James Bowie

(Circa 1795 to March 6, 1836)


No, he did not invent that Bowie knife -- that was his brother, Rezin P. Bowie, although even he was hardly the first person to make such a knife. James did much to make it famous, such as disemboweling a man with one during a duel turned brawl in Alexandria, Louisiana, in 1827.

He got fairly rich at an early age going into business with two other brothers, Rezin and John, first in sugar milling, then in land speculation, and then in slave trading. The land speculation appears to have involved large tracts in Arkansas for which they had no real title. As for slave trading, they were actually laundering money for the pirate Jean LaFitte. Importing slaves was illegal even if owning them was still legal, so LaFitte would smuggle them in through the Bowie brothers, who would inform on themselves and as a reward collect half of what this "contraband property" bought at auction. The buyers at the action were usually themselves, and they then resold the victims for a profit. They gave that up after three years and, well-heeled, played the role of young squires in New Orleans. This got boring for James, and he wandered west, arriving in San Antonio in 1828.

He was probably the fanciest, handsomest eligible young bachelor to have walked into that town in a generation, so his betrothal to Ursula Veramendi was only a matter of time. She was the daughter of Don Juan Martin Veramendi, governor of the province of Texas and vice-governor of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas. Bowie led the governor's ranging parties against the Comanches, became a Mexican citizen and a Catholic, and married her on April 23, 1831.

Returning from their honeymoon in New Orleans with Rezin in tow, the two brothers led an expedition out to the supposed San Saba silver mines, but what, if anything, they came up with is unknown.

The couple had zero, one or two children -- sources disagree. While Bowie was away on a business trip, a cholera epidemic killed the whole Veramendi family, in September 1833.

He returned to the empty Vermandi house in San Antonio, and turned to the bottle. When war came the Texas government would not give him a commission, but Houston found him useful and treated him as a colonel, based on his ranger service for Veramendi. But if he sent Bowie to the Alamo with the expectation he would evacuate the fort, he had picked the wrong man. By going back to San Antonio, Bowie was going home. Retreat would not have occurred to him.

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