firing back. Suddenly I felt a round strike me in the chest. It sent me twisting to my left, and as I turned back into my original position, I reached over to grab my knife out of its scabbard, only to discover that I now had half a knife. The bullet that hit me had gone through the day-night flare that was taped to the sheath of the K-Bar, which was positioned upside down on my shoulder harness for a quick release. The bullet had broken the steel blade of my knife in two."
--A similar incident occurred during the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3-4, 1993, when a Randall bowie knife worn by Navy SEAL John Gay on his right hip stopped an AK-47 round. The blade was shattered, and fragments of it broke the skin on his right hip, but Gay was able to return to the fight. For his actions that day he was awarded a Bronze Star with V (Valor) device.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Driven from New Orleans at the Point of a Bowie Knife

In 1837, British boxing champion James “Deaf” Burke was literally run out of New Orleans by a mob waving cudgels, pistols, and bowie knives after he defeated the local favorite.
Burke had come to the United States in 1834, no longer able to find an opponent in Britain after he killed the Irish champion, Simon Byrne, in a bare-knuckle fight that lasted three hours and 16 minutes. He fought a few bouts in the North, and then arranged to fight the new Irish champion, Sam O'Rourke, in New Orleans on May 6, 1837, outside the city. Each fighter had an army of supporters, most of them armed with pistols and bowie knives. The following is from Fred Henning, Fights for the Championship: The Men and Their Times, vol. 2 (London: "Licensed Victuallers’ Gazette" Office, 1903), pp. 232-33:
There were only three rounds fought. In the second Mickey Carson, who was seconding O'Rourke, slipped behind the Deaf 'Un whilst he was fighting and pushed him into the arms of his opponent, who threw him. The Deaf 'Un was indignant, and swore that if he did it again he'd knock him down. At this, Mickey, producing a bowie knife from his belt, declared with an oath that if Burke came near to him he'd rip him up from his navel to his chin.
In the third round the Deaf 'Un caught O'Rourke one or two smashing blows in the mouth, and there is little doubt that he would have very soon knocked the great, blustering, half-trained bully out had not Mickey Carson again got in the way. Jim could keep his temper no longer, with a straight hit with the left he caught the second full on the nose, and down he went like a ninepin. Then the fat was in the fire. The wild Irish mob cut the ropes in a dozen places and entered the ring. The Deaf 'Un stood his ground for a minute, knocking over two or three, including O'Rourke's other second, MacSweeney, when Jim Phelan cried, “Run, Burke, run; they mean to have your life.”   
A friend put a bowie knife into Burke's hand and he cut his way through the crowd until he got to his horse. After riding back to town, he hid out in a police station for three days until he could be smuggled aboard a Mississippi steamboat heading north.
The riot must have appalled Burke. In England, using a knife in a fight was despised as cowardly, villainous, and revoltingly Italian. “The ruffian's clenched fist is undoubtedly a lesser evil than the assassin's drawn knife,” editorialized the London Times.  A proper Englishman fought fairly, with his fists, or if dealing with ruffians from whom fair play could not be expected, he might thrash them with a stout walking stick.
Upon his return home, Burke delivered speeches in which he held up a bowie knife and declared he would rather be hanged in this world and go to hell in the next than see such a weapon in the hands of an Englishman.
In 1841, during a campaign against prizefighting, Burke was summoned to appear in court. He defended pugilism to the magistrates [“beaks”] with a lengthy poem which argued that without training in the manly art of self-defense, men will stoop to fighting with knives, inflicting ghastly wounds rather than lumps and bruises. It concluded with the following verses:
I love fair English boxing as my life,
But dread the Arkansas blade and bowie-knife;
Those weapons deadly, cowardly, and keen,
Which in a Briton's hand should ne'er be seen,
But which if beaks conspire the ring to crush
Will make the blood of many a Briton gush,
And driving manly fair play from our Isle,
Stamp us a nation of assassins vile!