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Caiaphas Ham Bowie knife reproduction


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I just completed this knife for a customer and it's ready for knifemaker Luke Swenson to make a sheath for it. This is a reproduction of the Caiaphas Ham knife that hangs on the wall of the Long Barracks at the Alamo, just a couple of miles or so from my shop. Ham was a friend of the Bowie brothers, and was given this knife by the knife nut of the family, Jim's brother Rezin. No one knows for certain what the knife used by Jim Bowie in the Sandbar Fight looked like, but the description given (guardless butcher knife made from an old file, overall length no more than 12 inches) seems to match fairly dead-on with the Ham Bowie, leading me to speculate that there is a slim chance that the Ham Bowie and the Sandbar Fight Bowie may well be one and the same. I don't know if anyone else holds this theory, though.

The customer wanted the knife not only for its historical interest, but because he recognized the value of its shape in processing out game.




There is a good picture of the original on page 79 of the June 2011 issue of Blade magazine, showing both a profile view and a good view of the spine, showing how it is pinched in and how the tang tapers. I had it open while working on the knife in order to get as close to the original's shape as I could. I also had a picture that the customer sent me and some basic dimensions graciously provided by one of the Alamo's upper curators.

This reproduction is forged from 5160 spring steel, filed by hand, differentially hardened in vegetable oil, and given multiple tempering cycles. The handle slabs are mesquite, with brass pins offset like the original. This was actually the first slab handle I have done! The blade shaves hair quite nicely.

Although I tried to get as close to the original as I reasonably could, I'm sure Luke will be making a much better sheath than the original. :)

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Ah.....Excellent work my man!
I also have been studying and doing my own copies of some of the early knives associated with the Bowie family.
I'll take the liberty to post a pic of the original. It seems like it'd be really handy to have it on display right down the street :-)

As I recall, none of the surviving knives proven to have association with the Bowie family perfectly match the eyewitness descriptions of the knife Jim Bowie used during the sandbar fight. The knife he used was said to have a 9 1/4" blade that was 1 1/2" wide, and yes--looked just like a common butcher knife....
Rezin apparently commissioned several cutlers and surgical instrument companies to make knives for him...and then have copies of those knives made to give to friends and family.
Unfortunately this has made it a bit difficult to determine which knife his brother used, or if it even exists anymore.

I don't want to hijack your thread, so I will refrain from posting my Forrest Bowie blades, which get my vote for being the closest surviving example of the original used during the duel.
Friendly debate encouraged :-)

Once again, you did a fine job on your reproduction.

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wow that site was great. Either way all of the blades looked especially functional. It amazes me so much how people will banter about what is the best cutting instrument and which blade is better then this one or the other. (similar arguments about bullets and firearms go on for days on other forums) But what is certain is that JB was a nasty knife fighter and very good with a blade. (and honestly probably carried more then one)

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Felix - Yep, it distributes the weight more forward, and flexes better should the tang need to.

Brasilikilt - I've read a description of the Sandbar Fight knife that is slightly different since I made this one, so it'd be even harder to say. Different stories from different folks makes it hard on us yea these many years later. :)

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  • 1 month later...

Here's the sheath that Luke Swenson made for it. Gorgeous work on his part, as is typical.




With the customer's permission, I am quoting his comments to me about the knife:

"I was absolutely stunned when Luke finally let me have the knife at Ron's house. He tried to get me to beg for it, but I didn't mention the knife until he said he had better let me see it. He also told me that if I wanted a knife with a full sized handle that he could make one. He made a very nice sheath and steel pouch for it also. It is a beautiful package.
I love the knife and showed it to everyone who would stand still at EOTW. You have certainly outdone my expectations.
One day a storm rolled in with rain and lightening and I noticed a hole in the debris hut I was staying in at EOTW. Out came the knife and I cut some hay and patched the roof. Also I was prep cook for Dave Dennis and did a lot of slicing and dicing. It functioned exceptionally."

That's exactly what one likes to hear from a customer! Thanks, Dave, and enjoy! :)

P.S. - The "full sized handle" crack from Luke is because the handle of the original is very short, only 4" long, and I made this one 4 3/4", still shorter than I typically do, but in pretty close proportion to the original.

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Excellent interpretation of the Ham Bowie! That and the mouse hawk piqued my interest at the Alamo as "real user" tools.

On the size of handles and grips of antiques vs. today's work: it was made small because *most* people were smaller in stature than today, for lots of reasons. If you start measuring stuff in museums, you will see what I mean. (Two pounds is heavy for a pre-1860 single handed sword, 3.5 for a two-hander. Thin is in. Forget the crowbar with a handle RennFaire crap, and modern 3/8" thick machete sized Bowies. Pure fantasy.) Antique Scottish dirks have grips of 3.75" to 4.25". My troll-sized paw will not fit in a Sterling basket hilt, and if it does, ain't coming out without grease.

The important thing is, an exact, museum quality replica should be made as close as possible to the original, in scale, methods and materials. (See Vince Evans work for examples.)

A usable reproduction should fit the user, and can be made of modern materials if so desired.

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