By Russell Miller
The famous Bowie family name originated in Scotland. Bowie, in Gaelic, means “yellow” or “blonde.” The well-known Bowie brothers, James and Rezin were both referred to as sandy-haired. The Bowie brothers began their frontier careers as slave smugglers. Through a convoluted scheme, they would pose as good citizens who “came upon” some wayward slaves. They would turn them in to the nearest law office and get the reward money for their “good deed.” Once the paperwork and titles to the slaves were processed by the magistrates, the Bowies would buy the slaves at a law auction and then turn around and sell them legally, not spending a cent on fees and recouping reward money and sales profit. With this cash, they set about investing in real estate and small businesses. Both were considered gregarious, much sought after for business advice, and short-tempered. Contrary to popular beliefs, James Bowie did not invent the famous fighting “Bowie Knife”; neither did his brother. It was designed and forged by a blacksmith named James Black whose skill at making quality steel bordered on legendary. Once the Bowies had this iconic weapon, orders for “the knife, like Bowie’s” came in fast and furious. It was the quintessential combat blade in the 1800s, and many duels and arguments were settled with this hefty piece of sharpened iron.
ODDLY ENOUGH … The demand for the Bowie-style knife was so great prior to WWI that American smiths could not produce enough. Most of the Bowie knives sold in this country during that time period were manufactured in England and had been shipped to the United States en masse to meet the ever-growing need for this weapon. (And most were inferior to Black’s design.)
ODDLY ENOUGH BONUS! … James Bowie married Maria Ursula in 1831. Ursula was the daughter of Don Juan Martin de Veramendi, who was the Lieutenant-Governor of Coahuila and Texas. Maria was also the god-daughter of one General Santa Anna — the Mexican commander who planned the attack on and won the Battle of the Alamo … where Bowie died.
Russell Miller is an illustrator, cartoonist, writer, bagpiper, motorcycle enthusiast, and reference librarian. Currently, he illustrates books for Cody Lundin and Bart King.