The Bowie Knives -- a Collective Invention
I HOPE the reader has guessed from the heading of this chapter that it is not a history of the origin of the Bowie knife, the one and only "original" or ancestor of all other Bowie knives. Nor is any attempt made here either to name its "inventor" and maker or to fix the time and place of its fabrication. Able investigators have tried to compile such histories, clinging stubbornly to the conviction that every invention must be originated and brought to fruition by one man. They will name their man, describe their knife and the exact circumstances of its creation, even if they have to ignore conflicting evidence to do so. As might be expected, there has been little unanimity in their conclusions.
The reasons for this disagreement among chroniclers of the knife are pretty obvious. The Bowies themselves, their descendants, and their contemporaries, upon whom the historian must depend for most of his facts, are themselves in wide disagreement. This is, without a doubt, one of those historic problems that only seem to recede further and further from solution with each rehashing. Is this not in itself symptomatic? The question "Did Francis Bacon really write the plays attributed to William Shakespeare?" is unanswerable for the same reasons: lack of evidence; too many conflicting stories, the authenticity of which can be neither proved nor disproved; and the impossibility of separating fact from legend. I do not want to add one more erroneous conclusion to those already made, but my research on the subject suggests strongly that there was actually no one original Bowie knife. Rather, it was a collective invention, going through various refinements and changes at the hands of a number of individuals at different times and in widely separated places, culmi