James Rezin Bowie
|Also Known As:||"Alamo Jim Bowie"|
|Birthplace:||Franklin, Simpson County, Kentucky, United States|
|Death:||Died in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, United States|
|Cause of death:||killed at the Battle of the Alamo (Texas Revolution)|
|Place of Burial:||San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, United States|
Son of Rezin Pleasant Bowie, I and Elve Ap-Catesby Bowie
|Managed by:||Private User|
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About Col. James "Jim" Bowie (commander Alamo volunteers)
James "Jim" Bowie (April 10, 1796 – March 6, 1836), a 19th-century American pioneer and soldier, played a prominent role in the Texas Revolution, culminating in his death at the Battle of the Alamo. Stories of him as a fighter and frontiersman, both real and fictitious, have made him a legendary figure in Texas history and a folk hero of American culture.
Born in Kentucky, Bowie spent most of his life in Louisiana, where he was raised and later worked as a land speculator. His rise to fame began in 1827 on reports of the Sandbar Fight. What began as a duel between two other men deteriorated into a melee in which Bowie, having been shot and stabbed, killed the sheriff of Rapides Parish with a large knife. This, and other stories of Bowie's prowess with the knife, led to the widespread popularity of the Bowie knife.
Bowie's reputation was cemented by his role in the Texas Revolution. After moving to Texas in 1830, Bowie became a Mexican citizen and married the daughter of the vice governor of the province. His fame in Texas grew following his failed expedition to find the lost San Saba mine, during which his small party repelled an attack by a large Indian raiding party. At the outbreak of the Texas Revolution, Bowie joined the Texas militia, leading forces at the Battle of Concepción and the Grass Fight. In January 1836, he arrived at the Alamo, where he commanded the volunteer forces until an illness left him bedridden. Bowie died with the other Alamo defenders on March 6. Despite conflicting accounts of the manner of his death, the "most popular, and probably the most accurate" accounts maintain that he died in his bed after emptying his pistols into several Mexican soldiers.
According to his older brother, John, James Bowie was born in Logan County, Kentucky, in the spring of 1796. Historian Raymond Thorp gave his birth date as April 10, but Thorp did not provide any documentation for that date. Bowie was the ninth of ten children born to Elve Ap-Catesby Jones and Rezin Bowie. His father had been injured while fighting in the American Revolution, and in 1782 married the young woman who had nursed him back to health. The Bowies moved frequently, first settling in Georgia, before moving to Kentucky. At the time of Bowie's birth, his father owned eight slaves, eleven head of cattle, seven horses, and one stud horse. The following year the family acquired 200 acres (80 ha) along the Red River. They sold that property in 1800 and relocated to Missouri before moving to Spanish Louisiana in 1802, where they settled on Bushley Bayou in Rapides Parish.
The Bowie family moved again in 1809, settling on Bayou Teche in Louisiana before finding a permanent home in Opelousas in 1812. The Bowie children were raised on the frontier and even as small children were expected to help clear the land and plant crops. All of the Bowie children learned to read and write in English, but Jim and his elder brother Rezin could also read, write, and speak Spanish and French fluently. The children learned to survive on the frontier, how to fish and run a farm and plantation. Jim Bowie became proficient with pistol, rifle, and knife, and had a reputation for fearlessness. As a boy one of his Indian friends even taught him to rope alligators.
In response to Andrew Jackson's plea for volunteers to fight the British in the War of 1812, Bowie and his brother Rezin enlisted in the Louisiana militia in late 1814. The war ended on December 24 of that year with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, and the Bowie brothers arrived in New Orleans too late to participate in the fighting. After mustering out of the militia, Bowie settled in Rapides Parish, where he supported himself by sawing planks and lumber and floating it down the bayou for sale. In June 1819, he joined the Long expedition, an effort to liberate Texas from Spanish rule. The group encountered little resistance and, after capturing Nacogdoches, declared Texas an independent republic. The extent of Bowie's participation is unclear, but he returned to Louisiana before the invasion was repelled by Spanish troops.
Shortly before their father died in 1818 or 1819, he gave ten slaves, and horses and cattle to both Jim and his brother Rezin. For the next seven years the brothers worked together to develop several large estates in Lafourche Parish and Opelousas. Louisiana's population was growing rapidly, and the brothers hoped to take advantage of its rising land prices through speculation. Without the capital required to buy large tracts, they entered into a partnership with a pirate, Jean Lafitte, in 1818 to raise money. By then, the United States had outlawed the importation of slaves, and most southern states allowed anyone who informed on a slave trader to receive half of what the imported slaves would earn at auction as a reward. Bowie made three trips to Lafitte's compound on Galveston Island. On each occasion he bought smuggled slaves and then took them directly to a customhouse to inform on his own actions. When the customs officers offered the slaves for auction, Bowie purchased them and received back half the price he had paid, as allowed by the state laws. He then could legally transport the slaves and resell them at a greater market value in New Orleans or areas farther up the Mississippi River. Using this scheme the brothers collected $65,000 to be used for their land speculation.
In 1825, the two brothers joined with their younger brother Stephen to buy Acadia, a plantation near Alexandria. Within two years they had established the first steam mill in Louisiana to be used for grinding sugar cane. The plantation became known as a model estate, but, on February 12, 1831, they sold it and 65 slaves for $90,000. With their profits, Bowie and Rezin bought a plantation in Arkansas.
Bowie and his brother John were involved in a major court case in the late 1820s over their land speculation. When the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803, it promised to honor all former land grant claims, and for the next 20 years efforts were made to establish who owned what land. In May 1824, Congress authorized the superior courts of each territory to hear suits from people who claimed they had been overlooked. The Arkansas Superior Court received 126 claims in late 1827 from residents who claimed to have purchased land in former Spanish grants from the Bowie brothers. Although the Superior Court originally confirmed most of those claims, the decisions were reversed in February 1831, after further research showed that the land had never belonged to the Bowies, and that the original land grant documentation had been forged. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the reversal in 1833. When the disgruntled purchasers considered suing the Bowies, they discovered that the documents in the case had been removed from the court; left without evidence, they declined to pursue a case.
Bowie became internationally famous as a result of a feud with Norris Wright, the sheriff of Rapides Parish. Bowie had supported Wright's opponent in the race for sheriff, and Wright, a bank director, had been instrumental in turning down Bowie's loan application. After a confrontation in Alexandria one afternoon, Wright fired a shot at Bowie. The uninjured Bowie was enraged and tried to kill Wright with his bare hands. Wright's friends intervened and stopped the attack, after which Bowie resolved to carry his hunting knife at all times. The knife he carried had a huge blade that was 9.25 inches (23.5 cm) long and 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) wide.
The following year, on September 19, 1827, Bowie and Wright attended a duel on a sandbar outside of Natchez, Mississippi. Bowie supported duelist Samuel Levi Wells III, while Wright supported Wells's opponent, Dr. Thomas Harris Maddox. The duelists each fired two shots, and, as neither man had been injured, resolved their duel with a handshake. Other members of the groups, who had various reasons for disliking each other, began fighting. Bowie was shot in the hip; after regaining his feet he drew a knife, described as a butcher knife, and charged his attacker. The attacker hit Bowie over the head with his empty pistol, breaking the pistol and knocking Bowie to the ground. Wright shot at and missed the prone Bowie, who returned fire and possibly hit Wright. Wright then drew his sword cane and impaled Bowie. When Wright attempted to retrieve his blade by placing his foot on Bowie's chest and tugging, Bowie pulled him down and disemboweled Wright with his large knife. Wright died instantly, and Bowie, with Wright's sword still protruding from his chest, was shot again and stabbed by another member of the group. The doctors who had been present for the duel retrieved the bullets and patched Bowie's other wounds.
Newspapers picked up the story, which became known as the Sandbar Fight, and described in detail Bowie's fighting prowess and his unusual knife. Witness accounts agreed that Bowie did not attack first, and the others had focused their attack on Bowie because "they considered him the most dangerous man among their opposition." The fight cemented Bowie's reputation across the South as a superb knife-fighter.
There is disagreement among scholars as to whether the knife used in this fight was the same kind of knife now known as a Bowie knife. Multiple accounts exist of who designed and built the first Bowie knife. Some claim that Bowie designed it, while others attribute the design to noted knife makers of the time. However, in a letter to The Planter's Advocate, Rezin Bowie claimed to have invented the knife, and many Bowie family members as well as "most authorities on the Bowie knife tend to believe it was invented by" Rezin. Rezin Bowie's grandchildren, however, claimed that Rezin merely supervised his blacksmith, who was the creator of the knife.
After the Sandbar Fight and subsequent battles in which Bowie successfully used his knife to defend himself, the Bowie knife became very popular. Many craftsmen and manufacturers made their own versions, and major cities of the Southwest had "Bowie knife schools", which taught "the art of cut, thrust, and parry." His fame, and that of his knife, spread to England, and by the early 1830s many British manufacturers were producing Bowie knives for shipment to the United States. The design of the knife continued to evolve, but today a Bowie knife generally is considered to have a blade 8.25 inches (21.0 cm) long and 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) wide, with a curved point, a "sharp false edge cut from both sides", and a cross-guard to protect the user's hands.
Establishment in Texas
After recovering from the wounds he suffered in the Sandbar Fight, in 1828 Bowie decided to move to Texas, at that time a state in the Mexican federation. The 1824 Constitution of Mexico banned religions other than Roman Catholicism and gave preference to Mexican citizens in receiving land. Bowie was baptized into the Roman Catholic faith in San Antonio on April 28, 1828, sponsored by the alcalde (chief administrator) of the town, Juan Martin de Veramendi and the wife of the administrator, Josefa Navarro. For the next eighteen months Bowie travelled through Louisiana and Mississippi. In 1829, he became engaged to Cecilia Wells, who died in Alexandria on September 29, two weeks before their wedding.
On January 1, 1830, Bowie left Louisiana for permanent residency in Texas. He stopped at Nacogdoches, at Jared E. Groce's farm on the Brazos River, and in San Felipe, where Bowie presented a letter of introduction to Stephen F. Austin from Thomas F. McKinney, one of the Old Three Hundred colonists. On February 20, Bowie took an oath of allegiance to Mexico and then proceeded to San Antonio de Bexar. At the time the city, known as Bexar, had a population of 2,500 people, mostly of Mexican descent, and Bowie's fluency in Spanish helped him establish himself in the area. Bowie was elected a commander, with the rank of colonel, of the Texas Rangers later that year. Although the Rangers would not be organized officially until 1835, Stephen F. Austin had founded the group by employing thirty men to keep the peace and protect the colonists from attacks by hostile Indians. Other areas assembled similar volunteer militias, and Bowie commanded a group of the volunteers.
Bowie became a Mexican citizen on September 30, 1830, after promising to establish textile mills in the province of Coahuila y Tejas. To fulfill his promise, Bowie entered into partnership with Veramendi to build cotton and wool mills in Saltillo. With his citizenship assured, Bowie now had the right to buy up to 11 leagues of public land. He convinced fourteen or fifteen other citizens to apply for land in order to turn it over to him, giving him 700,000 acres (280,000 ha) for speculation. Bowie may have been the first to induce settlers to apply for empresario grants which could then be sold in bulk to speculators like Bowie. The Mexican government passed laws in 1834 and 1835 that stopped much of the land speculation.
On April 25, 1831 Bowie married 19-year-old Maria Ursula de Veramendi, the daughter of his business partner, who had become the vice-governor of the province. Several days before the ceremony he signed a dowry contract, promising to pay his new bride 15,000 pesos (approximately $15,000) in cash or property within two years of the marriage. At the time Bowie claimed to have a net worth of $223,000, mostly in land of questionable title. Bowie also lied about his age, claiming to be 30 rather than 35. The couple built a house in San Antonio, on land Veramendi had given them near the San José Mission. After a short time, however, they moved into the Veramendi Palace, living with Ursula's parents, who supplied them with spending money. The couple had two children, Marie Elve, born March 20, 1832, and James Veramendi, born July 18, 1833.
San Saba Mine
Shortly after his marriage Bowie became fascinated with the story of the "lost" Los Almagres Mine, said to be west of San Antonio near the ruin of Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission. The mine had been operated by local Indians before being seized by the Spanish. After Mexico won independence from Spain, government interest in the mines waned. A number of hostile Indian tribes roamed the area, including Comanche, Lipan Apache, and Karankawa, and without government troops to keep the tribes at bay, mining ceased. It was believed that after the Mexican citizens left the area, the Lipan Apaches took over the mines.
After obtaining permission from the Mexican government to mount an expedition into Indian territory to search for the legendary silver mine, Bowie, his brother Rezin, and nine others set out for San Saba on November 2, 1831. Six miles (10 km) from their goal, the group stopped to negotiate with a large Indian raiding party following them. The attempts at parley failed and Bowie and his group fought for their lives for the next 13 hours. When the Indians finally retreated, Bowie reportedly had lost only one man, while over 40 Indians had been killed and 30 more wounded. In the meantime, a party of friendly Comanche Indians rode into San Antonio, bringing word of the raiding party, which outnumbered the Bowie expedition by 15–to–1. The citizens of San Antonio believed the members of the Bowie expedition must have perished, and Ursula Bowie began wearing widow's weeds.
To the surprise of the town, the surviving members of the group returned to San Antonio on December 6. Bowie's report of the expedition, written in Spanish, was printed in several newspapers, further establishing his reputation. He set out again with a larger force the following month, but returned home empty-handed after two and a half months of searching.
Bowie never talked of his exploits despite his increasing fame. Captain William Y. Lacey, who spent eight months living in the wilderness with Bowie, described him as a humble man who never used profanity or vulgarities.
Between 1830 and 1832 the Mexican Congress passed a series of laws that seemed to discriminate against Anglo colonists in the province of Coahuila y Tejas, increasing tension between the Anglo citizenry and Mexican officials. In response to the rumblings, Mexican troops established military posts in several locations within the province, including San Antonio de Béxar. Although much of the military supported the administration of President Anastasio Bustamante, Antonio López de Santa Anna led an insurrection against him in 1832. Anglo colonists in Texas supported Santa Anna and General José Antonio Mexía, who led soldiers into Texas to oust commanders loyal to Bustamante.
After hearing that the Mexican army commander in Nacogdoches, José de las Piedras, had demanded that all residents in his area surrender their arms, Bowie cut short a visit to Natchez in July 1832 to return to Texas. On August 2, 1832, he joined a group of other Texians and marched into Nacogdoches to "present their demands" to Piedras. Before the group reached the building housing the town officials, they were attacked by a force of 100 Mexican cavalry. The Texians returned fire and, after the cavalry retreated, initiated a siege of the garrison. After a second battle in which Piedras lost 33 men, the Mexican army evacuated during the night. Bowie and eighteen companions ambushed the fleeing army and, after Piedras fled, marched the soldiers back to Nacogdoches. Bowie later served as a delegate to the Convention of 1833, which formally requested that Texas become its own state within the Mexican federation.
Several months later, a cholera epidemic struck Texas. Fearing the disease would reach San Antonio, Bowie sent his pregnant wife and their daughter to the family estate in Monclova in the company of her parents and brother. The cholera epidemic instead struck Monclova, and between September 6 and September 14, Ursula, their children, her brother, and her parents all died of the disease. Bowie, on business in Natchez, heard of his family's deaths in November. From then on, he drank heavily and became "careless in his dress".
The following year the Mexican government passed new laws allowing land sale in Texas, and Bowie returned to land speculation. He was appointed as a land commissioner, tasked with promoting settlement in the area purchased by John T. Mason. His appointment ended in May 1835, when President Antonio López de Santa Anna abolished the Coahuila y Tejas government and ordered the arrest of all Texians (including Bowie) doing business in Monclova. Bowie was forced to flee Monclova and return to the Anglo areas of Texas.
The Anglos in Texas began agitating for war against Santa Anna, and Bowie worked with William B. Travis, the leader of the War Party, to gain support. Bowie visited several Indian villages in East Texas in an attempt to convince the reluctant tribes to fight against the Mexican government. Santa Anna responded to the rumblings by ordering large numbers of Mexican troops to Texas.
Battle of Concepción
The Texas Revolution began on October 2, 1835 with the Battle of Gonzales. Stephen F. Austin formed an army of 500 men to march on the Mexican forces in San Antonio with the cannon that had precipitated the fight. On October 22, Austin asked Bowie, now a colonel in the volunteer militia, and James W. Fannin to scout the area around the missions of San Francisco de la Espada and San José y San Miguel de Aguayo to find supplies for the volunteer forces. The scouting party left with 92 men, many of them members of the New Orleans Grays who had just arrived in Texas. After discovering a good defensive position near Mission Concepción, the group requested that Austin's army join them.
On the foggy morning of October 28, Mexican General Domingo Ugartechea led a force of 300 infantry and cavalry soldiers and 2 small cannons against the Texian forces. Although the Mexican army was able to get within 200 yards (183 m), the Texian defensive position protected them from fire. As the Mexicans stopped to reload their cannon, the Texians climbed a bluff and picked off some of the soldiers. The stalemate ended shortly after Bowie led a charge to seize one of the Mexican cannons, at that time only 80 yards (73 m) away. Ugartechea retreated with his troops, ending the Battle of Concepción. One Texian and ten Mexican troops had been killed. One of the men under Bowie's command during the battle later praised him "as a born leader, never needlessly spending a bullet or imperiling a life, who repeatedly admonished ... Keep under cover boys, and reserve your fire; we haven't a man to spare."
Grass Fight and commission difficulties
An hour after the battle ended, Austin arrived with the rest of the Texian army to begin a siege of San Antonio de Béxar, where General Martín Perfecto de Cós, the overall commander of Mexican forces in Texas, and his troops were garrisoned. Two days later, Bowie resigned from Austin's army because he did not have an official commission in the army, and he disliked the "minor tasks of scouting and spying".
On November 3, 1835, Texas declared itself an independent state, and a provisional government was formed with Henry Smith of Brazoria elected provisional governor. Austin requested to be relieved of his command of the army, and Sam Houston was named army chief. Edward Burleson was chosen as temporary commander of the troops in San Antonio. Bowie appeared before the council at some point and spoke for an hour, asking for a commission. The council refused Bowie's request, likely because of lingering animosity over his land dealings.
Houston offered Bowie a commission as an officer on his staff, but Bowie rejected the opportunity, explaining that he wanted to be in the midst of the fighting. Instead, Bowie enlisted in the army as a private under Fannin. He distinguished himself again in the Grass Fight on November 26. Cós had sent 100 soldiers to cut grass for the horses. As they returned to San Antonio, Bowie took 60 mounted men to intercept the party, which they believed carried valuable cargo. The Mexican troops quickened their pace in the hopes of reaching the safety of the city, but Bowie and his cavalry chased them. At the end of the fight, the Texians had two wounded men, but had captured many horses and mules.
Shortly after Bowie left San Antonio, Ben Milam led an assault on the city. In the ensuing fighting, the Texians suffered only a few casualties, while the Mexican army lost many troops to death and desertion. Cós surrendered and returned to Mexico, taking with him the last Mexican troops in Texas. Believing the war was over, many of the Texian volunteers left the army and returned to their families. In early January 1836, Bowie went to San Felipe and asked the council to allow him to recruit a regiment. He again was turned down, as he "was not an officer of the government nor army."
Battle at the Alamo
After Houston received word that Santa Anna was leading a large force to San Antonio, Bowie offered to lead volunteers to defend the Alamo from the expected attack. He arrived with 30 men on January 19, where they found a force of 104 men with a few weapons and a few cannons, but little supplies and gunpowder. Houston knew that there were not enough men to hold the fort in an attack and had given Bowie authority to remove the artillery and blow up the fortification. Bowie and the Alamo commander, James C. Neill, decided they did not have enough oxen to move the artillery, and they did not want to destroy the fortress. On January 26, one of Bowie's men, James Bonham, organized a rally which passed a resolution in favor of holding the Alamo. Bonham signed the resolution first, with Bowie's signature second.
Through Bowie's connections because of his marriage and his fluency in Spanish, the predominantly Mexican population of San Antonio often furnished him with information about the movements of the Mexican army. After learning that Santa Anna had 4,500 troops and was heading for the city, Bowie wrote several letters to the provisional government asking for help in defending the Alamo, especially "men, money, rifles, and cannon powder". In another letter, to Governor Smith, he reiterated his view that "the salvation of Texas depends in great measure on keeping Bexar out of the hands of the enemy. It serves as the frontier picquet guard, and if it were in the possession of Santa Anna, there is no stronghold from which to repel him in his march toward the Sabine." The letter to Smith ended, "Colonel Neill and myself have come to the solemn resolution that we will rather die in these ditches than give it up to the enemy."
On February 3, William Travis arrived with an additional 30 troops, and several days later Davy Crockett appeared with twelve Tennesseans. Neill went on furlough on February 11 to visit his sick family, leaving Travis, a member of the regular army, in command. Bowie was older than Travis with a better reputation and considered himself a colonel, thus outranking Travis, a major. He refused to answer to Travis, who called an election for the men to choose their own commander. They chose Bowie, infuriating Travis. Bowie celebrated his appointment by getting very drunk and causing havoc in San Antonio, releasing all prisoners in the local jails and harassing citizens. Travis was disgusted, but two days later the men agreed to a joint command; Bowie would command the volunteers, and Travis would command the regular army and the volunteer cavalry.
On February 23, the bells of San Fernando sounded the alarm of the Mexicans approach. Travis ordered all the Texian forces into the Alamo.James Bowie hurried to gather provisions and herd cattle into the Alamo compound. Fearing for the safety of his wife's relatives in San Antonio, Bowie invited her cousins Getrudis Navarro and Juana Navarro Alsbury, as well as Alsbury's 18-month-old son, Alijo Perez Jr., to stay inside the walls of the Alamo. Bowie also brought several black servants, some of which worked at the Veramendi Palace, into the security of the Alamo fortress. Bowie had been ill, and two doctors, including the fort surgeon, were unable to diagnose his illness. Travis became the sole commander of the forces when Bowie was confined to bed. Santa Anna and his army began a siege of the Alamo on February 24. The Mexican army raised a red flag to warn the defenders that no quarter would be given.
Bowie and Travis began sending out couriers with pleas for provisions and assistance. Travis sent Juan Seguin on Bowie's horse, to recruit reinforcements on February 25, and 32 additional men arrived. On February 26, David Crockett reported that Bowie, though suffering from his affliction, continued to crawl from his bed around noon every day and presented himself to the Alamo's inhabitants, which much boosted the moral of his comrades. Thirty-five years after the Alamo fell, a reporter identified Louis "Moses" Rose as the only man to have "deserted" the Texian forces at the Alamo. According to the reporter's version of Rose's account, when Travis realized that the Mexican army would likely prevail, he drew a line in the sand and asked those willing to die for the cause to cross the line. At Bowie's request Crockett and several others carried the cot over the line, leaving Rose alone on the other side. After its publication, several other eyewitnesses confirmed the account, but as Rose was deceased the story can only be authenticated by the word of the reporter, who admitted to embellishing other articles, "and thus many historians refuse to believe it."
Bowie perished with the rest of the Alamo defenders on March 6, when the Mexicans attacked. Most of the noncombatants in the fort, including Bowie's relatives, survived. Santa Anna ordered the alcalde of San Antonio, Francisco Antonio Ruiz, to confirm the identities of Bowie, Travis, and Crockett. After first ordering that Bowie be buried, as he was too brave a man to be burned like a dog, Santa Anna later had Bowie's body placed with those of the other Texians on the funeral pyre.
When Bowie's mother was informed of his death, she calmly stated, "I'll wager no wounds were found in his back." Various eyewitnesses to the battle gave conflicting accounts of Bowie's death. A newspaper article claimed that a Mexican soldier saw Bowie carried from his room on his cot, alive, after the conclusion of the battle. The soldier maintained that Bowie verbally castigated a Mexican officer in fluent Spanish, and the officer ordered Bowie's tongue cut out and his still-breathing body thrown onto the funeral pyre. This account has been disputed by numerous other witnesses, and it is thought to have been invented by the reporter. Other witnesses maintained that they saw several Mexican soldiers enter Bowie's room, bayonet him, and carry him, alive, from the room. Various other stories circulated, with some witnesses claiming that Bowie shot himself and others saying he was killed by soldiers while too weak to lift his head. Alcalde Ruiz said that Bowie was found "dead in his bed." According to Wallace O Chariton, The "most popular, and probably the most accurate" version is that Bowie died on his cot, "back braced against the wall, and using his pistols and his famous knife." One year after the battle, Juan Seguin returned to the Alamo and gathered the remaining ashes from the funeral pyre. He placed these in a coffin inscribed with the names of Bowie, Travis, and Crockett. The ashes were interred at the Cathedral of San Fernando.
Despite his continual pronouncements of wealth, Bowie's estate was found to be very small. His possessions were auctioned for only $99.50. His larger legacy is his position as "one of the legendary characters of the American frontier". Bowie left a "frustratingly sparse paper trail" of his life, and, for many, "where history failed, the legends prevailed." Although Bowie's name and his knife were well-known during his lifetime, his legend grew after October 1852, when DeBow's Review published an article written by his brother John Jones Bowie, called "Early Life in the Southwest—The Bowies." The article focused primarily on the exploits of Jim Bowie. Beginning with that article, "romanticized stories" about Bowie began appearing in national press. In many cases, "these stories were pure melodrama, with Bowie rescuing some naïve planter's son or damsel in distress." Jim Bowie posthumously was inducted into the Blade Magazine Cutlery Hall of Fame at the 1988 Blade Show in Atlanta, Georgia in recognition for the impact that his eponymous design made upon generations of knife makers and cutlery companies.
A number of films have depicted the events of the Battle of the Alamo, and Bowie has appeared as a character in each. The Last Command (1955 film) by Republic Pictures features Jim Bowie as the main character during the battle of the Alamo and the Texas War of Independence. From 1956–1958, Bowie was the subject of a television show, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, which was primarily set in 1830s Louisiana, although later episodes ventured into the Mexican province of Texas. The show, which starred Scott Forbes, was based on the 1946 novel Tempered Blade.
Bowie also is the namesake of rock star David Bowie, who was born David Robert Hayward-Jones. Jones changed his name in the 1960s because he feared his name was too similar to Davy Jones, a member of already famous The Monkees. He chose the surname Bowie because he admired James Bowie and the Bowie knife.
Both Bowie, Texas and Bowie County, Texas are named in honor of Jim Bowie.
From the book, Bowie Knife" by Raymond Thorp, l948 author suggest that Logan County tax records confirm April l0, l796 as his birth date, but failed to confirm it.
He has been described as having high cheek bones, deep set piercing gray eyes, and light colored hair-not quite red.
Source The Bowies & their kindred by Walter Worthington Bowie
He removed with his parents to Louisiana while still a child. He was a sugar planter, and together with his brother, Rezin P. Bowie, owned several very valuable estates in La Fourche and Rapides Parishes, and in the Opelousas District. On the "Arcadia" plantation the brothers introduced the first steam mill for grinding sugar cane ever used in the State, mules having been the motive power prior to that date. He left the active management of their lands to his brother, and took more interest in politics, especially in the trend of events in the neighboring Republic of Texas. Yet he was a very wealthy man for that era, and at the time of his marriage, when certain provisions were made for the bride, he stated his property to be worth about two hundred and ten thousand dollars. The Arcadia plantation sold for ninety thousand dollars, and in the will he made just before entering the Texan Army, much property was mentioned and handsome bequests were made to the son and daughter of his deceased brother Stephen. James is described as six feet tall, slight, but graceful and very muscular; gray or hazel eyes, and chestnut brown curling hair. He wore short side whiskers and his face is said to have been singularly handsome. His portrait owned by his great nephew shows a strong, determined face, with traces of sorrow. In his right hand he grasps the hilt of a sword. So much has been said and written of this famous man that it is difficult to separate the false from the true in narrating his eventful career. In disposition he is represented as cool, determined and enterprising. Although not possessing the sprakling talents of his brother Rezin, he was however endowed with much native eloquence. His oration at a dinner given in New Orleans to General Jackson, and a speech before the Council of State at San Antonio in l835., are mentioned as most able and eloquent. But it was as a soldier that he shines forth in all his greatness. As Colonel of Texas Rangers he gained a great reputation at the battle of San Saba, Nov 2,l83l. The Indian tribes which were then so powerful and so dangerous called him "Fighting Devil" His Texan followers, who idolized him, called him "the young lion." The battles wit the Indians and Mexicans, at Nocogdoches, Conception and "Grass Fight," in l835, were occasions when James Bowie displayed his great military genius and intrepid courage. It is said that "To him the meaning of the word fear was absolutely unknown." Most of his time was spent in Texas, whose independence he was constantly scheming to accomplish, and was therefore hated and dreaded by the Mexicans. Both in Texas and in Louisiana there were at the early period many desperate characters, and everyone went armed to the teeth. Titles to the new lands were constantly being disputed and many enmities were fostered. In his section of the country the duel was a recognized law of the social system; from that appeal there was no retreat; the man who flinched would have been publicly branded as a dastard. It is not surprising that James Bowie, sensitive and proud, brave to recklessness, and when aroused, as fierce as the hunted tiger, should in such a community be frequently involved in desperate personal affrays. Though tolerant of opposing opinions, always courteous in bearing and polished in manners, he yet would not brook the presence of an enemy,. and believed all difficulties should be settled promptly on the spot. An unyielding adversary he pursued unrelentingly, but was ever ready to forgive when properly approached. His power of will was remarkable, and in the presence of real danger the fiery impulse of his nature was instantly subdued into cool caution, though the flash of his bright eye and the compression of his thin lips told in a moment that he considered himself in the presence of an enemy. This name has been the synonym of personal bravery, and a hundred tales are told of alleged duels and quixotic encounters in which he is made to figure as a hero. Many of them are without foundation, though unhappily he was the principal actor in a number of bloody and desperate altercations. These fights were seldom if ever prearranged, but took place upon the accidental meeting of the belligerents.
The "Sandbar duel" as it was called, which took place on a little island in the Mississippi River opposite Natchez, Sept l9.l827 has been more written of perhaps than any other of his numerous fights.
Some of the writers alleging that more than a dozen men lost their lives in the affray. The following statement of that celebrated fight is based on a letter written two days after the duel by one of the participants, and an article in a Southern paper, published a short time after the occurrence. For many years a feud existed between two parties in the Parish of Rapides, on Red River. On one side Was Col. James Bowie, Gen Momfort Wells, D+SAnyek ?wells, General Cuney, Dr. Cuney, and Mc Whorter. On the other Dr. T.H. Maddox, of Charles County, Maryland; Maj. Morris Wright, of Baltimore; Col. Robert A. Carin of Fauquier County,Virginia; Alfred and Edward Cary Blanchard, of Norfolk, Virginia (The latter the father of Senator N.C. Blanchard,) And Dr. Denny, composed the leaders of the two parties. Their quarrels finally resulted in arrangements for the fight on the Sandbar, the principals, however being Dr. Maddox and Samuel L. Wells, the others as witnesses, seconds, and surgeons. After two ineffectual exchanges of shots, Wells and Maddox shook hands, but Cuney stepped forward and said to Colonel Crain. "This is a good time to settle our difficulty;" Bowie and Wright also drew, and the firing became general. Crain killed Cuney and shot Bowie through the hip. Bowie drew his knife and rushed upon Colonel Crain. The latter, clubbing his empty pistol , dealt such a terrific blow upon Bowie's head as to bring him to his knees and break the weapon. Before the latter could recover he was seized by Dr. Maddox, who held him down for some moments, but, collecting his strength, he hurled Maddox off just as Major Wright approached and fired at the wounded Bowie, who, steadied himself against a log, half buried in the sand, fired at Wright, the ball passing through the latter's body. Wright then drew a sword-cane, and, rushing upon Bowie, exclaimed, "damn you, you have killed me." Bowie met the attack, and, seizing his assailant, plunged his "Bowie knife" into his body, killing him instantly. At the same moment Edward Blanchard shot Bowie in the body, but had his arm shattered by a ball from Jefferson Wells. This ended the fight, and Bowie was removed, as it was supposed, in a dying condition. Of the twelve men who took part in the affray, Wright and Cuney were killed Bowie, Carine, and Blanchard badly wounded: The remaining seven men escaping any serious injury. Colonel Carin, himself wounded, brought water for his adversary, Colonel Bowie. The latter politely thanked him, but remarked that he did not think Crain had acted properly in firing upon him when he was exchanging shots with Maddox. In later years Bowie and Crain became reconciled, and, each having great respect for the other, remained friends until death. The knife used by Colonel Bowie was the one fashioned from a file by the plantation blacksmith and given to James by his brother, Rezin, as previously mentioned. This knife, it is asserted, was used by Col. James Bowie in nineteen deadly encounters. It finally was given by him to the actor Forest. But the terrible reputation it had gained while in the hands of James Bowie gave it the name which is now applied to all weapons similarly fashioned. It is eight inches long,
broad, single-edged and with a curved point. The "Bowie knife" is now known as one of the most effective arms of its kind manufactured, and takes precedence over the old dagger. It is said that on one occasion James Bowie and a neighboring Spanish planter, descended of a haughty Castilian family, became involved in a difficulty and decided to fight it out with knife and dagger. Their left hands were tied together, and, as the Spaniard drew his arm back to strike, Bowie thrust forward and drove his awful knife through his antagonist's body; then coolly cutting the cords that held them, allowed the corpse of his adversary to sink to the ground .. Though he gained such a terrible reputation as a duelist, he is especially noted for his efforts to free Texas from her Mexican oppressors. His name is revered and honored to this day by the citizens of that great State, where a movement is now on foot to erect a monument commemorating his brave deeds and gallant death. The latter occurred in the Alamo,. Mar 6,l836. General Houston had directed Colonel Bowie to raise a company and cooperate with his advance against Santa Anna. In Houston's correspondence with Governor Brown he states he had selected Colonel Bowie for this important service on account of his great ability, perfect coolness in the presence of danger, and remarkable courage. The sudden appearance of the Mexican Army rather disarranged the plans of Houston, and Col.l Bowie with a small body of rangers became separated from the main army and joined Colonel Travers (A North Carolinian by birth) At San Antonio. Upon the approach of the enemy, the Texans, comprising but l85 men all told, fortified themselves in an old mission known as "The Alamo" possessing strong stone, walls, but otherwise unfit for a fortress. Here on Feb.26 they were besieged by Santa Ana with an army variously estimated as numbering between four and six thousand men. Bowie had been stricken down with typhoid fever, and a Mexican woman known as an experienced nurse was brought into the building to attend him before it had been surrounded Santa Ana demanded Travers to surrender, but he defiantly refused and was supported by the other leaders, including Bowie and the noted Davy Crockett. For eight days the little band found day and night, often hand to hand with their savage assailants. Travers seeing that the fort must shortly fall, called the men around him and told them of the probable fate which awaited them, but said he would remain and fight it out. He then drew a mark on the floor with his sword and requested all who wished to stand and fall with him to cross the line to his side the others might endeavor to escape by cutting their way through the enemy under cover of darkness. Every man except one it is said stepped to the side of Travers, and Colonel Bowie, who was too weak to stand, had his cot taken up by two men and carried across the line. The old Mexican nurse who lived to be more than a hundred described the events which followed. She was known as Madam Candelaria, and for forty years was pensioned by the State of Texas, until she died in Jan. l899. Colonel Bowie became weaker and weaker, finally delirious, and died about three o'clock on the morning on Mar. 6, a few hours before the last assault was made by Santa Ana. Every man sold his life desperately. Crockett, with a cutlass, stood at bay with his back to the wall and cut down his assailants until shot. Not a single man was left alive. After the carnage was over and the heroes of this modern Thermopylae had all been slain, their corpses were burned by the savage Santa Ana, who lost in the eight days fight against one hundred and eighty-five men, more than two thousand of his best troops. "Remember the Alamo" became the war cry of the Texans, and Santa Ana, a short time afterwords, had his army annihilated and himself taken prisoner with that shout ringing in his ears. Three years before the death of Colonel Bowie he lost his wife and two infant children by Cholera. They were on a visit at the time to her father, and the latter also fell a victim to the scourge. Colonel Bowie did not again marry, and "Left no descendants to inherit his indomitable will and fearless spirit. All contemporaries of this noted man agree that not withstanding his reputation as a duelist, he never provoked a quarrel in his life, but on the contrary, prevented man. He was a man of singular modesty and sweetness of disposition, with a reverence for women and a fondness for children ever ready to protect the weak; in fact, nothing at all of the desperado about him. He neither drank, swore, or gambled, but possessed "That desperate courage which makes one a majority." as his name became a terror throughout the Southwest to threaten reckless class of law-breakers who infest a new country. He always dressed with good taste, and his extreme politeness and fascination manners captivated those who knew him best. The perilous adventures of his early life heralded his name to the country coupled with exaggerated accounts of desperate deeds, and he was thus credited with many sanguinary acts entirely foreign to his really generous and heroic character.
This is the Jim Bowie who died in the Alamo, and for whom the famous "Bowie Knife" is named. There have been numerous biographies written of Jim Bowie, and all books on Texas history have much to say about him.
Everette W. Bowie of Olive Branch, MS confirmed the family connection to Jim Bowie using research done by the late Howard Coulby, Jr. and data from the Mormon Family History Library. Everett is a descendant of Rhodi Bowie, Jr. of Maryland, and later SC.