Jim Bowie: The Man Behind the Legend

Jim Bowie: The Man Behind the Legend

Jim Bowie, public domain.
Jim Bowie, (artist unknown) public domain.

Old West Tales by Mustang

Was Jim Bowie a hero of Texas, or a man who was simply trapped by his circumstances?  Was he a killer, or simply a man of his time who was willing and able to defend himself in a scrape?  Was he a fraudster, a man lacking in integrity to the point where he would trick property from honest men, or was he simply a bit more clever than the average land speculator?  Was he a man who fell deeply in love with the woman he married, or was he an opportunist who simply manipulated his way into an influential (and very wealthy) Mexican family?

James Bowie (10 March 1796 – 6 March 1836) died at the famous Battle of the Alamo, an engagement where between 185 to 260 men attempted to hold off a Mexican force of more than 1,800 infantry, cavalry, and artillery.  There is some disagreement over how long the battle lasted.  Some historians say that the fighting lasted from between 60-90 minutes.  These are mostly Mexican historians who have never taken an objective view of this battle.  Others, with expertise in matters of Texas history, argue that the battle lasted for around four hours.  Given the numbers of Mexican dead, a four-hour timeline makes sense.  The defenders of the Alamo had absolutely no chance of surviving the onslaught of the vastly superior forces under General Antonio López de Santa Anna [1], but they certainly acquitted themselves well, inflicting between 600 to 800 dead and an additional 500 wounded.

Jim Bowie was a legend, long before he ever went to Texas.  He was a fighter, a frontiersman, a land-speculator, and some might even argue that Bowie was a killer and a thief.  It would not have been wise to offer such an opinion to Jim Bowie’s face, however, but a man might mutter such things in a low tone of voice out of Bowie’s range of hearing.  An honest appraisal of Jim Bowie leads us to conclude that he was simply a man of his time. He was capable of acting before thinking.  He was rash and bold in his youth.  He was capable of the love of a good woman.  He was, in the context of the times, seeking advantages in life at a very dangerous time and place.

Bowie was born in Logan County, Kentucky but spent most of his developing years in Louisiana.  Jim was the ninth of ten children born to Reason (also, Rezin) and the former Elve Ap-Catesby-Jones.  Reason served during the American Revolution and, having suffered serious wounds, was released from duty.  In 1782, he married the young woman who helped nurse him back to health. Reason and Elve first settled in Georgia, later moving to Kentucky, and finally settling in Louisiana.  Reason was not a wealthy man, but he did own several head of cattle, seven horses and a stud, and eight negro slaves.  He owned property in both Spanish Louisiana and Spanish Missouri, establishing residences at several Louisiana locations. In 1812, the family lived in Opelousas.

The Bowie’s were a frontier family. His children helped their father clear the land so that it was suitable for farming.  Elve taught the children to read and write.  All of the Bowie children could speak English, French, and Spanish fluently.  Reason taught his male children how to shoot the rifle and pistol; he taught them how to use a knife in their own defense.  As a result of these attentions, all of Reason’s children were fearless, even to the extent of being able to capture live alligators[…]

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Permission to re-publish granted by Mustang of Thoughts from Afar aka Old West Tales.
Mustang has other great reads over at his two blogs – Thoughts from Afar 
with Old West Tales and Fix Bayonets. You can also follow our friend/fellow patriot from across the pond on Twitter: Mustang.

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