The ever controversial Musso Bowie knife

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I don't think anyone's saying that. The conversation is always fun, but we shouldn't confuse possible with plausible. Many things are possible. For example it's possible that JFK was killed by the mafia, Fidel Castro, Big Foot and Amelia Earhart acting as a hit squad, but it's extremely implausible and really beggar's belief.

In this case the facts are these. Jim Bowie died at the Alamo. Jim Bowie is famous because a knife of unspecified appearance had his name attached. Them's the facts...

There are various knives about including the Searles, Forrest and now apparently "Sea of Mud" (I won't dignify that "Musso" bowie by suggesting it's even in the same category as those) which various proponents would like to think are THE bowie knife. Some are more plausible candidates than others but none of them are provably anything other than a knife. In this case the "Sea of Mud" bowie's provenance is so tenuous that we really know nothing more about it than it has a particular pattern and that it was found in a location where the Mexican Army once camped. That's ALL we KNOW.
One shouldn't diss or disparage the whole science of archeology and archeological interpretation. I mean, take all the excavations in the middle east. You maybe put a date, within limits, on objects uncovered, but what do you "know" with certainty; and these findings have no "provenance". And yet there are books and books and scholarship interpreting history based on these findings.

And what is this obsession with identifying "THE bowie knife". Anyone with any lick of sense knows this is near on unlikely. But we do know, with a high degree of certainty, and almost without exception, men in 1836 Texas armed themselves with knives and many of those knives were large, double edged clip point blades with cross-guards.

As a young boy I was enthralled with Crockett, Bowie, the Alamo and Texas history; of course influenced in part by Walt Disney's Davy Crockett and The Adventures of Jim Bowie. But also by family history - I had an ancestor on my Mom's side of the family, 19 year old Richardson Perry, who died at the Alamo.

Sometime around 1955 I was already familiar with the Sheffield bowie knives, when my parents took me to the Fannin Memorial Site near Goliad. At the museum, the curator we were speaking to went into a back room and came out with a bowie knife that was not on public display. This knife was large and heavy. As I recollect, I'd say the blade was at least 2" wide and maybe 12" long and had a clip point, though not a Musso style clip. It had a plain wooden handle and a large cross guard. I was struck by the plainness and crudity of this frontier forged knife.

At this early age I was already familiar with "brass backing" and drawing Bowie knives with my young interpretation of blades with a brass backing strip. I had no knowledge how a backing strip would be attached to a blade, but my drawings were of a design where the strip was welded onto the blade.

The knife at the Fannin Memorial did not have a backing strip and I remember being disappointed in this fact.

My long winded point is that, while we can't identify any one knife as THE Bowie knife, we can hopefully identify knives dating to that period between 1830 and 1836 and draw conclusions from this research.

The Musso knife does not exist in isolation. There are at least three other knives of that same pattern: the Sweet, the Robinson, and the Neil. I do not dismiss their authenticity and look forward to further study.
 

Triton

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All we do know is that the knife that made Bowie famous, or the knife that bowie made famous at the sandbar fight has nothing to do with what people believe a bowie knife is today.

Completely agree with this part.

The Clift bowie is the original and it is likely that the followup to that knife is probably just a fancier knife of the same or similar style as the clift, such as the folwar or shively bowie.

That's where we have to part ways. You could be right. I don't see any actual evidence of that though. That's not an attack on you or your veracity but rather a healthy skepticism of anything that Rezin Bowie might have said (nevermind what his grand daughter said he said.) One of those one (Rezin) is a very unreliable witness and the other is hearsay, neither would be admittable in court. :)
 

Triton

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One shouldn't diss or disparage the whole science of archeology and archeological interpretation. I mean, take all the excavations in the middle east. You maybe put a date, within limits, on objects uncovered, but what do you "know" with certainty; and these findings have no "provenance". And yet there are books and books and scholarship interpreting history based on these findings.

I agree. One should not discount archeology and its methods by any means, but at the same time one should also recognize it's limitations. With respect to findings in the middle east, Greece, China or anywhere else in the ancient world one rarely attempts to attribute a particular item to a particular personage (Schlieman to the contrary) without a rock solid provenance. Rather items are considered in context with other finds both in the immediate area and other finds of the same time period and attempts are made to draw conclusions about general life, art etc. That's manifestly not the case with the particular article we are discussing where the author rather than making a broad statement like "Knives of this particular pattern were in use in the early to mid 19th century" instead tries to suggest to us that THIS PARTICULAR knife belonged to THIS PARTICULAR person. That smacks not of archaeology but of wishful thinking.

And what is this obsession with identifying "THE bowie knife". Anyone with any lick of sense knows this is near on unlikely. But we do know, with a high degree of certainty, and almost without exception, men in 1836 Texas armed themselves with knives and many of those knives were large, double edged clip point blades with cross-guards.

There's a statement I can agree with whole heartedly.

The Musso knife does not exist in isolation. There are at least three other knives of that same pattern: the Sweet, the Robinson, and the Neil. I do not dismiss their authenticity and look forward to further study.

If you will forgive my saying so but the story behind the Robinson bowie is almost as tenuous as Musso's. "Grandpa told us that...." Family history is usually the absolute worst way to be able to identify something and is NOT provenant. I don't know about the other two.
 

brownshoe

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The Blade story was one artcle‘s worth of info, turned into three. Pure conjecture designed as filler to go between the ads. It helped decide to not renew my subscription.
 

not2sharp

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At the time no one cared about the knife. The story was that a few guys staged an illegal duel. That it went wrong and a few of them ended up dead; and that a big guy named Bowie went ape shit when attacked and butchered his attackers with a knife. And, soon everyone wanted a knife that they could use to defend themselves, just like Bowie.

The same thing happens in currents times. A crime happens, a victim fights off an attacker with a knife, and people want to carry knives for self defense. Rarely do these stories provide details on the knife, not today and certainly not 200 years ago. What ever knife Jim Bowie carried was immaterial, what mattered was that it was a large knife and that it was used to kill. Just like every gun in the news is reported as an assault rifle, the tool is just an inannimate object, it is the use that is sensational.

The Bowies likely owned several knives. They obviously didn’t care much about sandbar knife; it certainly wasn’t displayed at home or admired by the family. We don’t even know if Jim could have identified the knife himself; it was just a handy knife that he had borrowed from his brother. Nor were there any notable knife duels or fights at the Alamo. We don’t even know if Bowie carried a knife there. Just about everything we have been told about the knife is speculative fantasy. The knife doesn’t matter. Jim Bowie would have done the same thing with just about any knife you care to imagine in his hands.

n2s
 

Cobalt

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Completely agree with this part.



That's where we have to part ways. You could be right. I don't see any actual evidence of that though. That's not an attack on you or your veracity but rather a healthy skepticism of anything that Rezin Bowie might have said (nevermind what his grand daughter said he said.) One of those one (Rezin) is a very unreliable witness and the other is hearsay, neither would be admittable in court. :)

Well, since there is no proof, you would be right. Haha. Just my opinion. Maybe someday, the knife will show up. Imagine that.
 

Triton

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Well, since there is no proof, you would be right. Haha. Just my opinion. Maybe someday, the knife will show up. Imagine that.
That would be absolutely incredible. Sort of like finding Excalibur or something. Hope you are right! :thumbsup:
 

Triton

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The Blade story was one artcle‘s worth of info, turned into three. Pure conjecture designed as filler to go between the ads. It helped decide to not renew my subscription.

Unfortunately that's my opinion also... although I did renew my subscription. The magazine world is rapidly going the way of the dodo sadly.
 

Triton

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At the time no one cared about the knife. The story was that a few guys staged an illegal duel. That it went wrong and a few of them ended up dead; and that a big guy named Bowie went ape shit when attacked and butchered his attackers with a knife. And, soon everyone wanted a knife that they could use to defend themselves, just like Bowie.

The same thing happens in currents times. A crime happens, a victim fights off an attacker with a knife, and people want to carry knives for self defense. Rarely do these stories provide details on the knife, not today and certainly not 200 years ago. What ever knife Jim Bowie carried was immaterial, what mattered was that it was a large knife and that it was used to kill. Just like every gun in the news is reported as an assault rifle, the tool is just an inannimate object, it is the use that is sensational.

The Bowies likely owned several knives. They obviously didn’t care much about sandbar knife; it certainly wasn’t displayed at home or admired by the family. We don’t even know if Jim could have identified the knife himself; it was just a handy knife that he had borrowed from his brother. Nor were there any notable knife duels or fights at the Alamo. We don’t even know if Bowie carried a knife there. Just about everything we have been told about the knife is speculative fantasy. The knife doesn’t matter. Jim Bowie would have done the same thing with just about any knife you care to imagine in his hands.

n2s

Have to agree with you there, people were a bit more pragmatic (mostly) back in the day. That doesn't keep me from being a hopeless romantic. :)
 
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"Maybe someday, the knife will show up. Imagine that"... And be declared a fake.

The simple truth is no one back in the 19th century cared about or even knew about "provenance". So can anything EVER be presented that can conclusively prove that any particular knife belonged to James Bowie?

We have a first hand account of a friend of Bowie, while he was in Texas; and we have a second hand account by the nephew of a friend of Bowie, while he was in Texas. The nephew was in his late 30's when his uncle passed away, so heard his uncle's stories, and read his accounts, when his uncle was still middle age.

Yet their telling is dismissed.

After the Sandbar fight, Bowie recovered for several months. This was in late 1827. The story is, after the fight, Bowie fancied up the knife that had saved his life, replacing the plain handle with one of ivory and polishing the old blade. He made a scabbard with silver, to wear so as to always have it. Also late in 1827, Bowie decided to go to Texas.

Upon arriving in San Felipe, early 1828, he met Noah Smithwick and they became friends until Bowie's death. Smithwick's account is that Bowie didn't want to "degrade" his knife with ordinary use, so he had Smithwick make a copy.

The story also is that Bowie returned the original blade back to Rezin at some date.

At about this same time, Bowie met up with and befriended Texas ranger Andrew Sowell, and engaged in several skirmishes with the Comanche. During one of these engagements, according to Sowell, while engaged with a hostile, Bowie's hand slipped and he cut his hand on the blade. After they returned to Gonzales, he had the Sowells, who had a blacksmith shop, make him a knife with a guard, from a wooden pattern.

This would have been in 1828 or early 1829.
(edit) In the spring of '29 Bowie left Texas to visit Rezin in Arkansas. He returned to Texas in 1830. Also in 1830 Bowie was made a colonel in the Texas rangers.

We don't have any narrative for when a clip point may have been added. But the legend has James Black making final improvements on Bowie's pattern. Perhaps this was the double edge clip point. (edit) Legend has it Bowie visited Black in December, 1830.

The Black part of this timeline narrative is not backed up with a contemporary account, but Smithwick and Sowell actually road with Bowie during this time period when the knife began evolving into its classical form. I personally give more credence to their stories than to any of the others.
 
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J.Mattson

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Very interesting thread. With so few pieces of the puzzle available it's doubtful many of these questions will ever be answered.

I personally would not be surprised if Bowie's knife was looted, used as a tool, and then discarded once it was worn down. Though it is possible, as said above, that it was taken as a spoil/trophy and still survives in some attack somewhere.
 

brownshoe

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It's probably still in use by a Mexican vaquero whose Grandpa ran with Pancho Villa :)
 

Triton

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"Maybe someday, the knife will show up. Imagine that"... And be declared a fake.

It's possible I suppose, although without any proper provenance it's more likely to simply be called an old knife.

The simple truth is no one back in the 19th century cared about or even knew about "provenance". So can anything EVER be presented that can conclusively prove that any particular knife belonged to James Bowie?

That is true. I agree it's unlikely at this point that anyone will be able to prove that any particular knife was THE bowie knife owned by Jim Bowie. That doesn't excuse the more egregious fakery like the Musso bowie or the less egregious fantasy of the Sea of Mud bowie.

We have a first hand account of a friend of Bowie, while he was in Texas; and we have a second hand account by the nephew of a friend of Bowie, while he was in Texas. The nephew was in his late 30's when his uncle passed away, so heard his uncle's stories, and read his accounts, when his uncle was still middle age.

Yet their telling is dismissed.

I'm sorry I'm not sure what you are referring to? The story below? In general hearsay is dismissed legally and with reason...
 
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I'm going with Aliens.

View attachment 1615009

Has anyone been able to document a James Black knife?

n2s
Norm Flayderman wrote an outstanding book: The Bowie Knife: Unsheathing an American Legend.


I highly recommend going through the thing and looking at the pictures. What was a bowie knife changed depending on the period, and location. You will see stylistic patterns by time and location. California bowies by Micheal Price, are clearly different from the East Coast Bowies. But, they are all “Bowies”

Mr Flayderman addresses the origins of Bowies, and ground zero is a newspaper letter by Resin Bowie giving a description of Jim’s knife, but no picture. From there, the earliest identifiable Bowies come from surviving advertisements. This is a very early, 1830’s Bowie, the Gravely & Wreaks Bowie. But this was made in England, and who knows if this resembles the original bowie knife, other than it has a handle and an edge!

uqoI7Vt.jpg



This was in the Alamo Museum, and is I think, of similar construction to what the the original bowie would have been. But, what do I know? I was not there in the 1830's.

56dkevy.jpg

56dkevy.jpg


But, as to James Black, Flayderman states that no knife, no nothing has ever been found that can be positively attributed to James Black. And, if James Black acted the way Flayderman said he did, I think James Black was a false fame fraudster. You just have to read of all the people who claimed to be affiliated with some famous event (Custer’s last stand, Flying Tigers, etc, etc.) and there have to be hundreds of thousands of them. Military veterans are particularly sensitive to this: there are many men wearing Medals of Honor that they never earned.

Anyone remember the number of Anastasia’s that surfaced after WW1? There were a lot of them, because there was a lot of money that could be had, if the claimant was accepated as the real Anastasia. I saw the 1956 Anastasia movie about Anna Anderson. It was dramatic, convincing, etc. At the end of it, the viewer is sure Anna was Anastasia and a terrible injustice has been done. Later DNA testing proved Anna was not of the Royal Line.

Flayderman stated that James Black, only surfaced in his old age, then claimed that he was James Bowie’s cutler. And in the house he was being taken care of, if he noticed someone around the corner, he would go into some moaning routine, crying “Oh, I have forgotten the secret of steel!”, or something similar.

My opinion is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. However, there are lots of people making money on an origin story based around James Black, so this will not end soon. Wagon loads of “True Crosses” were carted out of British Monasteries, each Holy wood chip relic, venerated for Centuries, and for centuries, a real money maker for the Abbey or Parish.
 
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Has anyone been able to document a James Black knife?

n2s

...This is a very early, 1830’s Bowie, the Gravely & Wreaks Bowie. But this was made in England...

...But, as to James Black, Flayderman states that no knife, no nothing has ever been found that can be positively attributed to James Black. And, if James Black acted the way Flayderman said he did, I think James Black was a false fame fraudster...Flayderman stated that James Black, only surfaced in his old age, then claimed that he was James Bowie’s cutler. And in the house he was being taken care of, if he noticed someone around the corner, he would go into some moaning routine, crying “Oh, I have forgotten the secret of steel!”, or something similar.

My opinion is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof...

Black had a short career as a knife-smith; only between 1828, when he financed his own shop, and, possibly, 1839, when he lost his eyesight. But as early as 1836 the Hempstead County Court accepted testimony that Black suffered spells of insanity and appointed a guardian to Black's estate.

Black had a long life, living to the age of 72, most of this time under the care of the Jones family. It was only in the last two years of his life that his mind was completely gone and his often quoted moan, "It is all gone...I have put it off too long".

But prior to these last few years, Black is said to have had an excellent memory and was called upon to settle controversies about the past.

As to documentation linking Black to Bowie, there is the Washington Telegraph article of Dec 8, 1841: "...the far-famed deadly instrument had its origin, we believe in Hempstead County. The first knife of its kind was made in this place, by Mr. James H. Black, for a man named James Bowie...".

There is also the well known blade in the Historic Arkansas Museum - Bowie No. 1, engraved on the escutcheon.

This museum also has a blade, the Carrigan Knife, which is known to have been made by James Black.

Although different in size, the similarities between these two knives lead authorities to believe that almost certainly these two blades were made by the same shop.
 
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I spotted a massive Musso Bowie imitation with white handle and brass guard and the brass back strip at my favorite Bricks & Mortar the other day. It looked about 18" long and probably weighed three pounds. Just the ticket for a Sunday-go-to-meeting on a sandbar, I thought.
 
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The Blade story was one artcle‘s worth of info, turned into three. Pure conjecture designed as filler to go between the ads. It helped decide to not renew my subscription.
It was one of the worst attempts at a historical knife article I have ever read. And then they had to turn it into a multi issue story about nothing but fantasy conjuring.
 
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