Col. James Bowie

Male 1796 - 1836  (~ 41 years)


Personal Information    |    Notes    |    Sources    |    Event Map    |    All

  • Name James Bowie 
    Title Col. 
    Born Between 1795 and 1796  Kentucky, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  [1, 2
    Gender Male 
    Died 6 Mar 1836  San Antonio, Bexar, Texas, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    • The Alamo
    Person ID I5852  My Genealogy
    Last Modified 22 Feb 2020 

    Father Rezin Pleasant Bowie,   b. 1762, South Carolina, USA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Between 1811 and 1819, Louisiana, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 49 years) 
    Relationship natural 
    Mother Elve Ap-Catesby Jones,   b. Savannah, Georgia Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1837, Fairfield, Shreveport, Louisiana Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Relationship natural 
    Married 1782  Burke, Georgia, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  [3
    Family ID F2043  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Maria Ursula De Veramendi,   d. 1833, Monelova, Mexico Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Married 25 Apr 1831  San Antonio, Bexar, Texas, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  [1, 4
    Last Modified 22 Feb 2020 
    Family ID F2039  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - Between 1795 and 1796 - Kentucky, USA Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsMarried - 25 Apr 1831 - San Antonio, Bexar, Texas, USA Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - 6 Mar 1836 - San Antonio, Bexar, Texas, USA Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 

  • Notes 
    • - James and his brother, Rezin, owned several very valuable estates in La Fourche and Rapides Parishes, and in the Opelousas District. On the "Arcadia" plantation the brothers introduced the first steam mill for grinding sugar cane ever used in the State, mules having been the motive power prior to that date. He stated his property to be worth about $210,000. In the will he made just before entering the Texan Army, much property was mentioned and handsome bequests were made to the son and daughter of his deceased brother Stephen.

      - James Bowie is described as 6 feet tall, slight, but graceful and very muscular; gray or hazel eyes, and chest-nut-brown curling hair. He wore short side whiskers and his face is said to have been singularly handsome.

      - His oration at a dinner given in New Orleans to General Jackson, and a speech before the Council of State at San Antonio in 1835, are mentioned as most able and eloquent.

      - As colonel of Texas Rangers he gained a great reputation at the battle of San Saba, 02 November 1831. The Indian tribes which were then so powerful and dangerous called him "Fighting Devil". His Texan followers called him "the young lion." He fought in the battles with the Indians and Mexicans at Nocogdoches, Conception, and "Grass Fight" in 1835.

      - "...Bowie was guilty of fraudulent land schemes, illicit slave trading, and killing a sheriff in a brawl with his fearsome Bowie knife, devised by his brother Rezin... Bowie had ties to the Tejanos through his marriage to the daughter of a former alcalde, or mayor, of San Antonio. She died of cholera in 1833, and now [1836] the hard-driving, hard-drinking Bowie was himself in failing health." [Source: "The History Channel Magazine." Article: "Portrait of the Alamo" by Stephen G. Hyslop. November/December 2003 Issue]

      - 9 June 1889, The Atlanta Constitution:

      A HERO OF THE ALAMO

      Origin of the Bowie Knife, and How it Looked -- Sketches of a Family
      From the Washington Sunday Herald

      I am glad to see that the attempt made in Texas to raise funds for the erection of a suitable monument to Colonels David Crocket and Bowie and the other brave men who were treacherously killed in the defense of the Alamo, March 6th, 1836, has been successful. A braver deed than that defense does not live in the annals of American history. Of Crocket much has been written, and but little of James Bowie, who was one of the most wonderful men of his day. The best account I have ever heard was related by Governor James Madison Wells, of Louisiana returning board fame. He knew Bowie intimately in his younger days and was present with his brother Colonel Jeff Wells, of Rapides Parish, LA, at one of the most brilliant fights in Bowie's life, which took place on Natchez island, almost opposite Natchez, Miss, in 1827. Governor Wells's account of the origin of the world famed knife called after Bowie is most interesting.

      "In 1825 James Bowie was a large owner of claims to Spanish grants of land," said Governor Wells, "and as many of them were then occupied by planters who had to be ejected before he could get possession, Bowie was constantly in danger of his life. He was a small man, not weighing more than 150 pounds, five feet seven and one half inches in height, but of wonderful physical strength, and as lithe and quick as a panther. At the time he was living with his brother Stephen, in Louisiana on a plantation situated on the dividing line between the parishes of Lafourche and Assumption. Near them there was a blacksmith and worker in iron and steel of great skill. He was of Spanish or Portuguese blood, and had been, according to a local rumor, one of Lafitte's crew of pirates. The pistols of that day were not as accurate or sure of fire as they are now. They were flintlocks, as percussion caps were not in general use until about 1836. Bowie had great faith in a knife. He declared that it was the surest and most faithful of all weapons in the hands of a man who could rely on his nerves, but that he had never seen a weapon of that sort which came up to his ideas of the most effective pattern. One day he and his brother Stephen were riding down the road and one of the horses cast a shoe. They stopped at the blacksmith's mentioned to have it replaced. While waiting Bowie saw some fine worksmanship on a sword, or rather Spanish machete, and the thought occurred to him to have a knife made for defense and offense according to his notion by this blacksmith. There was a bundle of shingles near at hand and taking one, Bowie whittled out of the soft thin pine a rough model in shape of what he wanted. The blacksmith had a long, worn out file, which was used in the heaviest iron work, and out of this he made the knife which James Bowie used in twenty-two bloody encounters and finally died grasping in his hand at the Alamo.

      "I will describe it for you, for I have frequently seen and handled it," continued Governor Wells. "It was seventeen and one-half inches in the blade, two inches in width, until within five inches of the point, when it widened a half inch and then, curving backward a little, ran off suddenly to a point. In weight it was just three pounds. The handle was made of the lower part of the horn of an elk sawed in two halves and neatly riveted onto the shank of the blade, the handle and the blade being twenty-three inches in length, with a handsome cross-piece where the two joined. The knife was ground down and then put on an oil stone until it was so sharp that it shave the hair off one's hand, so admirable was its temper. The sheath was made of two pieces of this pinewood neatly covered with alligator skin. It could be used for both cut and thrust, and it never failed when Jim Bowie got a fair blow."

      This is an accurate description of the bowie knife, and as it has never been in print, a desire to preserve an interesting incident makes us produce it here.

      There were three Bowie brothers -- James, Stephen and Rezin. They were all "fighting men," as dangerous individuals were denominated in those times, but were not bullies. They never commenced a difficulty, and in the ordinary intercourse with their neighbors were quiet and courteous, but always ready to defend the weaker side. An old Methodist minister, who died years ago, one of the pioneers of Christianity in the early days of the southwest, also told me story illustrating this characteristic.

      "I was holding a meeting at Church Hill, Miss, in 1830," said the venerable preacher, "when a lot of roughs flatboatmen and others, disturbed the congregation to such a degree that I thought there would be serious trouble. So, just before the evening service was to begin, I called together several gentlemen to know what should be done if the trouble was renewed. Among those present was a small man, whom I had not met before, and about whom there was nothing remarkable except his low soft voice and peculiar ringed gray eyes. 'I don't think there will be any more trouble, parson,' he said: 'I will stay tonight and see you through.' I thanked him, and in the bustle forgot to ask my friend who he was. The congregation was just beginning the first hymn when a burly ruffian; half drunk, came staggering down the aisle of the church and, halting in front of the pulpit, gave an Indian war-whoop. In a second the gentleman with the unusual eyes had him by the collar with one hand and an enormous knife raised above his head in the other. 'Sit down, you drunken devil, or by -- I will cut your throat from ear to ear!'

      "Why, who are you?' said the other, in shaky tones.

      "My name is James Bowie," was the answer, "and if I hear another wimper out of you or any member of your gang, I will waste no words, but come back to you. Now, go," and the man went without a word, and Bowie then joined in the singing of the hymn with an air that was edifying in the extreme. There was no more trouble that night, nor ever after. The roughs had enough."

      Rezin Bowie died in Arkansas about 1846, and his brother in Louisiana outlived him only a few months. Thus ended one of the mose remarkable families of their time.

      - "Before the revolution in Texas, Bowie took part in many adventures. He spent considerable time cultivating friendships with Indians in his search for elusive silver and gold reported to be hidden in the interior of Texas. By some accounts, he is said to have found the fabled San Saba mines, also known as the Bowie mines, near the geographic cemter of present day Texas." [Lone Star Junction - http://www.lsjunction.com/people/bowie.htm]

      - LOST BOWIE MINE
      JIM BOWIE was one of the heroes of the Alamo. Tradition says that when Travis, the commander, drew a line in the dirt with his sword and called on all who wished to remain and die to cross over, the ill Bowie had two comrades carry his cot across. Then when Santa Anna's men at last swarmed into the Alamo, Bowie -- from his cot -- shot Mexicans to death as they approached, the warrior battling to the last, a glorious figure in that band of glorious heroes.

      But even if Jim Bowie had not fallen in the Alamo, his memory would be immortal because his name has been bestowed upon the haunting, luring "Lost Bowie Mine." Hundreds have sought it; fortunes have been spent; lakes have bee drained; a river has been turned from its course; men have given years of their lives to the quest, but the location is still Jim Bowie's secret.

      The legend of a rich mine...goes back to the days of the Spanish mission and the fort beside the San Saba River, near the present town of Menard -- and sometimes it is called the "Lost San Saba Mine."

      ...The most famous of all men who have sought the mine was Jim Bowie...In San Antonio, he met and wed the lovely Ursula, daughter of Veramendi, the vice governor of Texas. His idolized wife was claimed by an epidemic and his career of adventure, romance, heroism and tragedy ended in the Alamo.

      It was in San Antonio that he came to know Xolic, chief of the Lipans. The Indians came to San Antonio once or twice a year to barter and they always brought some silver bullion. Spaniards and Mexicans tried to learn the secret of their treasure but the tribe had agreed that any Lipan who revealed the source of the silver should pay with his life.

      Bowie set about learning the secret by manifesting friendship for the Lipans: he presented Xolic with a rifle plated with silver and finally the Texan was adopted into the tribe...

      In his band of eleven [men recruited to go after the treasure] was his brother, Rezin P. Bowie. It was in November 1831, that they set out and, on the nineteenth, they camped in a cluster of live oak (according to Rezin Bowie), six miles from the San Saba fort. They had been warned earlier in the day by two friendly Indians and a Mexican that they were being followed by a large force of redskins, so they made such preparations for defense as they could in the encampment, clearing away the interior of the thicket in order to conceal themselves and their horses.

      Next morning the Indians, estimated at one hundred and sixty, attacked... [they were repelled by Bowie and his men, but a death and wounded caused them to make their way back to San Antonio.]

      On the gatepost of the San Saba ruins is carved, "Bowie Mine, 1832."

      ...the "Lost Bowie Mine," or the "Lost San Saba Mine," is an enigma that continues to fascinate. [Ancestry.com. Cowtown columnist [database on-line]. Provo, UT: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005. Original data: House, Boyce, Cowtown columnist. San Antonio, Tex.: Naylor Co., c1946.]

  • Sources 
    1. [S189] Frontier Times Magazine.
      February 1942. "The Bowie Brothers and Their Famous Knife"

    2. [S561] "Lone Star Junction", Lyman Hardeman, Lone Star Junction, "James Bowie" accessed 27 November 1999, article.

    3. [S189] Frontier Times Magazine.
      February 1942; "The Bowies and Their Famous Knife"

    4. [S236] Marriage Records of San Fernando Church, 1798 - 1856, Microfilm duplicate, roll no. 4, located at Spanish Archives, County Clerk's Office, Bexar County Courthouse, San Antonio, Texas; transcription and translation by Robert L. Tarin, Jr., October 1991.