Heart of Louisiana: Jim Bowie

Updated: Apr. 26, 2019 at 7:10 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Frontiersman Jim Bowie is known for his western adventures and a knife. But, what many people may not know is that Bowie has roots in Louisiana.

It was on a sandbar not far from this spot on the Mississippi River near Vidalia Louisiana where frontiersman Jim Bowie made a name for himself and his knife.

Born in Kentucky, Bowie grew up in Louisiana’s Catahoula Parish.

“I actually probably live within 10 or 12 miles of where Bowie lived in Catahoula Parish,” says Stanley Nelson.

Nelson is the editor of the Concordia Sentinal Newspaper and has written a few stories about Jim Bowie’s exploits in the area.

“Back I those days, there was a lot of fraudulent land dealing going on and the Bowie brothers were involved in a whole lot of that,” says Nelson.

Jim Bowie was also a slave trader

“He could back up what he said. Wasn’t much he wouldn’t do and he was a fighter. He didn’t take insults very easily. There was feud involving the sheriff from Alexandria. Bowie was involved in one party and the sheriff had his men and the other.”

It was an 1827 duel that turned into a deadly brawl on the sandbar.

“And his brother said, you need something to protect yourself with, you need a knife. And so what he had made was a knife. And this is a, this is a bonafide Bowie knife because we know that the Bowie brothers had this made,” says Alamo historian Bruce Winders. “The bloody affair, today, we’d say that it went viral. And so people across the nation of reading about how he’s in this fake, this fight, outnumbered. He shot, he stabbed, but he’s still able to hold his own.”

With the sudden popularity of the knife, Bowie’s brother Rezin has more knives made.

“This was made on a plantation that the Bowies had in Rapides Parish by one of their blacksmiths.”

Source: Dave McNamara
Source: Dave McNamara

“This knife was commissioned by Reason Brewery by a jeweler named Searle’s in Baton Rouge.”

Source: Dave McNamara
Source: Dave McNamara

“This knife is usually referred to as the Primitive Style Bowie. And this is what many people think a Bowie knife looks like.”

Source: Dave McNamara
Source: Dave McNamara

Winders works as a historian at the Alamo in San Antonio, where Bowie moved and got married after leaving Louisiana. He’s part of a force of about 200 Texans who are grossly outnumbered but refuse to surrender to the Mexican Army.

How hard is it to separate fact from legend with somebody like Jim Bowie?

“The legend is what most people know about Jim Bowie. He may be so sick that he’s unconscious or possibly even dead at the time of the battle. Mexicans would say he was in his bed and he didn’t put up much of a fight. Legend can’t stand for that. He whips out his knife. He’s slashing. He’s firing with his pistols. That’s where the fact and the legend come together,” says Winders.

Jim Bowie’s story is forever enshrined at the Alamo where he died but his fame and legend began years earlier in a knife fight on a Louisiana sandbar.

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