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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bowie Knife Against Burglar

The following account of an armed confrontation with a burglar was published in the Bucks County Gazette in 1889. As a young man, the writer, Mat Hawthorn, had worked for a hardware store in New York City and had two encounters with burglars. The second incident involved a bowie knife and is quoted below:
Two years later I was sent to Savannah, Ga., by my employers to open and manage a branch store in that city.

I was yet unmarried. The store had a bedroom in the rear, adjoining the office, and there I lodged. In it was one large window, which opened upon an alley, as did also the rear door of the store in the adjoining entry At night all the doors were locked and barred.

The bedroom window had a tight, heavy outside shutter, made of boards and battened, which I could close and fasten inside. The window sill, with its broad ledge, was fully four feet above the floor.

One moonlight night, when I had been established in the business for several months, the weather being very warm, I left the shutter unclosed and lowered the top sash a few inches to admit fresh air. I had not been disturbed by nocturnal intruders since my arrival, and had, owing to the heat, become quite careless. Besides, I kept within reach from my bed a formidable bowie knife.

About midnight I awoke. The room was dark, although the moon was shining brightly. A slight noise attracted my attention to the window, and there I saw a stalwart fellow endeavoring to pry open the lower sash with a chisel, and know that in a very few minutes he would effect an entrance. With a gun or pistol I could have killed him without rising, but as I had no weapon except the bowie knife, I had to decide instantly upon some method of thwarting his purpose, for I felt that if he once gained admittance he would kill me if he could.

Getting out of bed into a dim corner as quietly as possible, and armed with the bowie knife, I crept along the wall on my hands and knees until I was fairly under the ledge of the window sill. Then I carefully rested on one knee and prepared for an attack. I had no sooner done so than the lower sash yielded and was carefully raised and wedged with the chisel. Then I heard the fellow clambering in. As he gained the sill, bare-footed, he paused an instant to reconnoiter, and lightly leaped into the room.

This was the most critical moment I had ever experienced. As he sprang from the ledge I suddenly rose and plunged the bowie knife into his breast, and he fell dead, prostrating me with the force of his fall. In s second I was up again and looking out of the window to discover his confederate, if he had one, but all was quiet in the alley, and no one was visible.

As I turned to light a lamp and get a better idea of the position, I felt the warm blood of the burglar laving my feet. There he lay, as dead as Julius Caesar, a big, burly negro, holding in his stiffened grasp a bowie knife much larger than mine, and I was very, very thankful that he had found no opportunity to use it upon me.

I dressed myself hurriedly, with a nervous tremor that I had not noticed until then, and hastened to open the front door of the store. The street was bathed in moonlight and mid- night silence was over all. Again and again I shouted the name of the patrolman on that beat, with whom 1 had an intimate acquaintance, and in a few minutes he came, running and quite excited by the novelty of being wanted.

After a brief relation of my adventure and a closer examination of the dead burglar, the guardian of the night identified him as an old offender, a desperate villain well known to the police.

More officers wore speedily called in, and the body, with the negro's bowie knife and chisel, was removed.

I spent an unquiet hour, trembling with nervous excitement in washing the floor and closing the shutter and window. Then I walked the floor another hour to soothe my rebellious nerves, and then I went to bed and slept the sleep of the just until daylight.

This was my last encounter with a burglar. The sport is too exciting for frequent indulgence or for enjoyment.

I may say, in conclusion, that this adventure paved the way for my entrance into the firm as a partner. My "pluck," and possibly a serviceable supply of assurance, besides my constant fidelity to the interests of the business, served me in lieu of capital.


  1. What a different world we live in. I would not say worse or better, but certainly different. Even if you survived the legal problems, you would still have to deal with the social problems. I can't help wondering if our hero had to deal with the social blowback of defending himself.
    Tha knife guy

  2. Indeed, in the 19th century a respectable man who killed a known lawbreaker in self defense did not have to concern himself with the expense and ordeal of a trial or civil action.

  3. Wow, just amazing the difference between then and now. This single gentleman kills the intruder, cleans up the mess by himself, and then goes back to sleep in the same room! And instead of being stigmatized by society, his "pluck" results in essentially a major promotion at work...simply amazing.