Who’s Jim Bowie

Published 12:06 am Friday, September 28, 2007

VIDALIA — The 17th annual Jim Bowie festival begins today, and 171 years after the death of the festival’s namesake, much mystery still surrounds the man Jim Bowie, one historian said.

“Most of what has been written about Bowie is largely a perpetuation of romantic mythology,” Forth Worth, Texas, reenactor Jack Edmondston said.

Edmondston — who calls himself a “living historian” — will portray Bowie at the festival in the annual reenactment of the famous knife fight that wounded Bowie and launched him into American lore.

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If Bowie himself ever wrote anything about his legendary knife, it has been lost, Edmondston said.

“Even Bowie’s two brothers could not agree about who made the Bowie knife or even what it looked like,” he said.

There are many legends about Bowie being involved in knife fights across the country, but the only one Edmondston has been able to document was the one in the Miss-Lou.

Despite local lore, the knife fight actually took place on the Natchez side of the river, on a sandbar whose site is now the inland portion of Giles Island, Edmondston said.

On Sept. 19, 1827, Bowie and 15 others gathered on the sandbar to witness a duel between Samuel Wells III and Thomas Maddox, Edmondston said.

“The two parties involved in the duel fired off a couple of shots and decided their differences had been resolved,” he said. “They shook hands, but there was tremendous animosity between some of the witnesses on the sandbar.”

Eventually, a brawl broke out, and Bowie fought with what many described as a large butcher knife, Edmondston said.

“Bowie was shot two times, stabbed seven and clubbed in the head,” he said. “The Natchez newspaper at that time reported he was not expected to live.”

Bowie did recover, however, and became a national icon, eventually dying in the battle at the Alamo.

But even the end of Bowie’s life was mysterious, Edmondston said.

“He supposedly died in four different rooms in the Alamo,” he said.

The festival begins at 5 p.m. today and will last until 9:30. It resumes at 8 a.m. Saturday and lasts until midnight. Admission is $2 for Friday and $4 for Saturday.