New copies of my book Bowie Knife Fights, Fighters, and Fighting Techniques are now available from Amazon at $24.95.
This blog contains additional information about the bowie knife, as well as the fighting knives of other nations.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

First Anniversary

I just noticed that this site is a year old as of yesterday. I started it to disseminate a lot of the extra and/or redundant research material I accumulated while putting together my book, and figured I'd keep it going for a few months and then leave it. While I have run low on material and no longer post regularly, I will continue to put up items as I come across them in my files or in the news.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Isaiah Rynders: New York Pol and Bowie-Knife Man

 This image came up for Isaiah Rynders--however, it may be another man by the same name. I can find no authenticated portraits.

A profile of Captain Isaiah Rynders (1804-1885) at Wikipedia opens with this capsule description: "An American businessman, sportsman, underworld figure and political organizer for Tammany Hall. Founder of the Empire Club, a powerful political organization in New York during the mid-19th century, his 'sluggers' committed voter intimidation and election fraud on behalf of Tammany Hall throughout the 1840s and 1850s."

A page-one article in the New York Times on January 14, 1885, claims that a facility with the bowie knife was among the skills Rynders brought to politics:
In 1832, Capt. Rynders had his first difficulty of a serious nature. It happened at Natchez, Miss. He became involved in a quarrel with a fellow sporting man over a game of cards. Hot words passé between the two, and blows would have resulted but for the fact that in chivalric Mississippi little differences of his kind were settled in a more expeditious and decisive manner. Capt. Rynders and his opponent met beneath the hill of Natchez, each armed with a bowie knife, and the fight in which one or both must die began. Capt. Ryders proved the more expert of the two in the use of his weapon and he left his opponent dead on the field. He then fled, for although chivalry applauded the duel in those days, the laws of Mississippi prohibited it.

He continued to turn his “sporting” accomplishments to good account, and finally opened a public house at No. 27 Park-row, in the Spring of 1844, which served as a gathering place for the Democratic leaders, and later as the headquarters of his “Empire Club.” The formation of this club had been one of his pet schemes since the defeat of Van Buren, and he proceeded to organize it before the campaign of 1844 began. The Democratic Convention assembled that year in Baltimore, and Capt. Rynders, the President, and John S, Austin, the Vice-President, with a number of the first members of the Empire Club, went to that city to use their peculiar influence in the convention. In the barroom of Barnum's Hotel a crowd of politicians started an argument with Capt. Rynders in regard to the merits of Van Buren as a candidate. The Captain tok exception to some of the criticisms passed on his friend, hot words followed, and very soon Capt. Rynders's bowie knife and revolver flashed in the gaslight. Austin was by his side in an instant, with a knife in one hand and a pistol in the other. A desperate fight ensued, in which several ugly wounds were given, but nobody was killed. The odds were three to one against Rynders and Austin, but they cleared the barroom in a remarkably short time, and gave to the country an evidence of the mettle of the two leading officers of the “Empire Club.”
The History of Tammany Hall, by Gustavus Myers, further polishes the image:
[The Empire Club's chief] was Captain Isaiah Rynders, and its membership was made up of a choice variety of picked worthies who could argue a mooted point to a finish with knuckles. Rynders had a most varied career before entering New York politics. A gambler in New Orleans, he mixed in some bowie and pistol fights there in which he was cut severely on the head and elsewhere, and his hat was perforated by a bullet. On a Mississippi steamboat he drove O'Rourke, a pugilist, out of the saloon with a red-hot poker, after O'Rourke had lost at faro and had attempted to kill the winner.
Ten years after his death, McClure's Magazine gave an unflattering account of Rynder's valor--in this tale the hero is Mike Walsh, the founder of the "Subterranean Club," implacable foe of the Rynders' Empire Club. (No hint as to who supposedly transcribed the dialog between the two men when they were alone in the room.)
Mr. Parke Godwin, then one of the editors of the "Evening Post," had been very outspoken in his newspaper writings and also in public speech, in denunciation of the political methods in common practice. Thereby Mr. Godwin had aroused the hatred of Isaiah Rynders and his associates. His denunciation of Tammany in particular, and its methods, had greatly angered the whole organization, but he had incurred the especial hostility of Rynders, and one day word was brought to him that Rynders and his associates were threatening to kill him, and he should have a care.

One afternoon, having left his office to go home, Mr. Godwin stopped, as was his custom, in Florence's restaurant for some oysters. As he stood at the oyster-stand, he saw in the remote part of the room Rynders and some of his men. He at once suspected that they proposed to assault him before he could leave the building. He realized that it would not do for him to run, however; so he began to eat his oysters, while deliberating upon his course in case he should be attacked. Suddenly he noticed that a man stood beside him, and looking up he saw "Mike" Walsh, who said to him: "Go on eating your oysters, Mr. Godwin, but do it as quickly as you can, and then go away. Rynders and his men have been waiting here for you and intend to kill you, but they won't attack you as long as I am by your side."

The advice was followed. After Mr. Godwin, having finished his oysters, had gone out, Rynders stepped up to Walsh and said: "What do you mean by interfering in this matter? It is none of your affair."

"Well, Godwin did me a good turn once, and I don't propose to see him stabbed in the back. You were going to do a sneaking thing; you were going to assassinate him, and any man who will do that is a coward.

"No man ever called me a coward, Mike Walsh, and you can't."

"But I do, and I will prove that you are a coward. If you are not one, come upstairs with me now. We will lock ourselves into a room; I will take a knife and you take one; and the man who is alive after we have got through, will unlock the door and go out."

Rynders accepted the challenge. They went to an upper room. Walsh locked the door, gave Rynders a large bowie-knife, took one himself, and said: "You stand in that corner, and I'll stand in this. Then we will walk toward the centre of the room, and we won't stop until one or the other of us is finished."

Each took his corner. Then Walsh turned and approached the centre of the room. But Rynders did not stir. "Why don't you come out?" said Walsh.

Rynders, turning in his corner, faced his antagonist, and said : "Mike, you and I have always been friends; what is the use of our fighting now? If we get at it, we shall both be killed, and there is no good in that."

Walsh for a moment said not a word; but his lip curled, and he looked upon Rynders with an expression of utter contempt. Then he said: "I told you you were a coward, and now I prove it. Never speak to me again."
I think we can safely take all three of these accounts as unsubstantiated political puffery, which is why I left Rynders out of my book. They serve as a useful reminder that 19th-century newspapers were at least as unscrupulous about confining themselves to the facts as are newspapers today.

Monday, September 19, 2011

184th Anniversary of Sandbar Fight

Happy 184th anniversary of the Sandbar Fight, everyone! I got so busy today I nearly forgot to fondle my bowie knives a little.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review of Bowie Knife Fights, Fighters, and Fighting Techniques

Nice review of Bowie Knife Fights, Fighters, and Fighting Techniques at the White Shadow Dojo blog.

If you read his previous post, you'll find that the blogger, a martial arts teacher and bowie knife aficionado, almost didn't want to read my book because of the lurid cover art and title. That's a concern to me. It's a serious, well-researched book and I think anyone who reads it will recognize the seriousness of my efforts in putting it together. Perhaps I should have called it The Bowie Knife: History of an American Weapon, or something like that. I think the publisher was worried that once you call something "history" you turn off a large segment of your potential buyers.

As for the cover art, well, what can I say? Put me in front of a sheet of paper with a pen and my hand and I'm a wild man.

Illustration of one of bowie-knife fighter Sam Brown's notorious murders, from the book.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cold Blooded Murder

On September 6, 1858, the Adams Sentinel reported the following bowie-knife crime:
Cold Blooded Murder.
A correspondent of the Mobile Mercury writing from Marion, Mass., gives an account  of a cold blooded murder, committed on the 11th ult: J. M. Steele keeps a livery stable, and Colonel Hudnall and others had been there engaged in a warm discussion. One by one they bad left after sunset, and Hudnall was the last. Steele charged him with stealing money out of his pocket. Hudnall told him that it was a lie, whereupon Steele attempted to strike him with a stick, which Hudnall succeeded in wresting from him. Steele then drew a Bowie knife and cut his throat. Steele walked through the crowd with his knife in his hand, defying the whole of them, and came up and stood over his victim as he was expiring, and heaped abuse upon him with horrid imprecations. He then mounted a horse and rode away unmolested There were but few persons about. Hudnall was sixty and inoffensive. Steele is young, and has been leading lately a reckless life. He stands indicted for sundry outrageous acts, and among them, assaults with intent to kill.
He has left behind him in his flight, a beautiful and amiable wife, with one child.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

World War I: Return of the Bowie Knife

The following excerpt is from Georges Blanchon's The New Warfare (1917):
We must look forward to a mighty development in operations of this kind when we attempt to force trenches that are strongly constructed, defended by unconquerable artillery, and when we cannot obtain mastery of the air. It may also happen that, if the supply of explosives gives out, the mine, rapidly enlarged and lengthened, will be a mere prelude to a direct attack with cold steel. The latter is still the ultima ratio of fighting. Artillery duels, mine explosions, the sweep of the machine-gun, the throwing of hand-grenades, are all when analysed only preparations. They all lead to a hand-to-hand fight. Consequently the bayonet has always played a role of supreme importance, deciding the fate of many a desperate encounter. Even the bayonet is too long for the narrow field of carnage of the trenches. The rifle hinders the grenadiers when hurling their petards, crawling between the lines and cutting barbed wire. They prefer to arm themselves with a long dagger, a regular "bowie-knife" fastened to the waist. But the best weapon for this kind of work is perhaps a short South African club, the knobkerrie, which has met with considerable success in the British Army. If the machine-rifle supplants our bayonet-holder, who knows but that a light spear, slung across the back, will effect a final separation between the two death-dealing weapons? Our fighting men only need a shield to be like the warriors in the Iliad.
  A World War I-issue mace, or knobkerrie.