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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)

(Chapter 29) — The Forest Rangers and the Bowie-Knife

(Chapter 29)

The Forest Rangers and the Bowie-Knife

The knife with which Von Tempsky's (No. 2) Company of the Forest Rangers was armed, 1863–64 (pages 266–267), was somewhat after the pattern of the bowie-knife of Texan fame. Many stories have been related as to the origin of the knife, and it has often been accredited to Colonel James Bowie, a man of mark on the old Texas and Arkansas frontier, U.S.A. The facts, however, as related recently in the Arkansas Gazette centennial number (quoted in the Adventure Magazine) by the Hon. D. W. Jones, ex-Governor of the State of Arkansas, show that James Bowie was not the inventor, although he was the man who made the weapon famous. The first maker of this kind of knife was James Black, a blacksmith, gunsmith, and cutler in the frontier town of Washington, Arkansas. He was a most skilful maker of hunting-knives, and his weapons were celebrated for their fine temper. Black appears to have discovered by experiment the secret of Damascus steel. About 1831 James Bowie gave Black an order for a fighting-knife, and the artificer made one after his own matured taste in point of size and shape. Shortly afterwards Bowie was attacked by three desperadoes, all of whom he killed with the knife. Black thereafter was in great demand as a maker of “Bowie-knives.”

Colonel J. M. Roberts, N.Z.C., of Rotorua, states that the knives were made in Auckland from a pattern supplied by Von Tempsky. They were rather roughly finished, but the steel was good. In shape the weapon was very like a sheep-shears blade; length of blade about 9 inches, width at the handle end about 2½ inches. The back for part of the length was about ¼ inch thick, and was gradually ground to a fine edge.