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Original Bowie knife on display

By submitted, 04/18/22 8:05 PM

WASHINGTON – As history tells it, the Bowie knife was created in the wake of a melee that broke out after a duel on a Mississippi River sandbar just above Natchez, Mississippi, on September 19, 1827. There, a man named James Bowie was catapulted to fame by saving his own life by disemboweling an assailant despite being shot three times and stabbed four times. He survived the fight on his way to martyrdom at the Alamo in 1836. His weapon was described in the newspapers of the day as a “large butcher knife.” Upon seeing the knife’s performance, others desired a similar knife as a backup to the notoriously unreliable pistols of the day. Soon, cutlers were flooded with requests for “a knife like Bowie’s,” or more succinctly, a “Bowie knife.”

Legend has it that Washington, Arkansas’s James Black made a similar knife for James Bowie, perhaps even the first knife. Black has been the subject of much controversy amongst knife historians. Though his work was never formally signed, scholarly research has slowly built a strong case for Black and the bowie knives he made with distinctive coffin-shaped handles, genuine silver fittings, and blades hammered out of the finest available steel.

On exhibit at the James Black’s Bowie Heritage Festival will likely be the largest group of James Black knives ever gathered in one place, along with similar knives that were either strongly influenced by Black’s work or made by Black. Also on exhibit will be a collection of artifacts recently recovered from the site of Black’s forge. Two brief presentations on Black will also be given at the festival on Saturday afternoon.

The James Black’s Bowie Heritage Festival will be held in Washington, Arkansas on Saturday, April 23 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The festival will also include:

  • Arkansas Heritage Crafts
  • Knife Show
  • Cutting Competition
  • Kids’ Corner
  • Period Music
  • Historical Reenactments
  • World Famous Mastersmiths
  • Forged In Fire TV Celebrities Doug Marcaida and J. Neilson
  • Food
  • And much more!

Partners in the festival with the City of Washington, the UAHT Foundation, and Historic Washington State Park include the Washington Fire Auxiliary, Arkansas Department of Heritage, and Washington Tourism.