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Bowie's fame came about as a result of a feud with Norris Wright, the sheriff of Rapides Parish. The two had participated on opposite sides of political party squabbles and competed against each other in land speculation ventures. Bowie had support Wright's opponent in the race for sheriff, and Wright, a bank director, had been instrumental in turning down Bowie's loan application. The two met by chance on a street in Alexandria one afternoon, and Wright fired a shot at Bowie.
An uninjured Bowie was enraged and tried to kill Wright with his bare hands.
Wright's friends intervened and stopped the attack, and Bowie resolved to carry his hunting knife on his person from then on. The following year, on September 19, , Bowie and Wright attended a duel on the Vidalia sandbar outside of Natchez, Mississippi. Wright supported Wells' opponent, Dr. Thomas Harris Maddox. The duelists each fired two shots, and, as neither man had been injured, resolved their duel with a handshake.
Bowie was shot in the hip; after regaining his feet he drew a large knife, described as a butcher knife, and charged his attacker.
The attacker hit Bowie over the head with his empty pistol, breaking the pistol and knocking Bowie to the ground. Wright shot at, and missed, the prone Bowie, who returned fire and possibly hit Wright. Wright then drew his sword cane and impaled Bowie.
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When Wright attempted to retrieve his blade by placing his foot on Bowie's chest and tugging, Bowie pulled him down and disemboweled him with his knife. The doctors who had been present for the duel managed to retrieve the bullets and patch Bowie's other wounds. Newspapers picked up the story, which became known as the Sandbar Fight. Bowie's fighting prowess and his knife were described in detail. Witness accounts all agreed that Bowie did not attack first, and the others had focused their attack on Bowie because "they considered him the most dangerous man among their opposition.
There is disagreement among scholars as to whether the knife used in this fight was the same kind of knife now known as a Bowie knife. Many different accounts exist of who designed and built the first Bowie knife. Some claim that Bowie designed it and others attribute the design to noted knifemakers of the time. After the Sandbar Fight and subsequent battles in which Bowie successfully used his knife to defend himself, his knife became very popular. Many craftsman and manufacturers made their own versions of the knife, and many major cities of the Southwest had "Bowie knife schools," which taught "the art of cut, thrust, and parry.
It had a "sharp false edge cut from both sides" and a cross-guard to protect the user's hands. After fully recovering from the wounds he suffered in the Sandbar Fight, in Bowie decided to move to Texas. In , he became engaged to Cecilia Wells, but she died in Alexandria on September 29, two weeks before their wedding. They are documented as having stopped at Nacogdoches, at Jared E. Austin from Thomas F. McKinney, one of the Old Three Hundred colonists.
Later that year, Bowie was elected a commander of the Texas Rangers. Although the unit would not be officially organized until , Stephen F. Austin founded the group by employing up to 30 men to help keep the peace, primarily by chasing Indians. Other areas began similar volunteer militias, and Bowie had been elected by a group of the volunteers.
Bowie became a Mexican citizen on September 30, , after promising to establish textile mills in the province of Coahuila y Tejas. Bowie may also have been the first to induce settlers to apply for empresario grants and then buy it from him. On April 25, Bowie married year-old Ursula Maria de Veramendi, the daughter of his business partner, who had become the vice-governor of the province. Several days before the ceremony, he signed a dowry contract, promising to pay his new bride 15, pesos in cash or property within two years of the marriage.
Bowie also lied about his age, claiming to be 30 rather than After a short time, however, they moved into the Veramendi Palace, living with Ursula's parents, who supplied them with spending money. In the first years of his marriage, Bowie was often away from home, either pursuing Indians with the Rangers, or for business deals and silver mine hunts. After Mexico won independence from Spain , government interest in the mines waned. A number of hostile Indian tribes roamed the area, including Comanche , Lipan Apache, and Karankawa, and without government troops to keep the tribes at bay, mining ceased.
It was believed that after the Mexican citizens left the area, the Lipan Apaches took over the mines. Bowie quickly obtained permission from the Mexican government to mount an expedition into Indian territory to search for the legendary silver mine. Six miles 10 kilometers from their goal the group realized that they were being followed by a large Indian raiding party and stopped to negotiate. The attempts at parley failed, and Bowie and his group were forced to fight for their lives for the next 13 hours. When the Indians finally retreated Bowie had reportedly lost only one man, while over 40 Indians had been killed and 30 more wounded.
The group returned to San Antonio on December 10 and Bowie wrote a report, in Spanish, of the expedition.
The report was later printed in several newspapers, further establishing Bowie's reputation. After two and a half months of searching, the group returned home with nothing to show for their efforts. The Indians had learned they were coming, however, and fled, and although Bowie and his group rode for several hundred miles, they "never saw an Indian. Despite his increasing fame, Bowie never talked of his exploits. Lacey, who spent eight months living in the wilderness with Bowie, described him as an humble man who never used profanity or vulgarities.
Tension was beginning to rise between the Mexican officials and the mainly Anglo citizenry as the Mexican legislature passed new laws between and that seemed to discriminate against American colonists in the province of Coahuila y Tejas. In response to the rumblings, Mexican troops established military posts in several locations within the province, including San Antonio de Bexar. The Texans returned fire, and, after the cavalry retreated, initiated a siege of the garrison.
Bowie and 18 companions ambushed the fleeing army, and, after Piedras fled, marched the soldiers back to Nacogdoches. Several months later, a cholera epidemic broke out in Texas, and many believed the disease would reach San Antonio. Believing his family would be safer in the mountains, Bowie sent his pregnant wife and their daughter to the family estate in Monclova in the company of her parents and brother.
The cholera epidemic instead struck Monclova, and between September 6 and September 14, Ursula, her children, her brother, and her parents died of the disease.
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From then on, he drank heavily and became "careless in his dress. Bowie returned to land speculation in Texas in after the Mexican government passed new laws allowing land sale in the state. He was appointed a land commissioner, tasked with promoting settlement in the area purchased by John T. His appointment ended in May , when Santa Anna abolished the Coahuila y Tejas government and ordered the arrest of all Texans including Bowie doing business in Monclova.
Santa Anna began preparing for war , sending large numbers of Mexican troops to Texas as the Anglos in Texas began agitating for war. Bowie worked with William B. Travis, the leader of the War Party, to gain support for war, with Bowie even visiting several Indian villages in East Texas to try to convince the reluctant tribes to fight against Mexico.
Stephen F. Austin returned to Texas in September and was soon elected the commander of the volunteer army in Texas. Bowie joined the army with a small party of friends from Louisiana, and Austin quickly named him a colonel. Fannin scouted the area south of Bexar. On the 28th of October, a Mexican force consisting of three hundred cavalry and a hundred infantry attacked Bowie and his 92 horsemen. At the end of the skirmish Bowie had lost only one man, while the Mexican army suffered 16 fatalities and had 16 men wounded. Following the battle, Bowie tried several times to resign his commission, preferring to contribute to fights when needed but less interested in holding a formal command.
Houston received word that Mexican general Santa Anna was coming to San Antonio with a large force of soldiers.
Jim Bowie Before the “Gaudy Legend” | Shannon Selin
Bowie volunteered to lead volunteers to defend the Alamo, a fortress-like structure that had served as home to missionaries and their Indian converts for 70 years, then abandoned, and used as barracks by several armies, before the events of Bowie asked for volunteers, and 30 men agreed to accompany him. They arrived on January 19, where they found a force of men, with a few weapons and a few cannon but little supplies and gunpowder.
Bowie and the captain of the forces, James C.
Related American Legends: The Life of Jim Bowie
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