Story by Joshua Swanagon, Photos by Jim Cooper (SharpByCoop Photography)
Straight off the sandbar, I couldn’t think of any more fitting way to start 2020, than to come in kicking ass, with a feature on the all-American icon – the Bowie knife.
For a knife lover there are very few things that exemplify American heritage like the Bowie knife – made famous by Jim Bowie, a notorious early American knife fighter. Stabbed, shot and beaten half to death by several men, Jim Bowie managed to win the fight, on the Vidalia Sandbar, with nothing but his large knife.
After many other historical examples of his prowess with a knife, Bowie later went on to die at the Alamo. The Alamo! Everything about Jim Bowie is an example of the American fighting spirit.
Although the history of the actual design has seen its share of controversy – due in large part to different accounts within Jim Bowie’s own family – there is no denying that it has left its mark on the American knife culture to this day. Many of the hallmarks that make a Bowie what it is, can even be seen on many different styles of knife that are not part of the Bowie family of knives, but still draw from its classic profile.
Despite the fact that it is still unclear whether or not Jim Bowie used his famous design in the sandbar fight – with accounts from his older brother John claiming otherwise – the Bowie as we know it today was based on Jim’s design, carved out of wood and presented to Arkansas Blacksmith James Black.
In one historical account, Jim returned to Texas with the Black Bowie and was attacked by three men (hired to kill him by a man he spared in an earlier fight), whom he dispatched in gruesome fashion.
Today the legend lives on in the designs and creations of some of the finest knife makers and craftsmen in the trade. If Jim Bowie were alive today, to see the evolution of his design, I think he would be filled with pride and honor to carry a knife like any of the ones below.
Model: Split Ring BowieBlade Material: Mosaic Tribal DamascusBlade Length: 11.375 inchesOverall Length: 16.75 inches Handle Material: Ancient Walrus Bolster/Guard Material: Flowed in Split Ring – Flying Dragon DamascusNotes: Mosaic Damascus Spacer, Butt Cap and Pommel, with a Domed Gold SpacerWebsite: DavidLisch.comFacebook: Facebook.com/DaveLischInstagram: @DavidLisch
Model: WolfBlade Material: Chad Nichols San MaiBlade Length: 10 inchesOverall Length: 16 inchesHandle Material: Walrus Ivory, Silver Bolster/Guard Material: SilverNote: ‘Best Bowie’ 2019 Knifemakers GuildWebsite: ZiebaKnives.comFacebook: Facebook.com/ZiebaKnivesInstagram: @Michael_Zieba
Model: BowieBlade Material: 416 SS & 1095 HC CoreBlade Length: 9 inchesOverall Length: 14 inchesHandle Material: Maple Burl Bolster/Guard Material: Hot Blued Mild SteelNote: ‘Best Fixed Blade’ 2019 ICCE ShowWebsite: JNFisherKnives.comFacebook: Facebook.com/JoshFisherKnivesInstagram: @JNFisherKnives
Model: Mosaic BowieBlade Material: 1080 HC & 15N20Blade Length: 9.25 inchesOverall Length: 14.875 inchesHandle Material: Mammoth IvoryBolster/Guard Material: Mosaic DamascusNote: ‘Best Damascus’ 2019 ICCE ShowFacebook: Facebook.com/pages/Larry-Cox-Knives/545160655669375Instagram: @Larry_Cox_Knives
Model: BowieBlade Material: Mosaic DamascusBlade Length: 10 inchesOverall Length: 15 inchesHandle Material: WalrusBolster/Guard Material: Twisted DamascusNote: ‘Best Bowie Knife’ 2019 ICCE ShowWebsite: TommyGannKnives.comInstagram: @TGannKnives
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Joshua Swanagon has studied survival in both urban and wilderness environments in Colorado and Michigan for most of his life, while also adding experience in harsher terrains abroad. He utilizes his experience and years of diverse martial arts and combatives training and real world application as a self-defense/combatives instructor, published freelance writer and Field Editor for various magazines in the fields of knives, survival, self-defense and tactical subject matters. Joshua also brings with him his years of experience as Editor of, and Subject Matter Expert for Knives Illustrated Magazine.
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