September 19

This Day in History

Old West

Sep 19, 1827:

Jim Bowie stabs a Louisiana banker with his famous knife

After a duel turns into an all-out brawl on this day in 1827, Jim Bowie disembowels a banker in Alexandria, Louisiana, with an early version of his famous Bowie knife. The actual inventor of the Bowie knife, however, was probably not Jim Bowie, but rather his equally belligerent brother, Rezin Bowie, who reportedly came up with the design after nearly being killed in a vicious knife fight.

The Bowie brothers engaged in more fights than the typical frontiersman of the day, but such violent duels were not uncommon events on the untamed margins of American civilization. In the early nineteenth century, most frontiersmen preferred knives to guns for fighting, and the Bowie knife quickly became one of the favorites. Rezin Bowie had invented such a nasty looking weapon that the mere sight of it probably discouraged many would-be robbers and attackers. Designs varied somewhat, but the typical Bowie knife sported a 9- to 15- inch blade sharpened only on one side for much of its length, though the curved tip was sharpened to a point on both sides. The double-edged tip made the knife an effective stabbing weapon, while the dull-edge combined with a brass hand guard allowed the user to slide a hand down over the blade as needed. The perfect knife for close-quarter fighting, the Bowie knife became the weapon of choice for many westerners before the reliable rapid-fire revolver took its place in the post-Civil War period.

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