Monday, September 27, 2010

Piper Knife Fighting System

While scouring the internet, I came across an article and several videos regarding the Piper Knife Fighting System.

The Piper System is a study of Cape Town and South African knife combatives assembled and organized into a structure, much like a Martial Art, over a period of years.

The following are excerpts from an article I found regarding the Piper Knife Fighting System.

1"The name Piper System and the unique method of blade combat that uses the name are the creations of Nigel February. Nigel, his students and his designated representatives are the only Piper System exponents. The Piper System is a study of Cape Town and South African knife combatives assembled and organized into a structure, much like a Martial Art, over a period of years. Lloyd De Jongh added extensive additional research and created
a learning format for the material in conjunction with Erik Petermann and Jason Williams.

Piper was created to save lives... our own. We were afraid of the skills that our violent criminal element possessed - which we had extreme difficulty coping with utilizing the numerous Western and Asian approaches to Martial Arts we had collectively learned. This fear was widely prevalent, and we found that many were very interested in learning what we knew. Many individuals have since added useful contributions to the pool of knowledge.

Before collecting all the various gang and street methods into the organized system called Piper, it was just called Cape Town knife fighting. Different areas and different gangs had various styles and only a few techniques - but nothing as complete as Piper existed. A typical knifer had a couple of techniques and no conception that there was a discernible underlying method involved. This wasn’t a Martial Art with a syllabus. Gangs therefore had a group of individuals each with one or two of their own and some general, borrowed techniques - their method having a particular regional style and an overall African ‘flavor’. Piper was about painstakingly collecting all of those individual techniques and styles of movement into categories that we Martial Artists could relate to, then compiling a complete system for the edged, blunt, improvised weapons and the empty hand method called Form Style. The blade is a primary weapon, empty hand methods can be considered an adjunct.

N.B. Before we continue, in the interests of clearing up some common misunderstandings, we want to make it clear that:

  • Piper is NOT a Zulu system. It is not ‘Zulu knife fighting’ - there is no such thing. Zulus are not indigenous to and live far from the Western Cape, the Xhosa-dominated province in which Nigel and Lloyd grew up
  • Gangsters and convicts in Cape Town do not acknowledge a preexisting system of knife combat - in all our interviews they are unaware of such a thing, and they will have no knowledge of a Piper System because it is our creation."

What is the Piper Knife Fighting System? "It begins with a group of martial artists training in a garage one night. I had been doing a lengthy study of criminal psychology and strategy, however I lacked a cohesive understanding of the physical tactics and weapons (knives, clubs and machetes) involved. A chance question to Nigel elicited a response which has caused something of a controversy around the world. We have studied the way criminals in our country have used knives in the commission of crimes (to mug, murder, rape and intimidate). This is the opposite side of the coin to what and why martial artists study knives. What we learned about how criminals use knives conflicted with the way martial artists view, utilize and are taught knife skills.

Many have searched for the holy grail in the blade arts, for that elusive ‘truth’ in edged weapons combat. Some feel they have found it in the training hall, they call themselves ‘knife fighters’. Others have found their truth - and are grateful to merely label themselves survivors. Then there are those who have found a deeper truth in blade combat - we call them murderers, thugs, muggers, rapists, gangsters and convicts.

We’ve codified the various seemingly unrelated, random methods that our proficient criminal elements employ into a system, a system which Nigel named Piper. For a description of the origin behind the name, please see his blog post “Piper - the origin of a name”, or view his video interview.

The method that we call Piper sends people to morgues and emergency wards as we speak - it teaches the truth of edged weapons combat as we experience it in our corner of the globe, a place where knives are a daily threat, where communities have lived with fear for years. The system with a style of movement, deceptiveness, viciousness and an application that is radically different to anything in “Martial Arts” - its origin is not based on stylistic imperatives, but on criminal requirements."

Regarding the Piper Knife Fighting System, some say, it is "not a martial art, nor is it even a fighting system. It is murder, plain and simple. It's effectiveness is by and large dependent on shock and surprise. You ambush the guy and then proceed to torture him with a barrage of "woodpecker" attacks from countless different -- and unpredictable -- angles. I would also like to point out that it relies on the shock and awe response that someone, who unexpectedly finds themselves assaulted by a knife, will commonly exhibit -- namely stepping backwards. Attempting to "fight" such an attack will only result in the person -- well let's say that it would be like trying to fight a swarm of bees armed with razors. This is why people with experience with unhappy times looked at it and shifted gears into "just kill him" mode as their tactical response."

In my opinion, whether a person is being attacked " with a barrage of 'woodpecker' attacks from countless different and unpredictable angles" or a flurry of swift, sharp attacks with a kerambit, your survival instinct will immediately kick in and you would try to kill, or at the very least, maim the attacker.

1 Source:

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Knife Lore of the Anglo Saxons

The Anglo-Saxons, better known as the English, were originally named after the knives they carried. These were the "Saxe", which incidentally still means "knife" in modern North German dialect, North Germany being where the ancestors of the English came from. So, the "Saxons" translates into modern English as the "knife-men".

The Saxe was about 16" overall, with a 12-13" blade, which ended in what we would now call a "gut hook". Except that it was highly sharpened, and was in fact a "ripping-hook". The obvious purpose was to rip open their opponents in combat.

Their proverbial ancestor was named "Saxe-noth", which means "knife-daring". Presumably this was the nickname of one of their real ancestors, renowned for his exploits with this kind of knife.

The "Saxe" was the Saxons' "trademark", and, indeed, part of their pagan religion.

Every, and I do mean every, Saxon man, woman or child was buried with a knife. Even small children were buried with knives that they wouldn't have been able to use for another 4-5 years had they lived. The Saxons saw to it that their dead would not be defenseless in the next world, as the English (their descendents) saying goes: "you never know"...

The Saxons converted to Christianity from their pagan religion soon after they came to England, and by 700 or 800 AD, they were sending missionaries to convert their cousins back in Germany. As Christians, they no longer followed the old customs mentioned above quite as much.

The Celts were first mentioned in writing by the Greeks around 400 BC, when they called the ancestors of present-day Celts “Keltoi”, but it is reasonable to suppose that that was the Celts' own name for themselves. Celts were known in ancient times for their cleverness and bravery.

Scientists believe that the Celts had their origin in a valley on the southwestern slopes of the Alps, near the southeast border of France. From there they spread out to many parts of Europe and the Near East, and in modern times, to the rest of the world.

The modern branches are, starting from the South, the Britons of Northeastern France in Brittany, the Cornish in the southwest corner of England, the Welsh in Wales (Western England), the Irish (no longer British, but see below), and the Scots (whose ancestors mostly came from Northern Ireland). In the Near East, the Galatians mentioned in the Bible, to whom St. Paul wrote that "whatever a man soweth, that shall he reap", were Celts who had immigrated there. A local king induced 20,000 of them to settle there as soldiers in his army and traders back in 200 BC with grants of land and money. Many cities now in Germany were also originally Celtic, like Trier (Treves in French), as well as almost all of France. There were important groups of Celts in Spain as well.

Celts attacked and looted Rome in early days when it was just another small Italian city, before it became the center of the Roman Empire. They extracted a very high price in gold as well. The Romans got the gold back with interest a few hundred years later, when Julius Caesar conquered the Celts, and extracted their large supplies of gold from them through the tribute and taxes he and his successors made them pay.

The Celts were also the "Metal Masters" of the Ancient World. Metalworking was their specialty, and all who could afford it bought their blades from them. This included the Roman Army, whose swords were made by a branch of the Celts in Spain at that time, and imported by the Romans.

Germans were then far behind in all of this, and could manage to make a spear point or knife if it wasn't too big, but swords were rare among them and very highly prized. These were made by the Celts as one of their specialties. The sword was usually leaf-shaped, and examples can be seen in reproductions offered on the web, like the "Sting" sword of The Lord of the Rings.

The fight between Germans and Celts began with the Saxon migration to England from 500 AD to 650 AD. They were joined by their neighbors the Angles and the Jutes (from Jutland, now in Denmark), and were known in general as Anglo Saxons, as they are today. They pushed the Celts out of Eastern and Southern England, so that they remained on the Western and Northern borders: Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, where they mostly are today.

On the other hand, the German and Celtic nobility considered themselves equal, and developed family ties over the centuries.

Later, about 500 years ago, many Celts migrated to England to share in the prosperity that would later lead to the British Empire.

So both at the noble level as well as the common level, especially in the larger towns and cities, the English are partly German and partly Celtic. After Ireland became independent, and so were no longer British, the Celtic population of England still remained there, while the Irish and most of the other Celts, over the centuries, had adopted English customs, standards, and language, and so became almost exactly like the English.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Swiss Army Knives

Have a Need for a special-purpose multi tool? Swiss Army Knives might be the answer!

Swiss Army Knives were invented by Carl Elsener, a surgical equipment company owner, in 1891. Elsener started Victorinox and some years later also acquired Wenger company. Originally intended for officers and soldiers of the Swiss army, genuine Swiss Army pocket knives have become an expression for versatility and portability.

Today, boy scouts and girl scouts all around the world have enjoyed the use of an incredibly versatile multi tool called the classic Swiss Army Knife. The Swiss Army Knife has also been successfully proven on expeditions: in the arctic ice of the North Pole; on the highest peak on earth, Mount Everest; in the tropical rain forests of the Amazon, and elsewhere.

A Swiss Army knife (SAK) is a multifunction hand tool or special-purpose multi tool. It can usually be distinguished by its red casing, printed with a white shield and cross, the emblem of Switzerland. Generally speaking, a Swiss Army knife sports a blade as well as various tools, such as screwdrivers and can openers. Other tools used are tweezers, toothpick, corkscrew, phillips-head screwdriver, nail file and scissors. Other models include a saw, hook, magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, fish scaler which doubles as a 7cm (3 inch) ruler, pliers/wire cutters, key chain and with todays technology even USB flash storage, digital clock, digital altimeter, LED light, laser pointer, and MP3 player! And, some models make the perfect engraved gift.

The standard full-size Swiss Army Knife is approximately 3.5in (9cm) long and .75in (2cm) wide; smaller models like the tinker, pioneer and companion are typically about 2.25in (6cm) long and .5in (1.5cm) wide. Thickness varies depending on the number of tools included. A flat version with somewhat fewer tools (but still retaining a knife) the size and shape of a credit card, known as a SwissCard, can be stored in a typical wallet.


  • This useful pocket knife was legally registered on June 12, 1897. Over 34,000 of these pocket tools with the distinctive Swiss cross leave the factory in central Switzerland each day.
  • Ninety per cent are for export to over 100 different countries and serve as ambassadors for Switzerland.
  • Founder, Carl Elsener, wanted to create work in sparsely industrialized central Switzerland and counter the emigration spawned by unemployment. To go from hand-crafting to industrial production was at the time adventurous and required enormous determination. Today, this family business in Schwyz provides 950 jobs.
  • After an unparalleled success story around the world, the VICTORINOX "Swiss Army Knife" is even orbiting the earth as part of the standard equipment of the Space Shuttle Crew.
  • Over 34,000 of these pocket tools with the distinctive Swiss cross leave the factory in central Switzerland each day.

Did You Know?

  • The largest Swiss Army Knife model is the "SwissChamp" with 33 features. Over 450 steps are required in its manufacture.
  • Over 34,000 of these pocket tools with the distinctive Swiss cross leave the factory in central Switzerland each day.
  • Today, Carl Elsener III (the grandson of the founder) holds the reins and the small Victorinox cutlery became a large firm.
  • In 1897, Swiss cutlery maker Carl Elsener patented his penknife, later to become known as the Swiss army knife.
  • The New York Museum of Modern Art and the State Museum for Applied Art in Munich have selected it for their collection of excellence in design, and, since Lyndon B. Johnson, US presidents present guests with VICTORINOX pocket knives.
  • Ninety per cent are for export to over 100 different countries and serve as ambassadors for Switzerland.

Time and again, Swiss Army Knives have been a life saver in situations of extreme danger and great need. Get your discount Swiss Army Knife today!

All Comments are Welcome and Appreciated.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Detecting Counterfeit Knives

Unfortunately, there are a few knuckle-heads out there who are eager to make a buck in the knife business by any means necessary. Some might attempt to steal our precious little gems, while others may try to defraud us by selling imitation knives.

Many counterfeit knives by modifying existing knives to imitate more valuable pieces. Most of these crooks prey on the beginner and novice collectors, but some counterfeiters are good at what they do and a can sometimes fool a veteran collector.

Reproduction or Counterfeiting is probably the largest problem with knife collecting. Rest assured however, that it is not that big of a problem. There are usually telling signs of an imitation that are obvious if you know what to look for. You can protect yourself by taking a few simple precautions.

Educate Yourself

The most important thing that you can do is educate yourself. Before you go off putting much money into knives read a lot about them, talk to other collectors, and ask lots of questions.

Closely examine what you are buying.

Check for the following:

  1. Make sure all parts match. Some counterfeits are made by taking pieces from two or more knives and turning them into one. Look to make sure all of the metal parts have similar age marks. If you find a knife with tarnished, old looking back springs with brand new looking blades for example, you know something is not right.
  2. Make sure the tang of the knife is the same width as the back springs. Counterfeiters will often take an old knife and grind away the existing stamp and re-stamp or etch on one of more value. This trick can usually be spotted by comparing the width of the tang with the back springs. If the tang has been ground, it will be thinner than the springs. Some counterfeiters will go the extra length to take the knife apart and grind down the springs to match. Most will not go to this extreme unless it is a very valuable piece. If this is the case, you can match the back spring width with a like pattern knife made by the same manufacturer around the same period.
  3. Make sure the pattern number and tang stamp match the knife you are looking at. If you find a knife with a pattern number that indicates that it has bone handles, but you notice that the knife is made with genuine stag, you should stay away from it. This goes along with educating yourself about knives. Learn about pattern numbers and tang stamps from books, this website, or by talking to other collectors.
  4. Make sure the person that you are buying from is reputable.
    Ask around. Make sure that the dealer is respected and has a sell-back guarantee. Any good dealer will allow you to return a knife if it is not what you thought it was. It is crucial to their reputation.

If there is any doubt in your mind, get a second opinion.

There is usually a knowledgeable well respected knife collector or dealer around when you are considering buying a knife. Ask someone you trust if there is anything that you are not certain about.

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Four Steps to Buying the Right Knife

1. How will you use it?

  • Everyday: Are you opening boxes or cutting twine?
  • Outdoor (Backpacking/Climbing/Hiking/Camping): Does your activity involve using rope?
  • Hunting/Fishing: Are you field dressing game or cleaning/filleting fish?
  • Tactical/Survival: Do you need a heavy-duty knife that won't fail?
  • Limited Edition/Custom: Are you a collector?

2. What features are important to you?

  • Fixed-blade: Always ready for use and dependable.
  • Folding knife: Compact, safer to carry; improved dependability with locking blade.
  • One-handed opening: Has a thumb stud, blade hole or other feature to facilitate one-hand use. Some models are one-hand opening and one-hand closing as well.
  • Gutting/skinning blade: For field dressing game.
  • Thick Blade: For heavy-duty tasks.
  • Light weight: Use of composite or other materials to minimize weight.
  • Saw edge: For cutting wood or bone.
  • Sharpness: Stays sharp and is easy to sharpen.

3. What is it made of and why?

Blade Materials
A good blade combines good edge retention, ease of re-sharpening and rust resistance.

  • S30V is the best blade steel available. It is a high vanadium stainless steel with even higher edge retention.
  • ATS-34 and BG-42 are two custom steels with much higher carbon content, giving them higher hardness ratings and dramatically higher edge retention.
  • 420HC is a stainless steel that provides excellent rust resistance, is easy to re-sharpen and has good edge retention.

Handle Materials
A good handle should feel solid and well constructed when you hold it. We suggest you consider a handle style and material that meets your needs and suits your preference.

  • An ergonomic design provides comfort.
  • A rubber or textured handle provides a sure grip in wet conditions.
  • A wooden handle adds beauty to the knife.
  • Plastic/composite handles are durable under extreme conditions.

4. Does it offer an unconditional lifetime warranty?

You want a knife that is crafted from high quality materials and will deliver reliable performance. If it should ever fail you, be sure the maker stands behind it. Buck Knives has been making knives for over 100 years and still backs all products with an unconditional lifetime warranty that is rock solid.

All Comments are Welcome and Appreciated.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blood Groove

What is a Blood Groove For?

This question comes up every 8 months or so. The blood groove on a knife probably is derived from the channel present on swords, where it is called a "fuller". There are some persistent myths floating around about the function of blood grooves, from "releases the vacuum when the knife is thrust into a person" to "no functional use, purely decorative". Let's talk about these wrong answers first, before we talk about the right answers.

Wrong Answer #1: Releasing the Body Suction

Basically, this theory postulates that the blood groove is present to facilitate withdrawing the knife from a person/animal. In this scenario, it is said that the animal's muscles contract around the knife blade, and that this causes a vacuum, which makes the knife difficult to withdraw. But on a knife with a blood groove, blood runs through the blood groove and breaks the suction, so the knife can be withdrawn with less difficulty.

One problem is that there's no evidence that this suction ever really happens. Also, over and over again people report that there is no difference whatsoever in the difficulty of withdrawing a knife with a blood groove vs. one without. This is one theory that has been tested and found wanting.

Yes, I realize you may have heard this myth from your deadly knife instructor, or read it in a book somewhere. But the experts agree that it is false. If your knife can cut its way in, it can just as easily cut its way out, with or without a blood groove.

And with that, I am going to change terminology from "blood groove" to "fuller", since we all now know the so-called "blood groove" is not playing a blood-channeling function.

Wrong Answer #2: Purely Decorative

There is a grain of truth to this one. Although a fuller does play a functional role, on a short knife the effect might be so small as to be insignificant. Many believe the fuller plays a strictly decorative role on knives or swords under 2 feet long. As the knife or sword gets bigger, the fuller plays an increasingly important role. On smaller knives, it is indeed probably just decorative.

Right Answers:

Okay, so what substantive role does the blood groove/fuller play? The bottom line is, it does two things:

1. It stiffens the blade
2. It lightens the blade

That first statement has been the subject of some controversy, with some people sending me equations purporting to show that the removal of material cannot make the blade stiffer. I will table for now the question of "does the blade get stiffer, in some absolute sense, due to the fuller?" Rather, I'll weaken the claim to say that the blade *feels* stiffer to the user who is waving it around -- because it's stiffer for its weight.

I'll reproduce a post by Jim Hrisoulas which lays things out clearly (reprinted with permission):

When you fuller a blade you do several things:

1: You lighten it by using less material, as the act of forging in the fuller actually widens the blade, so you use less material than you would if you forged an unfullered blade. (In stock removal the blade would also be lighter, as you would be removing the material instead of leaving it there).

2: You stiffen the blade. In an unfullered blade, you only have a "single" center spine. This is especially true in terms of the flattened diamond cross section common to most unfullered double- edged blades. This cross section would be rather "whippy" on a blade that is close to three feet long. Fullering produces two "spines" on the blade, one on each side of the fuller where the edge bevels come in contact with the fuller. This stiffens the blade, and the difference between a non-fullered blade and a fullered one is quite remarkable.

Fullers on knives do the same thing, although on a smaller blade the effects are not as easily seen or felt. Actually looking at fullers from an engineering point of view they really are a sophisticated forging technique, and it was the fullered swordblade that pointed the way to modern "I" beam construction.

When combined with proper distal tapers, proper heat treating and tempering, a fullered blade will, without a doubt, be anywhere from 20% to 35% lighter than a non-fullered blade without any sacrifice of strength or blade integrity.

Fullers were not "blood grooves" or there to "break the suction" or for some other grisly purpose. They served a very important structural function. That's all. I have spent the last 27 years studying this and I can prove it beyond any doubt...

All Comments are Welcome and Appreciated.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Buck Knives

If the knife industry was narrowed down to one name, it would undoubtedly be Buck hunting knives. Their blades, famous for their ability to chop through a nail, have been in production since Hoyt Buck discovered his new method for tempering steel 90 years ago.

Employing 450 people and producing over 12,000 knives daily, Buck Knives offers everything from tiny pocket knives to gold-inlaid special edition blades. However, despite Buck's size and diversity, they continue to give their dealers and knife owners the attention of a small, custom shop.

With this kind of dynamic business attitude, it's not surprising that Buck is considered a trailblazer in the knife industry. Chuck Buck, President of Buck Knives and grandson of Hoyt Buck, is a knife expert extraordinare, with opinions on all aspects of the knife-making industry, from the alignment of the molecules of steel in his knives right on up to his national distribution techniques. In a recent interview he shared some of his opinions with Shooting Industry magazine.

Buck On Blades

Buck sees the knife industry in three segments. There's the low-priced specials marketed toward the price conscious consumer who wants a basic pocket knife. There are mid-line knives which are purchased by consumers to whom quality is more important than price. And there are the top-of-the-line collector's blades which almost fall into the category of art rather than tools.

Buck is one of the few manufacturers which produces products in all three categories, from their polymer-handled V52 series with interchangeable blades to their limited edition David Yellowhorse creations encrusted with silver and turquoise. With such a diverse market are in which to work, where does Buck see the most growth in the next year?

"I think we are already seeing consumers shying away from the para-military, 'Rambo'-style blades back to more simple designs," he said. "They want something that is versatile, and you just don't get that in an 18-inch knife that's made as a bayonet.

"I think we'll see more knives in the utility tool tradition, with multiple folding blades, can openers, scissors, and such. Consumers want as much usefulness as they can get for their money"

To compete in this marketplace, Buck has introduced the new SwissBuck line, a Swiss Army replica made in a joint effort by Buck and Wenger of Switzerland. There are 10 models of this utilitarian knife featuring pliers, scissors, fish scalers and even a toothpick. The handles of these knives are matte black with built-in grip ridges, distinguishing them from the traditional bright red Swiss Army look.

In order to compete in the low-end knife market, Buck has begun handling a new line called Ultrablade. Priced between $9 and $15, these foreign imports will be distributed by Buck but will not bear the distinctive Buck logo.

"We felt we had to have something to compete in this market," Buck said. "We see too many competitors with a bucket full of $3 knives. But this isn't really the mentality we want associated with the Buck name."

Buck On The Marketplane

As with many other products, customers are forsaking the personal atmosphere of the gun and knife shop for the low prices of the giant warehouse stores. How does Buck plan to deal with this consumer migration to the club stores?

"We're staying right where we are," he said. "The small shops have always been there to support us, and we're not going to desert them just because stores like WalMart and Price Club are selling knives by the pallet. Our greatest strength is our customer service, and that just gets lost in a warehouse store."

Because of the current trend toward the large-volume stores, Buck predicts that many of the smaller knife manufacturers will soon be weeded out of the marketplace.

"I don't expect it to be too long before the knife industry looks a lot like the automobile industry: with a few large manufacturers supplying the entire market," Buck said.

One of Buck's predictions last year was that a larger segment of the knife market would be made up of women. To meet their desires, Buck designed a line of small, purse-sized knives in a series of designer colors. Unfortunately, they found that the market they expected just wasn't there.

"The woman who buys a knife isn't interested in fancy colors or glitzy handles," he said. "She is a practical woman who wants the same degree of function and reliability in a knife as any man wants. We found there was no need to try and make the knife look like a 'lady's' knife."

Buck On Design

One of the hottest knife designs on the market today is the hunting knife with a skinning hook on the back of the blade. While this design is selling well for other manufacturers, Buck is hesitant to jump into the arena without more evidence of its usefulness.

"My son went hunting in Oregon using one of our early skinning hook blades," Buck said. "He found that the hook got clogged with hair and was difficult to clear. We're working on a better design, but until it's perfected we're going to stay away. We don't want to put out an inferior product."

Ceramic blades are another innovation on the knife sellers' racks that customers just can't seem to get enough of. While these small knives carry large price tags, word of their quality and durability are sending sales figures skyward. Where does Buck stand on this issue?

"Ceramics are a field that really deserves some attention," he said. "You're basically talking about a knife that never, ever needs to be sharpened. That's seems to be putting out the best ceramic knife in the field, but even theirs is having some problems. The blade is still somewhat brittle and it'll shatter if it's dropped. I don't doubt that before long someone will perfect it, and when they do, we'll get them to the customers."

Titanium is another space-age material which has found its way into the knife world. Stronger than steel, it weighs about as much as aluminum. Many manufacturers have started producing fixed-blade knives with titanium handles, but Buck feels the ligh weight metal is more appropriate on the smaller pocket knives, where weight is more important. To this end, Buck sells two pocket knives in the Tiny Titanium line and a larger XLTi locking blade model.

In the next year Buck says his knife designers plan to spend most of their energy perfecting the designs they've put together over the last few years. He says they'll be putting off the hot new designs until 1993.

Regardless fo the model number, design, or intended purpose, every Buck blade that rolls through the warehouse doors is a carefully crafted addition to the line.

"We don't think of our buyers as just customer," Buck Said. "Instead, whether they've bought a tiny pocket knife or a big sheath knife for hunting, they're all members of our family."

COPYRIGHT 1991 Publishers' Development Corporation
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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Friday, September 10, 2010

About Tactical Knives

From self-defense to work-a-day tool-box tasks, these multi-purpose tactical blades give the term survival tool" a whole new meaning.

Back in the mid-'70s, the Buck 110 folder was considered a rather radical accessory. "Why the hell do you need that on your belt?" was the typical reaction of grizzled police vets upon seeing the innovative combat folder on the belt of younger officers. They would then pull a Stockman, Canoe or more often than not, a Barlow or electrician's utility knife from a pocket. Usually the knife was well worn and the blade was stained and showed many visits to a pocket stone.

But the concept of the tactical folding knife was here to stay, and design improvements came quickly, When Sal Glesser put a hole in the blade of a knife and Spyderco was born, things changed seriously. Until then, Buck, Puma, Victorinox, Wenger and a small handful of others reigned supreme in the "working" knife department.

The one-handed opening feature of the original Spyderco "Clip-It" was astonishingly simple. Prior attempts to accomplish this feature most often consisted of sheaths that kept the blade open slightly and "automatically" opened the knife when it was drawn. They were mostly pretty scary to use and there were lots of bad cuts among cops as they learned to use them. They were finally labeled "Verbotten" for duty use. Spyderco's groundbreaking design made us realize there was a different way to think about the concept of a truly one-handed knife.

The Tactics Of The Knife

A tactical knife is one that can be put to use quickly and will perform mightily in its intended role of "separating" one thing from another. Usually, this feat is accomplished with one hand.

We're not going to spend too much time on the specifics of too many of the breed, but rather concentrate on the "whys" and "what fors" of the family. It would take a book to cover what's out there, even if we just stuck to "what's new." Suffice to say that if you pay your money (between $50 to $250 or more), you can pretty much get something that will keep your kiester out of hot water. Also, they're all so damn sharp these days you 11 probably cut yourself while you're fiddling with it. Be advised.

In addition to the one-handed opening innovation, Spyderco did something else that rocked the boat -- Glesser put a pocket clip on that same funny knife with the hole in the blade. Amazingly, the force shifted significantly and everyone in the blade industry was left in the dust.

Suddenly you could lay your hand on your knife quickly and easily, open it and put it to work just as quickly, all with one hand. Sounds pretty "tactical" to us. All those Buck 110 folders quickly became antiques.

Fixing The Problem

Is a fixed blade knife a "tactical knife"? We'd say yes. Perhaps one of the original tactical knives is the Ka-Bar® U.S.M.C. Fighting Knife.

Are bayonets tactical knives? Perhaps not, but then a Ka-Bar was made for one thing -- to cut, and cut it did. A generation of Americans relied on their Ka-Bars to save their collective bacon, and the spirit of that knife has generated a slew of new ideas.

Look at any "tactical fighter" today and you can see some history behind it. Lots of times that history might be a Ka-Bar. But the only problem is, in today's world, it's not socially acceptable to carry 7" or 8" of fixed blade on your hip unless you want people to stare and cops to meet you at all hours of the day and night.

We must broadly interpret the idea behind the term "tactical knives," because what might be "tactical" for a schoolteacher might not be up to the job for a Navy SEAL or a beat cop in the "bad" part of town.

The knife industry is currently in the midst of a renaissance. There was only a small handful of quality factory makers to pick and choose from 30 years ago, but today, well, hold on to your wallet. Chances are pretty good if you can think it up, someone is making it and probably in several models, to boot!

From O1 or D2 tool steel, bone, antler, ivory, wood and micarta we've progressed all too quickly to a rash of numbers that are difficult to comprehend. "CPM440V, 410, G-10, 6060T6, Titanium and 440C" all describe fairly common knife components.

Tactical usually means high-tech, which means "highly technical," and for once the term is probably right. Steels, handle materials, blade materials and methods of heat treating, manufacturing and fitting are so far from the technology of only 10 years ago that to say we have a new generation of knives is to understate the obvious by several levels.

Tough Enough

Today's knives, both folders and fixed blades, are the most rugged, bulletproof, ergonomically-designed tools that have ever been manufactured. For sheer value, money plunked down on a quality folder or fixed blade tactical knife from the likes of SOG, Kershaw, Al Mar, Gerber, Buck, Emerson, Spyderco, GT, Cold Steel, Camillus, Columbia River Knife and Tool, Microtech, Mission Knives, Meyerco, Randall, Benchmade or Timberline (to name just a few) will make you a happy person and the envy of all who see that cool tool riding in your pocket or on your hip. Not to mention it just might actually become indispensable in your daily life.

Recently, Gus Grissom's Mercury space capsule, "Liberty Bell 7," was raised from the deep after a 40-year sleep 15,000 feet down on the ocean floor. Inside it they found his Randall knife (the No. 17 Astro). After being cleaned up it was found to still be serviceable.

An astronaut might have used his Randall knife to pry his way out of his capsule, survive on a desert island or open his space rations -- all of which sounds pretty tactical. Perhaps this particular Randall No. 17 (one of two made) might rank as one of the most famous "tactical knives."

The moral of the story is that it's best to not get caught up in the term "tactical," but focus on the needs involved. If a 50-year-old Marbles Game Getter is your idea of the perfect knife, then it's pretty tactical for you. If your tastes run a bit more "new millennium," check out the newest offerings available over the counter. You're sure to find more performance than you could ever need.

Five Tips For Picking The Right Tactical Knife

With the trainload of choices out there it can be tough to choose just the right knife for your needs. In order to manage the chore, start by asking yourself. "What is the job at hand?" If you are honest with yourself, you'll often find you need much less knife than you might imagine.

The Working Knife

Looking for an every day utility, "working" folder to clip to your pocket, ride at your waist or drop into a purse? Perhaps something to open boxes at work, trim that recalcitrant plant by your front door or cut that old fan belt off the '63 Chevy.

What's your price range? For $75 to $80, peace of mind is available in the form of a Spyderco Delica. The stainless blade and synthetic handle make this knife virtually impervious to the elements. If you opt for the serrated blade, you could cut one of the Queen Mary's mooring lines if you had to -- all the while feeling quite tactical.

Rough And Tumble

Got more money to spend and maybe your line of work runs more toward the rough and tumble? Plunk down $45 to $150 and you'll find yourself with a Kershaw Blizzard, Black Out or Whirlwind, all with Ken Onion's "Speed Safe" opening feature. Once again, with high-tech steels and handle materials like Polyamide, these knives are tough as nails, perfect for use as hard-cutting tools.

Just as tough, or maybe even more so, might be a Cold Steel, Benchmade or Emerson tactical folder. Cutting-edge designs, serrated edges, curves and non-slip handles have created a family of folders suited to be at your side as you patrol the streets, open a parachute, dive to 120 feet or just open your mail.

Let There Be Light

Is lightweight your fancy? Al Mar's "Ultralights" define the breed. Weighing around 1 to 2 ozs., these slender, pocket-friendly folders have pocket clips, easy one-handed opening and are classically styled. Looking almost like fine jewelry, their good looks hide their tough demeanor.

Airline Legal

Traveling is always a with knives. A standard-looking, classic folder without a serrated blade most often survives airport security checks. A bone-handled Case or Buck knife looks friendly to the uninitiated but can still handle serious cutting chores of the tactical variety.

A word of caution, however: Think hard before you take your 4" $200 tactical folder to L.A.X. assuming that you'll be catching that plane with it still in your pocket! The "less-than-4" blade rule" is not consistent. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. We lost a Spyderco Cricket to an airport cop who thought the serrations made it a "deadly weapon."

Don't Pick The Low Bidder

Whatever you do, don't scrimp. Foreign-made rip-offs are just that, and simply because it looks like a Spyderco doesn't mean it is. Especially if it's only five bucks!

COPYRIGHT 2001 Publishers' Development Corporation
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

All Comments are Welcome and Appreciated.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Plain vs. Serrated Blades


There's been a jump in recent years in the popularity of serrated edges, and there's often confusion as to when a serrated edge is advantageous, versus when a plain edge is advantageous.

For our discussion, we'll need to talk about what we're doing with the knife. Think about what you can do with a knife: you can shave, slice, slash, saw, hack, chop, etc. For our purposes, we'll divide all knife uses into two very broad categories:

Push cuts: The main cutting is done by pushing the edge through the thing-to-be-cut. For example, when you shave, you push the edge of the knife through your beard. When peeling an apple, you push the edge under the skin of the apple. When chopping wood, you try to push the edge into and through the wood.

Slicing cuts: The cutting action is substantially done by dragging the edge across the thing-to-be-cut. When you slice meat or a tomato, you drag the edge across the tomato as you cut through it. Slicing and sawing are examples of slicing cuts.

Plain vs. Serrated: The Conventional View

In general, the plain edge is better than the serrated when the application involves push cuts. Also, the plain edge is superior when extreme control, accuracy, and clean cuts are necessary, regardless of whether or not the job is push cuts or slices.

In general, the serrated edge will work better than the plain edge for slicing cuts, especially through hard or tough surfaces, where the serrations tend to grab and cut the surface easily. Some of the cutting power of the serrated edge is due to its format alone; thus, even a dull serrated edge knife will often perform competently at slicing jobs. The serrated edge gets its slicing ability from a number of factors. The high points on the serrations will touch the material first, and this gives those points higher pressure per area than if the same pressure was applied to a plain blade; this allows the serration to puncture more easily. In addition, serrations are normally chisel-ground into the blade, which means they are thinner (and thus cut better) than the comparable plain blade.

The plain edge will work better for applications like shaving, skinning an apple, skinning a deer. All those applications involve either mostly push cuts, or the need for extreme control. Serrations work really well on things like tough rope or wood, where the serrations bite through quickly.

Generally, the more push cuts are used, the more necessary it is for the plain edge to have a "razor polished" edge. A knife edge becomes more polished when you move to higher and higher grit stones. Generally, 1200-grit is considered polished; a 6000+ grit Japanese water stone would polish the edge further.

One interesting case is cutting a tomato. In theory, you can just push a blade through a tomato, so a razor polished plain edge would work fine. However, the tomato is soft, and unless your plain edge knife is very sharp, the tomato will simply squish when you start pushing. You can (and many people do) use a slicing motion with your plain blade, but if it's even a little dull it won't cut well and it may not even break the skin. Use a sawing motion with a serrated knife (even a dull one), and your tomato will slice fine.

You will read about test after test where the above view is confirmed. That is, the plain edge excels in push cuts, and the serrated excels in slicing cuts. This confirms the conventional view ... to an extent.

Plain vs. Serrated Re-thought

Since actual tests confirm the truth of the conventional view, what more is there to be said? The problem is that the tests are often not as thorough as they need to be. That is, when testing plain vs. serrated performance, most tests are comparing a plain polished edge to a serrated edge. Given that, it is no surprise that the serrated blade easily outperforms the plain blade when cutting (for example) rope.

A polished edge is not the only choice with a plain blade. One can get the plain edge to perform much differently when sharpened with coarser stone. People who cut rope often use a plain edge sharpened on a file, to get an incredibly coarse, "micro-serrated" edge that performs wonderfully at slicing jobs. So the knife testers are testing with polished plain edges, whereas people experienced with cutting rope use coarsely-ground plain edges.

Whether or not serrated blades will out-slice coarse-ground plain blades seems to depend on the medium being cut. Harder materials (or materials under tension) do well for serrated blades. With softer materials, the serrations will sometimes catch and unwind the material rather than cut -- in this case, coarse-ground plain blades may easily out-slice serrated blades.

So the claim that serrated edges work better than plain edges for slicing needs to be re-examined. It appears that as materials get harder or put under more tension, the serrated edge may slice a bit better than a coarse-ground plain edge. As the material gets softer and looser, the coarse-ground plain edge may slice a bit better. And as we go towards push cuts, the polished plain edge comes into its own. The user may want to experiment on those materials that he often cuts, before choosing the edge format.

In addition, keep in mind that the coarse plain edge is much easier to sharpen than the serrated edge. Just grab your file or extra coarse stone, take a few swipes, and you're ready to go. With the serrated blade, you'll need to find a sharpening rig with the special serrated blade sharpener. Balancing this is the fact that serrated blades need to be sharpened less often.

What Should I Carry?

Should you carry a serrated blade or plain blade for everyday utility carry? Unless you *know* that the majority of work you'll be doing heavily favors slicing or pushing (e.g., "I spend all my time whittling"), it may not matter much. My experience has been that general utility work is usually general enough that either format works just fine, though these days I tend to lean towards plain blades. Also keep in mind that by changing your sharpening strategy on the plain edge, you can significantly change its characteristics. If you do a lot of push cutting, you want to go with a razor polished plain edge. If you do a lot of slicing, you'll need to decide between a coarse-ground plain edge and a serrated edge. I don't mind sharpening, so I lean towards plain blades, strategically sharpened to the right grit (polished or coarse) for the jobs I happen do be doing.

Occasionally, people mention that the serrated edge looks intimidating to the masses. This could be good if you're using this knife primarily for self defense and want an intimidation factor. Or it could be bad, if you're carrying for utility work and don't want to scare people (especially the nice officer who pulled you over for speeding and asks to look at the knife in your sheath). Rumor has it that airport guards are particularly strict about serrated edges. Other than at airports, I don't think the menacing appearance of the serrated edge is important enough either way to affect what I carry.

Thoughts On The Partially-Serrated Blade

Another option is the combination plain/serrated edge. This format appears to have overtaken the all-serrated format. Typically, the 50%-60% of the blade nearest the tip is plain, while the back 40%-50% is serrated. There are mixed feelings on this format. Many people swear by this format, and feel that it is a good compromise, giving the user the choice of precise push cuts from the plain edge, and the advantage of the serrated edge for tougher materials. However, keep in mind that on a 3.25" blade, there's maybe 1.25" of serrations. The detractors of this format feel that 1.25" is too short a length for the serrations to be really be useful, and the length of the plain edge is being sacrificed for no good gain.

My own philosophy on partially-serrated blades at the moment is that since I have both edge formats in one knife, I try to let each one shine in their respective areas. So I'm razor polishing the plain edge part, often on a 1200 grit diamond stone or even 6000 grit Japanese water stone, and then stropping it. The plain edge is scary sharp for push cuts, and I use the serrations when I need to cut through hard or fibrous material.

Partially-serrated blades are often serrated at the "wrong" place. For example, for camp use, I might want the belly serrated for cutting my steak, and the part near the handle razor-polished for whittling and control-type usage. However, 99.9% of partially-serrated blades are ground exactly the opposite: the ripping inaccurate serrations are at the control part of the blade, and the plain part is out at the slicing part.

In theory, one can use a plain blade to get similar performance to a partially-serrated blade. Just razor polish the plain blade, and then rough up one part of the edge on a file, to get a knife that will excel at push cuts at one point of the blade, and excel at slicing cuts at another.

All Comments are Welcome and Appreciated.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Jim Bowie, The Legend

Jim BowieBOWIE, JAMES (1796-1836). James Bowie was born near Terrapin Creek (now Spring Creek) where it crosses Bowie's Mill Road (Turnertown Road), nine miles northwest of Franklin, Logan County (now Simpson County), Kentucky, probably on April 10, 1796. He was the son of Reason (or Rezin) and Elve Ap-Catesby Jones (or Johns) Bowie. In 1794 Reason Bowie had moved his family from Tennessee to Logan County, where he farmed and operated a gristmill with the help of eight slaves. In February 1800 he moved to Madrid, in what is now Missouri. On May 2, 1801, at Rapides, Louisiana, Reason Bowie and his brothers David, Rhesa, and John swore allegiance to the Spanish government. In October the families settled on farms in what is now Catahoula Parish. There Reason's sons, James, John J., Stephen, and Rezin P. Bowie,qv grew to manhood. The family took an active part in community affairs and the elder Bowie reportedly became the largest slaveowner in his locale, with twenty slaves. About 1809 the Bowie clan moved to the Atakapa country in southeastern Louisiana; there Reason purchased 640 acres on the Vermilion River near the mouth of Little Bayou. He then developed a plantation near Opelousas, where he grew cotton and sugarcane, raised livestock, and bought and sold slaves. He died there around 1821.

In his teens James Bowie worked in Avoyelles and Rapides parishes, where he floated lumber to market. He invested in property on the Bayou Boeuf and traded in 1817-18 at what is now Bennett's Store, south of Cheneyville. He was fond of hunting and fishing, and family tradition says that he caught and rode wild horses, rode alligators, and trapped bears. When grown, Bowie was described by his brother John as "a stout, rather raw-boned man, of six feet height, weighed 180 pounds." He had light-colored hair, keen grey eyes "rather deep set in his head," a fair complexion, and high cheek-bones. Bowie had an "open, frank disposition," but when aroused by an insult, his anger was terrible. During the War of 1812, James and Rezin joined the Second Division, Consolidated, a unit that contained the Seventeenth through Nineteenth regiments, drawn from Avoyelles, Rapides, Natchitoches, Catahoula, and Ouachita parishes. In January 1815, according to family records, the brothers were on their way to join Andrew Jackson's forces at New Orleans when the war ended.

After the war they traded in slaves. They bought them from the pirate Jean Laffite,qv who captured slave shipments in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico and ran a slave market on Galveston Island. Laffite landed slaves at Bowie's Island in Vermilion Bay, and the Bowies took the slaves up the Vermilion and sold them in St. Landry Parish. When they had $65,000 they quit the business. James and Rezin also dabbled in land speculation and developed friendships with local wealthy planters. James became engaged to Cecelia Wells (b. 1805), who died on September 7, 1829, in Alexandria, two weeks before their wedding was to take place.

Click Here for the Jim Bowie Special Edition knife!He also made enemies. Norris Wright, Rapides parish sheriff and local banker, refused to make a loan that Bowie sorely needed. In 1826 Bowie met Wright in Alexandria, where tempers flared and Wright fired point-blank at Bowie; but the bullet was deflected. After this encounter, Rezin gave his brother a large butcher-like hunting knife to carry. On September 19, 1827, near Natchez, Jim Bowie participated in the Sandbar Fight, which developed at a duel between Samuel Levi Wells III and Dr. Thomas Maddox. After the principals had exchanged shots without effect, two observers continued the affair. Alexander Crain fired at Samuel Cuny, and when Cuny fell, Bowie fired at Crain but missed. Wright shot Bowie through the lower chest, and Bowie, said an eyewitness, "drew his butcher knife which he usually wears" and chased Wright. The Blanchard brothers shot Bowie in the thigh, and Wright and Alfred Blanchard stabbed him in several places. As Wright bent over him, Bowie plunged the knife into his assailant's breast, then raised himself and slashed Blanchard severely. All the witnesses remembered Bowie's "big butcher knife," the first Bowie knife.qv Reports of Bowie's prowess and his lethal blade captured public attention, and he was proclaimed the South's most formidable knife fighter. Men asked blacksmiths and cutlers to make a knife like Jim Bowie's.

During the late 1820s Bowie's land speculations centered on the southern Louisiana parishes; he lived in New Orleans, enjoying its excitement and pleasures. James and his brothers Rezin and Stephen established the Arcadia sugar plantation of some 1,800 acres near the town of Thibodaux, Terrebonne Parish, where they set up the first steam-powered sugar mill in Louisiana. Rezin was elected to the Louisiana state legislature. James spent little time at Arcadia, however; in the late 1820s he traveled to the eastern cities, as well as Arkansas and Mississippi. On February 12, 1831, the brothers sold Arcadia and other landholdings and eighty-two slaves to Natchez investors for $90,000.

When Bowie first entered Mexican Texasqv is unknown. He possibly was recruited in 1819 in New Orleans with Benjamin R. Milamqv and others for the Long expedition.qv If he did, he was not among those captured. On January 1, 1830, Bowie and a friend left Thibodaux for Texas. They stopped at Nacogdoches, at Jared E. Groce's qv farm on the Brazos River, and in San Felipe, where Bowie presented a letter of introduction to empresarioqv Stephen F. Austinqv from Thomas F. McKinney,qv one of the Old Three Hundredqv colonists. On February 20 Bowie and his friend Isaac Donoho took the oath of allegiance to Mexico. Bowie, age thirty-four, was at his prime. He was well traveled, convivial, loved music, and was generous. He also was ambitious and scheming; he played cards for money, and lived in a world of debt. He reached San Antonio with William H. Whartonqv and Mrs. Wharton, Isaac Donoho, Caiaphas K. Ham,qv and several slaves. They carried letters of introduction to two wealthy and influential Mexicans, Juan Martín de Veramendi and Juan N. Seguín.qqv Bowie's party continued on to Saltillo, the state capital of Coahuila and Texas.qv There Bowie learned that a Mexican law of 1828 offered its citizens eleven-league grants in Texas for $100 to $250 each. (A league was 4,428.4 acres.) Bowie urged Mexicans to apply for the eleven-league grants, which he purchased from them. He left Saltillo with fifteen or sixteen of these grants, and continued to encourage speculation in Texas lands. His activities irritated Stephen F. Austin, who hesitated to approve lands Bowie wanted to locate in the Austin colony but eventually allowed the tracts there.

In San Antonio Bowie posed as a man of wealth, attached himself to the wealthy Veramendi family, and was baptized into the Catholic Church,qv sponsored by the Veramendis. In the autumn of 1830 he accompanied the family to Saltillo, and on October 5 officially became a Mexican citizen. The citizenship was contingent on his establishing wool and cotton mills in Coahuila. Through his friend Angus McNeillqv of Natchez, he purchased a textile mill for $20,000. On April 25, 1831, in San Antonio, Bowie married Ursula de Veramendi. He had appeared before the mayor, declared his age as thirty-two (he was actually thirty-five), and pledged to pay Ursula a dowry of $15,000. He valued his properties at $222,800. But the titles to his 60,000 arpents of Arkansas land, valued at $30,000, were fraudulent. Walker and Wilkins of Natchez owed Bowie $45,000 for his interest in Arcadia Plantation, and had given McNeil $20,000 for the Saltillo mill. Bowie borrowed $1,879 from his father-in-law and $750 from Ursula's grandmother for a honeymoon trip to New Orleans and Natchez. The Bowies settled in San Antonio.

Veramendi family tradition says Bowie spent little time at home. He apparently became fascinated by tales of the "lost" Los Almagres Mine,qv said to be west of San Antonio near the ruin of Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission. Bowie obtained permission from Mexican authorities for an expedition into Indian country financed by the Veramendis, and on November 2, 1831, he left San Antonio with his brother Rezin and nine others. On the nineteenth they learned that a large Indian war party was following them, and six miles from San Saba, Bowie camped in an oak grove. An attempt to parley failed. Bowie's men fought for their lives for thirteen hours. The Indians finally drew off, reportedly leaving forty dead and thirty wounded. Bowie lost one man killed and several wounded. The party returned to San Antonio. On January 23, 1832, Bowie made another foray to the west. He now carried the title of "colonel" of citizen rangers. He left Gonzales with twenty-six men to scout the headwaters of the Colorado for Tawakonis and other hostile Indians. After a fruitless search of 2½ months, he returned home.

In July, in Natchez, he learned that José de las Piedras,qv Mexican commander at Nacogdoches, had visited the towns of Anahuac and Velasco to quiet the antagonisms between the government and the mainly Anglo citizens. Upon his return, Piedras demanded that all citizens in his jurisdiction surrender their arms. The colonists rejected the demand. Bowie hurried to Nacogdoches, and on August 1 accompanied James W. Bullockqv and 300 armed men in their siege of the garrison there. Piedras chose to fight. During the night he evacuated his men and marched south, having lost thirty-three killed. Bowie and eighteen men ambushed the Mexican column, and Piedras fled. Bowie marched the soldiers back to Nacogdoches (see nacogdoches, battle of). On March 9, 1833, Monclova replaced Saltillo as the state capital. When the two towns raised small armies to contest the change, Bowie favored Monclova. On one occasion when the forces confronted each other, he rode out and tried to precipitate a battle. He believed that the fortunes of Texas land speculators lay with Monclova.

In September, Veramendi, his wife Josefa, and Ursula Bowie died of cholera at Monclova. Ursula died on the tenth. A Bowie relative and Veramendi family tradition say Ursula and one child died in the epidemic. A Bowie family friend reported that Ursula had two children, but both died young. Bowie was ill with yellow fever in Natchez and unaware of the deaths. On October 31 he dictated his last will, in which he bequeathed half of his estate to his brother Rezin and half to his sister Martha Sterrett and her husband.

Mexican laws passed in 1834 and 1835 opened the floodgates to wholesale speculation in Texas lands, and Texas-Coahuila established land commissions to speed sales, since the state treasury was empty. Bowie was appointed a commissioner to promote settlement in John T. Mason'sqv purchase. The governor also was empowered to hand out 400-league parcels for frontier defense. The sale of these large tracts angered some colonists, who also resented a rumored plan by speculators to make San Antonio the capital. They questioned Bowie's handling of Mason's 400-league purchase. One traveler met Bowie and Mason en route from Matamoros to Monclova with $40,000 in specie to pay the last installment on Mason's land. Bowie also sold Mason land certificates to his friends in Natchez. In May 1835, however, Santa Anna abolished the Coahuila-Texas government and ordered the arrest of all Texans doing business in Monclova. Bowie fled the capital for Texas. On June 22 he wrote a friend in Nacogdoches that all communication between Mexico and Texas had been cut, that troops were boarding ships at Matamoros for the Texas coast, and that Mexican forces were en route from Saltillo toward the Rio Grande. In July, Bowie and others in San Felipe and Nacogdoches were beating the drum for war. Bowie led a small group of Texas "militia" to San Antonio and seized a stack of muskets in the Mexican armory there.

On July 31, 1835, William B. Travisqv wrote Bowie that Texans were divided and that the Peace Partyqv appeared the stronger. Travis was a leader of the War Party.qv Bowie had hired Travis as early as 1833 in San Felipe to prepare land papers, and in June 1834 Travis represented Bowie and Isaac Donoho in a case filed by Francis W. Johnson.qv Travis also did legal work for Bowie's friend Jesse Clifft, a blacksmith who is often credited with making the first Bowie knife. The War Party sought military support among the Indian tribes in East Texas. On August 3, Bowie reported on a recent tour of several villages where he found many of the Indians on drunken sprees and all reluctant to cooperate.

On September 1, Austin arrived home from a long imprisonment in Mexico City. On October 3, Santa Anna abolished all state legislatures in Mexico. After being elected to command the volunteer army, Austin issued a call to arms. On October 16 his forces camped on Cibolo Creek twenty miles from San Antonio. Bowie arrived with a small party of friends, principally from Louisiana, and Austin placed him on his staff as a colonel. Travis and others joined the army. Gen. Sam Houston,qv in command of the Texas regular army, arrived and condemned the idea of attacking Bexar. He maintained that Austin's army, weak and ill-trained, should fall back to the Guadalupe or Colorado river. Bowie and Capt. James W. Fannin,qv at Austin's orders, scouted south of Bexar for a new campsite. On their way, Bowie drove off a Mexican patrol. On October 26, Austin moved 400 men to San Francisco de la Espada Mission. Bowie took ninety-two horsemen and inspected area of Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña Mission, near Bexar. At dawn on the twentieth-eighth, in a heavy fog, the Mexicans attacked Bowie with 300 cavalry and 100 infantry. Bowie fought for three hours. "Bowie was a born leader," Noah Smithwickqv wrote years later of the battle of Concepción,qv "never needlessly spending a bullet or imperiling a life. His voice is still ringing in my old deaf ears as he repeatedly admonished us. Keep under cover boys and reserve your fire; we haven't a man to spare." Bowie captured a six-pounder cannon and thirty muskets. He lost one man, while the Mexicans left sixteen on the field and carried off as many. Bowie, Fannin, and the detachment remained in the immediate area south of Bexar while Austin moved his army and established headquarters on the Alamo Canal.

Three days after the battle Austin sent Travis and fifty men to capture some 900 horses being driven south to Laredo, and asked Bowie to create a diversion to cover the escape of Mexican soldiers who wanted to desert. Bowie made a display of force, yet the soldiers failed to come out. On October 31 Bowie notified Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cosqv that he would join Austin in an attack on Bexar. On November 1 Austin demanded that Cos surrender; he refused. Austin hesitated. On November 2, Austin's officers voted 44 to 3 against storming Bexar. Bowie did not vote. He asked the same day to be relieved of command and again tried to resign on November 6. He had earlier served in a volunteer ranger group, fought Indians, and was the type of officer who served the community in time of need. He apparently had little interest in a formal command. Provisional governor Henry Smithqv and Houston wanted him to raise a volunteer group and attack Matamoros, but the General Councilqv declared that Bowie was not "an officer of the government nor army."

Bowie left the army for a brief trip to San Felipe in mid-November. He was back in San Antonio on November 18, and on the twenty-sixth he and thirty horsemen rode out to check on a Mexican packtrain near town, while Burleson followed with 100 infantry. Bowie met the train and charged its cavalry escort. He fought off several assaults by Mexican infantry, and the Mexicans retired with the loss of sixty men. As the train was loaded with bales of grass for the garrison livestock, the clash was called the Grass Fight.qv Bowie subsequently proceeded to Goliad to determine conditions there. During his absence, Burleson attacked Bexar on December 5 and forced the Mexican garrison to surrender and retire to the Rio Grande. The volunteers left for home. Bowie received a letter from Houston dated December 17, suggesting a campaign against Matamoros. If that was impossible, Houston suggested, Bowie could perhaps organize a guerilla force to harass the Mexican army. The Matamoros expeditionqv was approved, but the issue of command was muddied by the political rivalry between Governor Smith and the council, and Houston soon found another assignment for Bowie.

On January 19, 1836, Bowie arrived in Bexar from Goliad with a detachment of thirty men. He carried orders from Houston to demolish the fortifications there, though some historians believe these orders were discretionary. The situation was grim. Col. James C. Neill,qv commander of a contingent of seventy-eight men at the Alamo,qv stated that his men lacked clothing and pay and talked of leaving. Mexican families were leaving Bexar. Texas volunteers had carried off most of the munitions and supplies for the Matamoros expedition. On February 2 Bowie wrote Governor Smith, urging that Bexar be held because it was a strategic "frontier picqet guard." Travis, promoted to lieutenant colonel, arrived with thirty men on February 3; David Crockettqv rode in with twelve men on the eighth. The garrison had some 150 men. On February 11, Neill gave his command to Travis and left. The volunteers preferred Bowie as commander and insisted on holding an election on February 12. The volunteer vote placed Bowie in command, and he celebrated by getting drunk. While under the influence Bowie ordered certain prisoners set free and paraded the volunteers under arms in Bexar. Travis took his regulars from the Alamo to the Medina River to escape implication in the disgraceful affair. On February 13 Bowie and Travis worked out a compromise giving Travis command of the regulars, Bowie command of the volunteers, and both men joint authority over garrison orders and correspondence.

On February 23 Bowie and Travis learned that some 1,500 Mexican cavalrymen were advancing on Bexar, and sent a dispatch to Goliad asking Fannin for help. Within hours the Mexicans marched into Bexar and requested a parley. Without consulting Travis, Bowie asked for and received terms: the Texans must surrender. These terms were rejected. On February 24 Bowie, who was suffering from a disease "of a peculiar nature," which has been diagnosed as pneumonia or typhoid pneumonia but probably was advanced tuberculosis, collapsed, ending his active participation in commanding the garrison. Most historians no longer believe that he fell from a platform while attempting to position a cannon. He was confined to a cot and urged the volunteers to follow Travis. He was occasionally carried outside to visit his men.

On March 6 the Mexicans attacked before dawn, and all 188 defenders of the Alamo perished. Santa Anna asked to see the corpses of Bowie, Travis, and Crockett, and Bexar mayor Francisco Ruiz identified the bodies. Bowie lay on his cot in a room on the south side. He had been shot several times in the head. During his lifetime he had been described by his old friend Caiaphas K. Ham as " a clever, polite gentleman...attentive to the ladies on all occasions...a true, constant, and generous friend...a foe no one dared to undervalue and many feared." Slave trader, gambler, land speculator, dreamer, and hero, James Bowie in death became immortal in the annals of Texas history.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: James L. Batson, James Bowie and the Sandbar Fight (Madison, Alabama: Batson Engineering and Metalworks, 1992). William Campbell Binkley, ed., Official Correspondence of the Texan Revolution, 1835-1836 (2 vols., New York: Appleton-Century, 1936). Walter W. Bowie, The Bowies and Their Kindred: A Genealogical and Biographical History (Washington: Cromwell Brothers, 1899). J. Frank Dobie, "James Bowie," American West, Spring 1965. John S. Ford, Memoirs (MS, John Salmon Ford Papers, Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin). Heroes of Texas: Featuring Oil Portraits from the Summerfield G. Roberts Collection (Waco: Texian Press, 1964). John H. Jenkins, ed., The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836 (10 vols., Austin: Presidial Press, 1973). A. R. Kilpatrick, "Early Life in the Southwest—The Bowies," DeBow's Southern and Western Review 1 (October 1852). Walter Lord, A Time to Stand (New York: Harper, 1961; 2d ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978). Raymond W. Thorp, Bowie Knife (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1948).

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