Ask the Marshall

The Historic Arkansas Museum has a Bowie knife that’s marked Number 1. Is it the original?

The Historic Arkansas Museum has a Bowie knife that’s marked Number 1. Is it the original?

Jerry Sanders
Batesville, Arkansas

That’s a tough one. Some say the original Bowie was actually made for Jim’s brother, Rezin, by a Louisiana blacksmith in the late 1820s. Rezin gave that knife to Jim around 1827. Jim used it to deadly affect that year in the Sandbar brawl that broke out after a duel. Jim’s blade killed one combatant and seriously wounded another. (Jim himself was stabbed several times, shot twice and severely pistol whipped.)

In 1830, Jim reportedly asked Arkansas blacksmith James Black to make a revised version. This is supposedly the knife Jim carried with him at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, in 1836.

No record reports what happened to that knife after Jim died at the Alamo. It could have been carried off by a Mexican soldier, but nobody knows for sure.

What is known is that Black made copies of the knife for several years. The one in the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock has been attributed to Black, but that’s not set in stone. The museum’s website makes that clear—and it does not claim that this item is the first Bowie knife. About the only thing that can be said about the museum’s knife is that it is old, probably dating to around 1830.

HistoricArkansas.org, the museum’s website, has a ton of material on Bowie knives, including their murky history.

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