James Bowie, born in Logan County, Kentucky, enjoyed a rather wide reputation as a knife fighter long before he gave his name to the famous knife made in Washington. He was the principal in the so-called "Battle on Vidalia Sandbar," in which no less than a dozen men were killed (10).
But the principal character in the story of the Bowie Knife is not James Bowie of Vadalia, Memphis, and the Alamo. It is James Black of Washington, Arkansas.
James Black was the man who both designed and forged the Knife. It had a curved forward blade, a short dagger-like backhand blade and it was made from steel which was tempered by a secret process known only to James Black (11).
Bowie, already a famous man, won everlasting fame when he died at the Alamo. Black died an old man, blind and insane.
James Black was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, May 1, 1800. His mother died when he was four; and shortly thereafter James had a stepmother. He didn't like the woman and when he was eight years old he ran away to Philadelphia. Picked up by authorities, he refused to tell who he was and where he lived. According to the custom of the time, he was apprenticed out to a manufacturer. He was of strong physique and he was thought to be eleven years old.
The man to whom James Black was apprenticed was a manufacturer of silver plate. Black became an apt pupil. When he was officially twenty-one but actually eighteen, his apprenticeship served, he decided to follow the tide of the western migration (12).
After some wandering about, he landed at Fulton, Arkansas Territory, on the Red River in Hempstead County, and found his way to Washington in 1824. The town had recently been staked out by Elijah Stuart and others.
10. Raymond W. Thorp, Bowie Knife, (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mex. Press. 1948) 17.
11. lbid., 38.
12. Ibid., 19.








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