Sunday, December 2, 2012

An Encounter With The Bowie Knife

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
In 1858 Xavier Eyma published a short story about encountering James Bowie while traveling the United States. Since the hero in my first story, Night Angel, also carried this same knife, I found the encounter very interesting.
One day while traveling the U.S. Eyma found himself in a carriage with three people: a lady, her husband, and a third individual who was wrapped in a cloak and apparently sound asleep. Suddenly an enormous Kentuckian got into the coach. He was smoking a cigar and he cast a glance around him that seemed to say: ''I am half hoss and half alligator, a true son of Kentucky, flower of the forests."
The he puffed out thick clouds of smoke, without any regard for his fellow travelers, and especially for the young lady whom the smoke very evidently made sick. Thus the husband courteously asked the Kentuckian to stop smoking. The latter replied: ''I have paid for my seat. I shall smoke as much as I please, and nobody in the world shall stop me."
After saying this, he rolled his eyes fiercely and looked around him with a provocative air as if daring anyone to counter reply.
Eyma hesitated a moment, wondering whether he should intervene, but realized he would have little chance against such an athletic adversary, and thought of the impotence of the law which offered no recourse against him.
It was then the traveler, who had been asleep, calmly unwrapped his cloak and sat up straight. He was a man of medium size, rather frail looking, buttoned from top to bottom. He fixed two piercing gray eyes on the Kentuckian and before pronouncing a single word, reached behind his neck and drew out a long knife, sharp as a razor. ''Sir,'' he said to the Kentuckian, ''my name is Colonel James Bowie well known, I believe, in Arkansas and Louisiana. If, within one minute you do not throw your cigar out of the window, I shall stick this knife into your belly just as true as I am going to die someday."
The strange expression in Colonel Bowie's glance was something magnetic and fascinating. The Kentuckian bore it for a few seconds and then he lowered his eyes, took the cigar from his mouth and threw it out of the window.
Colonel Bowie then restored his knife to its peculiar sheath between his shoulders, wrapped himself in his cloak, closed his eyes, went to sleep, and did not say another word during the whole trip.
Since that time, Colonel Bowie's weapon has acquired a sinister celebrity, and its use has become too frequent in the U.S. If on one occasion, that terrible knife performed the good deed of teaching manners to a coarse Kentuckian, it has since then created many mayors, aldermen, and judges. It has become the last argument in many elections in the U.S.A.
Written by Robert E. Pike, found in the May-June, 1955, True West magazine.


  1. Paisley, that a great anecdote, and one I had not heard before. Surely that style knife was popular throughout the west. Louis L'Amour's heroes used that knife in many of his books. Thanks for the great story.

  2. Thanks, Caroline. I find that a lot of my characters carry knives. They seem to be more fun to put into a story than having only shoot-them-up scenes.

  3. Great post, Paisley. I'm not a weapon-oriented gal to begin with LOL, but knives just terrify me. Even the kitchen ones...fortunately hubby love and does almost all of the cooking. But my Western heroines of course always have knives on hand. When I visited the Alamo, I so wanted to get hubby a Bowie for a souvenir, but just a tad more $$ than I wanted to spend LOL.

  4. I'd heard of the Bowie knife but had no idea how scary they look. Sure looks like it could do a lot of damage.

    Thanks, Tanya.

  5. Paisley--I got goose bumps reading this. Very interesting. Only one character of mine carried a knife that he used as a weapon. True, the Bowie knife always come to mind in a western if an adversary or hero uses a knife. Thanks for the article.

  6. Thank you, Celia. Knives can be scary. My Dad always told me the sharper they are the better because working with a dull knife is hard to handle. It used to be his job when he visited to sharpen my knives.

  7. Great story, Paisley! Bowie knives are so very common in historical westerns.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  8. Hi Patricia, My Night Angel carried a knife. It was fun to use the blade instead of always a gun to get things taken care of in the name of the law.

  9. Interesting story, Paisley. Funnily enough, I recently watched a movie about Jim Bowie on TCM that starred Alan Ladd. I think it was called The Iron Mistress. Interesting movie, although I don't know how much of it was factual. I think much of it was Hollywood-ized. I do think this incident should have been in the film. Would have been great! haha :)

  10. I think so, too, Ashley. I love hearing first hand reports of what happened so long ago. My Mom left me all these old True West magazines and they are full of fun stories.


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