April Artifact of the Month: Coffin Handle Bowie Knife

A native of New Jersey, James Black (1800–1872) became famous for a particular style of knife called a “Coffin Handle” Bowie. Black, a gifted blacksmith, set up shop in the town of Washington in the Arkansas Territory around 1830. Some historians who specialize in the evolution of the Bowie Knife believe that Black made one or more knives for James Bowie. At least one James Black knife made its way to Texas. In the mid-1990’s, archeologists found a rusted relic of one Black knife in a campsite that had been occupied by the Mexican Army in 1836.

Fast Facts: Blade length: 12 in. ǀ Overall length: 18 ¾ in. ǀ Markings: Escutcheon plate, “Bowie №1.” Near false edge is engraved “Massey M.S. [Master Smith]” ǀ Donor: Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee

On March 24, 2000, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, representing the Arkansas Territorial Restoration Commission and the State of Arkansas, presented a replica of a large coffin handle knife to Texas Governor George W. Bush to be displayed at the Alamo. James Black’s original Bowie №1 is owned by and on display at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas.

This coffin handle Bowie Knife is currently on display as part of our free, new exhibition exploring the life of legendary Alamo defender James Bowie and his famous knife.