In 1828, a man arrived in San Antonio de Bexar. No man messes with him or stands in his way because his reputation has preceded him. The Tejanos had read about him in magazines and newspapers - and they knew him already.
His name is James "Jim" Bowie. Some say he was the baddest "bad boy" ever to step foot in Texas and was known to wield a mean knife. If you don't know how Bowie obtained his reputation, read on and learn about his legend.
Jim's legend began with a genuinely epic knife fight between James Bowie and Major Norris Wright (Jim's nemesis) right before Jim came to Texas.
Now when I say epic, I am not just throwing that word around loosely. James Bowie, the man, was as tough as nails. To understand the significance of this fierce fight in history, we must go back a year before the knife fight that became famous as the "Sandbar Fight."
In 1826, Jim Bowie lived with his brother Rezin in Spanish Louisiana, and together were engaged in several enterprises. Jim had a friend and ally, an older southern gentleman, Samuel Levi Wells III, in Natchez, MS. Bowie supported Sam Wells's run for Sherrif of Rapides Parrish. Wells was well-known and well-respected and a major political force in Natchez. But, as is in politics, Wells had a political rival, Dr. Thomas Harris Maddox, who was also a major political force in Natchez. You could say that Wells and Maddox were like the Natchez political version of the Hatfields and the McCoys.
One day, Bowie needed a bank loan and was turned down. One of the bank directors at the bank denied his loan because the banker was a Maddox supporter, and Jim was a Wells supporter. This banker also spread rumors (truths) about Jim Bowie's business dealings around town. This banker's name was Norris Wright, the sheriff of Rapides Parish. Norris Wright was known as "Major" Norris Wright. Everyone with wealth or position in the south at that time had a military prefix whether they served in the military or not. So Jims Nemesis was Major Norris Wright.
So Jim heard about the "rumors," went looking for Major Norris Wright to confront him about these rumors, and found Wright in Alexandria. An argument ensued, and Major Norris Wright lost it. He physically attacked & assaulted Jim Bowie without warning or notice, catching Jim off guard. First, Wright beat him down with his cane like a dog in the street scuffle. Then while Bowie was down, Wright stood back a step, pulled his pistol, took aim, and shot at Bowie but missed (Bowie rolled out of the way at the last second) in front of everyone present. Jim was humiliated.
When Jim Bowie left that fight, wounded and hurt, he swore,
"I will never be caught without a good weapon again!"
That afternoon when Bowie got home, he told Rezin the story. Rezin ran into his room and came back with a piece of paper. He showed Bowie a picture of a knife design. The next day Jim and Rezin went to the local blacksmith, Jesse Clifft. They commissioned him to forge this lethal weapon (designed by Rezin Bowie), a knife that could "cut a human in half." That knife would later become world-renowned as the "Bowie Knife." And once in his hands, Jim never left home without his trusty knife.
Eventually, the two political leaders insulted each other to the point that the only solution was to settle this with a Gentlemen's Pistol Duel.
Sam Wells III vs. Dr. Thomas H. Maddox.
History remembers that Sam Wells chose Jim Bowie as his second, a big honor with equally significant responsibility. Dr. Mattox chose Major Wright (Bowie's Nemesis) as his second. I can't make this stuff up.
On September 19, 1827, both James Bowie and Major Norris Wright attended the duel on a sandbar of the Mississippi river because duels were outlawed in their county.
At 10 am, Bowie and duelist Samuel Levi Wells III enter the sandbar carrying their pistols, followed by their supporters (backup) and doctors. Minutes later, Wright arrived with Dr. Thomas Maddox, their weapons, and their group. Tensions were high between the two groups. Wright brought people with him that could fight. Wright had told his supporters that Bowie was the "prime" threat. There was a lot of hate between Bowie and Wright.
Duel Official: "Now, Sam and Tom, you know how this works. You two gentlemen will stand back-to-back here. On my mark, take ten paces, turn and shoot."
In the middle of the opposing groups, Wells and Mattox stood back to back, took ten paces, turned, aimed, and fired. They both missed. But it shook the crap out of these two old guys. They both had to take a recess to regroup and prepare to repeat the duel. Duel rules state that if both miss, repeat step 1.
After several minutes, Wells and Mattox repeated the ritual. Then, they fired at each other a second time. They missed again. Since the duelists fired two shots and missed, and as neither man was injured (just grazed), they resolved their duel with a handshake.
If you didn't catch that, both duelists took two shots at each other, both duelists missed twice, and both duelists then shook hands and considered their issue resolved. At this point, the story should be over, but oh no, this is where it starts to get good.
At this point in the story, the people who showed up to this duel were disappointed at the results. However, I think they were restless and wanted to see some bloodshed.
Think back to High School fights. Everyone is so excited; they want to see carnage; they want to see their buddy win! But, these people got no carnage or bloodshed - they got a handshake!
When the time came for the teams to leave the sandbar, as Sam and Tom (both duelists) turned to leave, Bowie came forward to meet and join them. Seeing this, Maddox's friends ran ahead also to join the group. While they were walking and mean-mugging each other, two men in this group realized they still had an ongoing issue to settle. One man was named General Cuny, and the other was Colonel Crain.
General Cuny is recorded as calling out to Crain, "Crain, this is a good time to settle OUR difficulty!"
Like that, Crain instantly drew his pistol, aimed, and fired, missing General Cuny, who moved out of the way but struck Bowie in the hip (lower abdomen) and knocked him to the ground. Cuny and Crain then exchanged shots again, with Crain sustaining a flesh wound in the arm and General Cuny dying from a shot to the chest.
Bowie was furious that he was shot and, rising to his feet, drew his knife and charged at Colonel Crain, the man who shot him. Still, Colonel Crain, also a badass, took a defensive stance and perfectly timed his defensive response to the charging Bowie. When Bowie came within range, Colonel Crain swung with all his might and struck Bowie very hard on his head with his empty pistol. It was dead on hit. With that force, the pistol broke and sent Bowie to his knees with a big knot on his forehead!
Then, at that moment, Major Norris Wright (Bowie's Nemesis) saw his opportunity to kill Bowie in the melee. So Wright drew his pistol and shot at the fallen Bowie, missing because Bowie saw him aiming and rolled perfectly out of the way at the opportune moment. Then before Bowie could recover, Wright drew a sword from his cane, charged Bowie, and stabbed Bowie in the chest!
Bowie's sternum deflected the thin blade, which went through his chest and punctured his left lung. Bowie had received several critical injuries by this early stage of the fight. First, he was dazed from a blow to his head and received a gunshot to his hip. And now, he had a sword in his chest.
What Bowie did next is what has made him a legend.
If you were a betting man and were there watching this fight, you would've bet everything on Major Norris Wright to win. But, then, like a bullfighter at the end of the bullfight, Major Wright, standing over Bowie, put his boot on Bowie's chest to retract the blade free. Wright was going for the Coup de grâce in front of everyone watching. Just like in a movie.
Suddenly, Bowie reached up, grabbed Wright by his belt, pulled him down upon the point of his Bowie knife, and gutted him instantly, wildly, and with extreme prejudice. Human innards flew everywhere! By some accounts, even Wright's heart was sliced violently out of his body at that moment!
Wright died quickly, some say, while he was still standing. As Bowie attempted to get on his feet, with Wright's sword still protruding from his chest, he was shot and stabbed again by other members of Wright's group.
Moments later, Bowie finally stood up and attempted to pull the sword from his chest when two more men (Blanchard brothers) fired at him. One shot struck Bowie in the arm. Then, one of the Blanchard brothers ran and lunged at Bowie as wrestlers do. But Bowie saw him flying towards him through his peripheral and instinctively spun around to meet him, "swinging his blade" and cutting part of that man's arm - almost clean off!
And just like that, James Bowie had turned into an 1800's version of Chuck Norris and annihilated everyone and everything in his path with his knife!
When the dust settled 10 minutes after the fight started, the surviving spectators could not believe their eyes! They saw a badly injured and bloodied Jim Bowie - still standing! He stood surrounded by pieces of human body parts that lay all around him. And according to some accounts, he was still holding Wright's cane sword with one hand and his now very bloodied knife with the other.
The Battle of the Sandbar left two dead and another four wounded. But believe it or not, James Bowie was not part of the two deceased. Even after being shot numerous times and stabbed in the chest with a cane sword, James Bowie still went "Beast Mode" on his attackers, slicing, stabbing, and living.
In the end, Colonel Crain (one of Maddox's men) helped carry Bowie away for medical attention. Bowie was recorded as having thanked him, saying his now famous remark.
Bowie: "Col. Crain, I do not think, under the circumstances, you ought to have shot me."
One of the doctors who treated Bowie's wounds said this: "4 stabs and two gunshots! How he (Bowie) lived is a mystery to me, but live he did."
In the early 1800s, many men Talked the Talk, but few Walked the Walk. Then, finally, Jim Bowie was the real deal.
Everyone, Tejanos and Texans, seemed to love and respect this man. Jim was fluent in Spanish and a close friend to Juan Seguin, Gregorio Esparza, Carlos Espalier, and many other Tejanos from San Antonio de Bexar. But, of course, Jim was not without flaws. Still, he arrived in Texas when Texas needed a robust and fearless leader like Jim Bowie. Bowie inspired many men of our revolution like no other during our darkest moments. James Bowie embodied what the "Spirit of Texas" would become in his lifetime.
Therefore, if you find yourself in a discussion about who was the baddest man to ever step on Texas soil - don't forget to mention the legend,
Jim Bowie - the man who brought a knife to a gunfight!
Texas Legends - Never Forget!
Sandbar Fight, Wikipedia
The Sandbar Fight, Legends of America
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