The Antique Bowie Knife Association of America was formed April 5, 1975 by 19 collectors who enjoyed sharing their passion for Antique Bowie Knives. The name was changed a short time later to "Antique Bowie Knife Association". Since then, the ABKA has grown into a world-wide organization that is "Dedicated to the collecting, study, and preservation of Antique Bowie Knives".
Membership is open to persons over 21 years of age and is by invitation. If you are interested in our organization, we suggest visting with one of our members at a knife show near you, or inquire at one of our annual meetings. You will find our application here
About Jim Bowie
By Bill Williamson
By Bill Williamson
It was in the sleepy little village of Marksville in central-east Louisiana that an important document in Bowie knife history was signed. It was a spring day, April 10, 1827 to be exact. Rezin P. Bowie, brother of Alamo hero James Bowie rode into Marksville, dis-mounted his horse and assisted his wife Margaret from her sidesaddle. Small as it was, Marksville served as the seat of government for the parish (county), and the Bowies had business to conduct in the presence of Herzehian Dunham, the Notary Public in and for the parish of Avoyelles.
Accompanying Rezin and Margaret Bowie that day were Caiaphas K. Ham and Jesse Clifft. The Bowie plantation on Bayou Boeuf (pronounced buff or beff, depending on where one lives in Louisiana) was, as the crow flies, about fifteen miles distance. It was there at the plantation that Jesse Clifft, under Rezin P. Bowie’s direction and using his design, handcrafted the first Bowie knife.
Important evidence now settles the question of who made that first Bowie knife. “The first Bowie knife was made by myself in the parish of Avoyelles,” wrote Rezin Bowie. He went on to describe the knife. In a recently discovered letter to Col. David F. Boyd, dated September 14, 1885, Rezin’s granddaughter, Mrs. Eugene Soniat, gave further details. “This instrument, which was never intended for ought but a hunting knife, was made of an old file in the plantation blacksmith shop of my grandfather’s Bayou Boeuf plantation, the maker was a hired white man named Jesse Clift [sic], he afterwards went to Texas. My mother, Mrs. Jos. H. Moore then a little girl, went to the shop with her father, heard his directions, and saw Clift make the knife.
The document signed in Marksville that spring day provides further proof of the connection between Bowie and Clift. When William Hargrove met with Rezin P. and Margaret Bowie, Herzehian Dunham penned an agreement explicitly linking Rezin Bowie, the designer, with Jesse Clifft, the maker of the first Bowie knife.
The document read in part: In consideration of four thousand dollars... the said R.P. Bowie and the said M. Bowie his wife does by these presents grant, bargain, sell and convey unto the said Wm. Hargrove nine certain slaves to wit, Bill age about 25, Stephen aged about 30, Sally and child about 25, Harry about 40, Tom about 45, Willoby about 25, Bartlett about 27 and Lewis aged about 18 years, all slaves for life....
The principals signed the document, Rezin with his usual flourish, “R.P. Bowie,” incorporating a series of fancy line swirls beneath the name. “C.K. Ham” and “Jesse Clifft” signed as witnesses. Until this writing, Clifft’s name has been misspelled in the literature, usually as Cliff or Cliffe.
The origin of the first Bowie knife is now very clear. With this very knife James Bowie killed Maj. Norris Wright of Alexandria, Louisiana in the famous sandbar fight near Natchez, Mississippi on September 19, 1827. The sandbar affair started both James Bowie and the Bowie knife on the road to fame.
When James Bowie arrived in the area of Bayou Boeuf (boeuf is French for beef), the land was cheap, speculation rampant and the settlers, soon to be the landed gentry, a fiercely independent breed who often terminated differences with knives, swordcanes and pistols. African slaves, sometimes legally purchased, sometimes smuggled, were brought in to supply the backbreaking labor required to push back the forest and create large plantations.
James Bowie had located on Bayou Bouef some time before 1820. (An old ledger, dated 1817, records purchases made by James at a general store, later Bennett’s Store, on Bayou Boeuf near the town of Cheneyville, Louisiana.) Both he and brother Rezin P. Bowie owned, lumbered and developed properties along the Boeuf, in the area where the Bayou departs Rapides parish, cuts into the south-west corner of Avoyelles and then flows into St. Landry parish. Today, the town of Bunkie, nonexistent in the Bowies’ time, is the largest in the vicinity.