I confess I have never shaved with one of my bowies, nor have I paddled with one; however, their broad utility is one of the things I love most about them. They seem a perfect woods companion, and in some circles, a perfect everyday companion, otherwise known as an EDC (Every Day Carry).
The Bowie knife takes its name from the famed frontiersman Jim Bowie, who used a knife to defend himself at what became known as the Vidalia Sandbar Fight. This began as a duel between a Samuel Wells and a Dr. Thomas Maddox, and Bowie was a member of the Wells party was Jim Bowie, armed with a blade very different from what later became known as the bowie pattern. This duel, as happened with so many others, got chaotic, and Bowie had to defend himself again a member of the rival party, who was armed with a sword cane. Yes, a sword cane! This was a pitched battle, and it got pretty dicey before Bowie finally prevailed upon his rival.
From this fight, word of the success of “Bowie’s knife” began to get around, and soon everyone wanted a knife like Bowie’s. Knife scholars (yes, there are such things) seem to agree that the knife Bowie actually carried during the Sandbar Fight looked suspiciously like an ordinary butcher’s knife, although many also agree that it may have looked like this early Bowie knife made by Texas blacksmith James Black.
The important points on this knife are its single edge design and simple guard. Later designs would formalize the iconic design elements: large blade, slightly upswept clip point blade, typically a sharpened clip and other elements which varied from knife to knife, such as a “Spanish notch,” and a larger guard to protect the hand in knife to knife combat. Bowies became so popular that they were often specifically singled out in legislation banning their carry and use because they seemed so fearsome and deadly (sound familiar?).
So, to my knives. I realize that over several years, I have begun what amounts to a small collection of Bowie knives. To the untutored eye they all look alike, and I can imagine many of my friends and acquaintances wondering why I would pay good money for another, when it's so very like one I already have. To them I would say that this little edged family represents a broad spectrum of the Bowie design, and covers the history of this peculiarly American blade.