Browsing "Southern Culture Laid Bare"

Eulogizing a Vice President with American Principles

Vice President William R. King (under Presidents Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce) was born a North Carolinian in April, 1786, his father William King being a Revolutionary War veteran and member of the convention in which North Carolina ratified the U.S. Constitution. A United States Representative for North Carolina, and later a Senator representing Alabama, King was a fine complement to the presidency of Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire, the latter known as a “Northern man with Southern principles” – more correctly considered American principles.  He died on April 18, 1853.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Eulogizing a Vice President with American Principles

(Remarks of Milton S. Latham of California, 8 December 1853)

“Mr. Speaker:

William Rufus King was a noble specimen of an American statesman and gentleman. The intimate friend of John C. Calhoun, and the contemporary of Webster, Clay, Cass and Benton, he maintained a proud position in the Senate of the United States by his strong, practical good sense, his experience and wisdom as a legislator, the acknowledged rectitude of his intentions, and that uniform urbanity of manner which marked, not so much the man of conventional breeding, as the true gentleman at heart.

He never knew what it was to speak, act or legislate by indirection. He was frank and loyal to his colleagues, as he was devoted to his own State, and sincerely attached to the Union. He was from principle and conviction a States’ Rights man; but he did not love the Union less because he loved Alabama more. While he was serving his own State with fidelity and honor, he was not remiss in his duties to the whole American Confederacy.

Like his illustrious prototype, John C. Calhoun, he battled for the rights of his State, in order to secure that harmony between Federal and State power, which is the essence of the Union, and without which it is impossible to preserve our system of self-government.

In the memorable session of 1849-1850, Mr. King voted for nearly all the compromise measures as an act of devotion to the National Union, without surrendering a single cardinal point of the political faith which had guided him through life, and had secured to him the affection and attachment of the citizens of his own State.”

(Obituary Addresses for Hon. William R. King, Vice President of the US, 8-9 December 1853, Robert Armstrong Printer, 1854, excerpt)

Dec 28, 2016 - Antebellum Realities, Education, Lost Cultures, Recurring Southern Conservatism, Southern Culture Laid Bare    Comments Off on Statesmen are Schoolboys First

Statesmen are Schoolboys First

Beginning in 1804, Dr. Moses Waddel’s Willington School in South Carolina produced great American leaders which included political giant John C. Calhoun, distinguished Charleston attorney James L. Pettigru, future US Congressman George McDuffie, future governor of Georgia George R. Gilmer, classical scholar Hugh Swinton Legare, and Augustus Baldwin Longstreet — noted preacher, editor and writer, author of ‘Georgia Scenes.” Dr. Waddel was born in Rowan County, North Carolina and licensed by the Presbytery of Hanover to preach in Virginia.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Statesmen are Schoolboys First

“Willington School, so named from a nearby settlement, got its character from its founder, Dr. Moses Waddel . . . [who] later became an outstanding educator in the South as president of the University of Georgia.

Dr. Waddel was a Presbyterian minister who first entered the educational field as a side line. He was a born educator, a veritable champion of learning in a community still emerging from the pioneer stage. It was in the year 1801 that he started his Willington School and at a time when education was not generally regarded in those parts as an essential. Most of the local farmers’ families had more practical uses for strong youngsters with sturdy arms and legs.

Despite obvious financial handicaps from the poor economy of the region, students came flocking to Dr. Waddel’s school, some at great sacrifice. In time there were two hundred and fifty students . . . Many were from poor families who somehow made provision for educating their sons.

The school consisted of a central hall, or “academy,” built of logs. About it were several other cabins, also built of logs and chinked with clay against the chill winds that blew off the river now and then in the winter season. The food was plain, mostly corn bread and bacon. Plain living, devotion to study, and high thinking formed the credo of Dr. Waddel.

[The] boys were turned loose in good weather along the river for study periods. There, scattered about under the oak and hickory trees, singly or in groups, they conned their Latin and Greek. The classics were the bases of Dr. Waddel’s curriculum, which seems to have been an innovation in educational methods for a secondary school. His formula and methods attracted interest among educators all over the country.

The routine was simple. In the early years of the school Dr. Waddel used a horn to arouse the students in the morning . . . [for] changing classes, and as a signal for shutting out lights. These were provided by pine knots rather than candles, then a rarity. [Dr. Waddel would often] step out of the central schoolroom and call the boys from their sylvan study periods with a loud “Books, books young men!” He inculcated a certain amount of self-rule and democracy by holding court every Monday morning to try offenders of the previous week. He acted as judge but the jury was made up of a panel of five students.

To this school here in the woods there came from the Long Cane section of Abbeville [South Carolina] . . . the almost equally austere John Caldwell Calhoun, a humorless sort of fellow, straight out of the rugged, God-fearing Calhoun clan of Scotch Covenanters. At nineteen he was a grown-up young man for those times. To prepare for entrance to Yale it was decided that he should go to Dr. Waddel’s school. Just after John Calhoun had left the school for Connecticut, the same neighborhood sent another promising youngster in James L. Pettigru . . . [though] His homespun clothes and rusty, rural manners were ridiculed by students from wealthier homes who sported broadcloth and fine linen.

Thus, Dr. Waddel’s school, with its emphasis on mental discipline, on the classics, and on history and philosophy, provided a cultural incubation for the politicians and statecraft to which some of its more promising students turned in after years. Its curriculum was conducive to the development of fine, flowing oratory, to the elaboration of closely drawn distinctions about the rights of the States versus the federal government. Its graduates went naturally from the law into politics.”

(The Savannah, Thomas L. Stokes, University of Georgia Press, 1951, excerpts, pp. 252- 260)

Dec 25, 2016 - Lost Cultures, Race and the South, Southern Culture Laid Bare    Comments Off on Christmas Must Proceed in 1864

Christmas Must Proceed in 1864

Christmas Must Proceed in 1864

“Varina Howell Davis, Mississippi-born wife of the Southern president declared, “That Christmas season was ushered in under the thickest clouds; every one felt the cataclysm which impended, but the rosy, expectant faces of our little children were a constant reminder that self-sacrifice must be the personal offering of each member of the family.”

Because of the expense involved in keeping them up, Mr.. Davis had recently sold her carriage and horses. A warm-spirited Confederate bought them back and sent them to her. Now she planned to dispose of one of her best satin dresses to obtain funds; with Christmas on the way, the children had high expectations, and she would use all possible makeshifts in an effort to fulfill them.

The Richmond housewives could find no currants, raisins, or other vital ingredients for old Virginia mincemeat pie. But, Mrs. Davis went on, the young considered at least one slice their right, “and the price of indigestion…a debt of honor due from them to the season’s exactions.”

Despite the war, apple trees still bore fruit; with these as a base, she and the other women of the city would utilize any other fruit that came to hand. A little cider and some salt were obtained, as was brandy, though its usual price was a hundred dollars a bottle in inflated Confederate currency.

As for eggnog, the Negro stable attendant, who brought in “the back log, our substitute for the Yule log,” said he did not know how they would “git along without no eggnog. Ef it’s only a little wineglass.” Plans progressed for a quiet home Christmas when unexpected word arrived: The orphans at the Episcopal home had been promised a tree and toys, cake and candy, plus a good prize for the best-behaved girl, and something had to be done about that.

Something was done. With Mrs. Davis’s help, a committee of women was set up and the members repaired to their children’s old toy collections to salvage dolls without eyes, monkeys that had lost their squeak, three-legged and even two-legged horses. They fixed and painted everything, plumping out rag dolls and putting new faces on them, adding fresh tails to feathered chickens and parrots.

The Davis’s invited a group of young friends on Christmas Eve to help make candle molds and string popcorn and apples for the tree; Mr. Pizzini, the confectioner, contributed simple candies. For cornucopias and other ornamentation the Davis’s guests used colored papers, bright pictures from old books, bits of silk out of trunks. All in all, the Christmas Eve of 1864 was far from unsatisfactory. When the small supply of eggnog went around, the eldest Davis boy assured his father: “Now I just know this is Christmas.”

(The Southern Christmas Book, Harnett T. Kane, David McKay Company, 1958, pp. 208-210)

 

Dec 24, 2016 - Lost Cultures, Race and the South, Southern Culture Laid Bare    Comments Off on Christmas on the Plantation

Christmas on the Plantation

Christmas on the Plantation

“No sooner was the harvest over, than preparations for Christmas began. Whole calves were barbequed, pigs roasted, while wild game and venison were hunted. For days ahead there was much cooking of plum pudding, fruit cakes, Sally White cakes, pies and all sorts of good things, (they make your mouth water to think of them). The big Yule log was brought in from the swamp the day before Christmas, where it had been soaking for weeks, the alert darkies knowing that as long as it burned in the “great house” they would stop working.

The mansion was elaborately dressed with evergreens, while branches of dried cedar dried hydrangea blooms were powdered with flour, making feathery white blossoms, as if in summer time. The holly tree was ornamented with long strings of popped corn, strung by the white and colored children.

Early Christmas morning the “Great House” was awakened by the singing of the darkies and voices calling out – “Ch’mas gif’, master, “Ch’mas gif”, mistress.” On the great tree were gifts for everyone on the plantation. In the low country of the South the Negroes dressed themselves as clowns, grotesque costumes (being known as “John Kunners”) and marched around ringing bells, as the danced, singing – “Ch’mas comes but once a year, hurrah Johnnie Kuner – give poor [Negro] one more cent, hurrah John Kunner.” With the passing of their hats, pennies were dropped by the “white folks.”

Words fail to express the Christmas dinner of the old plantation. In front of “Marster” was a roast pig (red apple in his mouth) or the largest gobbler. Innumerable were the desserts or sweet – syllabub, custard, trifle, wine jelly, cocoanut and lemon puddings, mince pies, every kind of cake, and Snow Balls especially for the children.

With the dinner, wines were served, made from the plantation scuppernong, James or Catawba grapes, or from the luscious blackberry. In the quarters was served a wonderful repast to the entire colored population, and their gayeties were shown in dancing the “double shuffle,” the “break down,” the “chicken in the bread tray,” and the “pigeon wing,” followed by the “cake walk.” Up in the Mansion the family and guests probably engaged in the Virginia Reel or other forms of dancing.

Until New Years’ Day, the festivities would continue, a party at every plantation within riding distance, each house overflowing with merriment. A plantation Christmas would not be complete without a fox hunt, for “to ride with the hounds” was one of the accomplishments necessary to the planter and his sons.

Space forbids further description of the happiness of life on an antebellum plantation in the South, but many of our Southern writers have given indelible pictures of the bond between master and slave, which was unique, will go down as an example of understanding affection. Without trying to condone the rare case of unkindness from planters toward their slaves, on the whole they were well treated and the hearts of the two races were closely knit in the old plantation system.

There was a personal interest in the heart of the planter and his family for these dusky folks who belonged to them. And they had a pride in their slaves that was reciprocated by them, who felt that their “White Folks” were better than any others.

In writing of the race problem (after the Sixties) Henry W. Grady of Georgia said: “As I recall my old plantation home, the spirit of my old Black Mammy from her home above the skies, looks down to bless me, and through the tumult of the night the sweet music of her crooning, as she held me in her arms and lead me smiling to sleep.” One writer says: “The old plantation life is gone, but in that era of the Old South were found the very finest and highest types of loyalty and of patriotism that America will ever know.”

(Plantation Life in the Old South (excerpt), Lucy London Anderson, The Southern Magazine, May 1934, page 10)

 

Dec 22, 2016 - America Transformed, Race and the South, Reconstruction, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Union Leagues and Klans    Comments Off on Stealing the Name of the Klan

Stealing the Name of the Klan

The Ku Klux Klan had two reincarnations since being organized after the War. The W.J. Simmons Klan of 1915 was a nativist organization concerned about the influx on European immigrants and their effect upon American institutions; the most recent Klan of few numbers and many government informants has little if any resemblance to the original. The 1915 Klan can be compared to the strongly anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s – many of whose members joined Lincoln’s sectional Republican Party.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Stealing the Name of the Klan

“[An] event that may surprise many persons who think of the Ku Klux Klan as a bigoted organization opposed to Catholics, Jews and Negroes. They forget that a generation earlier there was another Klan, from which the Klan of the present century stole the name, and that the objective of the earlier Klan, while quite without sanction of law, were scarcely comparable.

Bernard and [brother] Hartwig were rummaging in their attic at Camden. Opening an old trunk they found the regalia of a Knight of the Ku Klux Klan. It belonged to their father, in whose veins according to family records, flowed nothing but Jewish blood.

Their mother, who had followed the boys up the attic steps to see what they were doing, froze with fear when she saw them unearth the regalia. Dr. Baruch would certainly pay with his life if his membership in the Klan should be disclosed. She swore them to secrecy, and, as usual, they obeyed her commands.

In telling this story, years later, Baruch remarked that, far as he had ever heard, no member of the Klan was ever betrayed. Who were members of that organization of Reconstruction days was one of the best kept secrets in all history.”

(Bernard Baruch, Park Bench Statesman, Carter Field, Whittlesey House, 1944, pp. 2-3)

Stereotyping the South Up North

The 1861-65 war destroyed the American South’s economic, legal, political and social systems, and afterward ruled the region with proconsuls dispatched from Washington. From this aftermath of war came the invented view of the desolated South – a section known in antebellum times for providing the majority of presidents and exemplary political thinkers — as an uncouth and backward region steeped in laziness and illiteracy.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Stereotyping the South Up North

“Strange notions have developed about the South. It is taken for granted that Southerners are a slow and lazy people. The Abolitionists and Radical Reconstructionists conveyed the impression — and fiction has augmented it — that plantation whites lived in idleness and ease while black hands did labor and chores for them.

The white women of the South are still thought to be lazy, pampered, helpless, spoiled creatures. All this comes out in fiction, shows, movies, and in street corner and parlor conversations. A conventional Southerner has evolved. He is tall, lanky, lazy, slow — except with the trigger finger — speaks with a drawl, says “you all” even to one person, and possesses a sort of insolent dignity.

The South is regarded as a backward, ignorant, hot-tempered and violent section, especially in its dealing with Negroes. Extravagant fictional treatments of the extremes of Southern life are quite generally accepted as accurate cross-section views of the South. In one of the most violent scenes of “Tobacco Road,” as played in a New York theater, an intelligent-looking woman remarked to her companion: “That’s just like the South.” Asked what part of the South she was from, she squirmed in her seat and soon left the theater.

Mud on the Stars, a lurid and patently preposterous story about life in Alabama, was well-received by New York critics. One reviewer said that it is from such men as the author of this filthy story, who incidentally is a self-confessed rake that we must look for information about the real South.

When Stars Fell on Alabama, a grotesque portrayal of life in Alabama appeared, it was widely acclaimed in the North, but when the same author wrote a similar book – Genesee Fever – about a certain community in New York State, the reviewers and commentators of New York were quick to point out that it represented a purely local and extreme situation in the State, and that it contained extravagant overtones and distortions for the purpose of literary effect.”

(One Hundred Years of Reconstruction, A.B. Moore, 1943, Southern Historical Society Addresses)

Dec 18, 2016 - American Military Genius, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Utilizing the Enemy’s Commissary

Utilizing the Enemy’s Commissary

Viscount Garnet Wolseley wrote in his “English View of the American Civil War” that when he was with Lee’s army at Winchester, Virginia in the autumn of 1862 that “the soldiers in every camp laughingly spoke of General John] Pope as “Stonewall Jackson’s Commissary,” so entirely had Jackson in the “Pope Campaign” depended upon capturing from that General everything he required for his men” (page 139).

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Utilizing the Enemy’s Commissary

“The battle of Gettysburg will, no doubt, rank as the turning point of the war though perhaps it may better be called the breaking point of the South’s resources. For months our men had been on rations such as no troops ever campaigned on and did a tithe of the work ours were called on to do.

Corn meal and damaged bacon were the staples, often so damaged that to live on them inured disease. Medicines, chloroform especially, had got so scarce that small operations as painful as great ones were done without it. Much of that which was used was of such bad quality that it was used as only a choice of evils.

Delicacies for the sick were unheard of. They lived on damaged bacon or lean beef or went hungry. Clothes and shoes were scant and insufficient, except for those which were taken from our friends, the enemy. Overcoats would have been almost unknown but for them, though for that matter we would have fared badly for everything but for their contributions.

Certainly half our muskets and two-thirds our artillery were forced contributions from them, while [General N. P.] Banks, who commanded United States troops in the [Shenandoah] Valley in 1862, was better known as and better deserved the title of [Stonewall] Jackson’s commissary than as commander of his troops.

The state of affairs would appear to give compelling reasons for the much-criticized advance into Pennsylvania. With our railroad lines worn out, our ports blockaded, and the field of operations stripped by both armies, and burned and desolated by the enemy, who at last openly declared that their policy would be, as Sheridan later boasted, to leave the country so that a crow flying over it would have to carry his rations, the capture of arms, clothing, medicine, and even food, which earlier had added to our comfort, now came to be a necessity.

It looked easier to go to the enemy’s homes to get it, and to leave our poor people a chance to rest and to gather together the fragments left them.”

(The Haskell Memoirs, Govan and Livingood, editors, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1960, excerpts, pp. 54-55)

 

Dec 16, 2016 - American Military Genius, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on A Suffering Devotion to the Cause of Independence

A Suffering Devotion to the Cause of Independence

The winter of 1864-1865 at Petersburg found Pickett’s Division cold, hungry, and opposed by a well-fed and equipped war machine. Unable to defeat the starving American army that resembled Washington’s at Valley Forge, the North resorted to propaganda leaflets.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Suffering Devotion to the Cause of Independence

“The cold winter winds began to be felt in the close of the November days . . . The men were not only thinly-clad, but some, at least, had but little clothing of any kind and a large number were without shoes; and when the first blasts of winter came numbers could be seen shivering over the small fires they were allowed to kindle.

Famine stared them in the face; the ration being from one-eighth to one-fourth of a pound of bacon and one pint of unsheived corn meal a day, and occasionally a few beans or peas. With empty stomachs, naked bodies and frozen fingers, these men clutched their guns with an aim so steady and deadly that the men on the other side were exceedingly cautious how they lifted their heads from behind their sheltered places.

[T]hese heroic men, who loved their cause better than life stood to their posts, and defied the enemy to the last. The enemy, by general orders and circular letters which they managed to send and scatter among the Confederate soldiers, offered all manner of inducements to have them desert their country; but, as a rule, such offers were indignantly spurned.

The consecration of the Southern women to the cause for which their husbands, sons, brothers, and sweethearts struggled and suffered, is beyond the power of the pen to describe. The hardships of these women were equal to, and often greater than that of the shivering, freezing and starving soldier in the field.

They had not only given these men to the cause, but, in fact, themselves too; for they remained at home and labored in the fields, went to the mill, the blacksmith shops, lived on cornbread and sorghum molasses, and gave practically every pound of meat, flour and all the vegetables they could raise to the men in the army, whom they encouraged to duty in every possible way.

They manufactured largely their own clothing, out of material that they had produced with their own hands; and would have scorned any woman who would wear northern manufactured goods . . .”

Through this long, cold, dreary winter, Pickett’s Division — less than five thousand strong — held the line which, in length, was not less than four miles; being not many beyond one thousand men to the mile; only a good skirmish line; over which the enemy, by a bold, determined charge, could at any time have gone.

It is certain that if the Federal line in front of Pickett’s men had been as weak, and held by as few men as that of Pickett, they would have either been prisoners before the 1st day of January 1865, or have been driven into the James River and drowned.”

(A History of Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territory, David E. Johnston, Standard Printing, 1906, pp. 285-288)

 

Dec 14, 2016 - Southern Conservatives, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots, Southern Statesmen    Comments Off on Superior Heroes and Noble Patriots

Superior Heroes and Noble Patriots

Dr. Hunter McGuire, Stonewall Jackson’s surgeon, recalled Edmund Burke’s opinion of the Southern people in America, that they are “much more strongly and with a higher and more stubborn spirit attached to liberty than those in the [North].” Burke added that “such were the ancient Commonwealths; such were our Gothic ancestors; and such, in our day, the Poles . . . In such a people the haughtiness of domination combines with the spirit of freedom, fortifies it and renders it invincible.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Superior Heroes and Noble Patriots

[Southern] society produced splendid men and women, probably the best on this continent. Culture, grace, elegance, self-reliance, were its legitimate offshoots. Orators, poets, statesmen, soldiers, scientists, lawyers, ministers and physicians, the first and greatest in the whole land, came out of it.

What orator have we like Henry or Yancey, what poet like Poe, what scientist like Matthew F. Maury, what statesman like Jefferson, what jurist like Benjamin, what divine like Hoge, what soldier like Stonewall Jackson, what surgeon like Sims?

And the women – how can I describe them! They were as cultured as they were refined; they were as beautiful as they were queenly, the loveliest of sweethearts, the noblest of matrons. Let us look for a moment and see from whence these people of the South came, and what they have done.

The colonial settlers of the southern portion of North America were kindred by ties of blood, by association, and by the laws of common inheritance. They came to this country deeply imbued with the idea of civil liberty. In many instances they were descended from a superior element of the English people. The blood of the cavalier coursed through their veins; they were prepared to organize a government, to undertake the herculean task of creating a country out of chaos. And they accomplished it.

To these settlers were soon afterwards added another stream of emigrants, who came into the South through Maryland and Virginia, and through the seaports of the Carolinas and Georgia. These were the God-loving, tyranny-hating Scotch-Irish, who have left their distinguishing characteristics to this day, upon the people of every State in the South, from Maryland to the Rio Grande.

When the struggle came for the defense of their rights against the mother-country, how quickly her sons took up arms in defense of the common cause, and how nobly they performed their part it is useless to say, for is not the history of the time filled with accounts of their patriotism and achievements?

The enunciation of principle, the declaration of rights, sprung from the fertile brain of a Southerner, and to-day the readers of American history recognize in Jefferson the foremost thinker of his age.

Well has a New Englander, in speaking of Washington and the Southern soldiers of 1776, recently said: “We must go back to Athens to find another instance of a society, so small in numbers, and yet capable of such an outburst of ability and force.” Without the men of the South, the Revolution of 1776 would have gone down into history as the rebellion of that period.

How wonderful it is, that in the comparative seclusion and solitude of an agricultural country, the men should have been reared whose writings on Constitutional government embodied the wisdom and the experience of the patriots of all ages, and whose State papers actually formed the mould in which the constitution of the United Colonies was shaped; and that then, after Southern statesmen had formed the most perfect government the world ever saw, that Southern soldiers should have made it an accomplished fact by their skill, valor, and endurance.

Men of Southern birth and Southern rearing were the successful generals in the war of 1812, and the central figures in 1846. The acquisition of territory was made during the administration of Southern men. Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and California were acquired during their terms of office.

The Chief Justice-ship was held continuously for sixty-three years by Southern men. I need not speak of the orators and statesmen produced in every State in the South – they are household names.

Examine the details of the well-contested battlefields [of the late war] . . . Jackson, Lee, Johnston, Claiborne, Stuart and Forrest! What tender thoughts, what hallowed associations gather around the names of these bright stars in the Southern constellation! Does all history, does even the field of romance furnish heroes superior or patriots more noble? They were leaders of an equally brave and noble people, who, when all save honor was lost, submitted to the inevitable with a dignity born only of true greatness.”

(The Progress of Medicine in the South, Dr. Hunter McGuire, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XVII, R.A. Brock, editor, 1889, pp. 5-7)

Dec 4, 2016 - Antebellum Realities, Jeffersonian America, Lost Cultures, Recurring Southern Conservatism, Southern Culture Laid Bare    Comments Off on Sword Cane Versus Jim Bowie’s Knife

Sword Cane Versus Jim Bowie’s Knife

One of the South’s greatest historians, Clement Eaton, viewed Code Duello as evidence of Southerners military-mindedness, cult of virility, and disinclination to use courts to deal with matters of personal honor. Often cited was Andrew Jackson’s mother’s advice to her son: “Never tell a lie, nor take what is not your own, nor sue anyone for slander or assault and battery. Always settle them cases yourself!”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sword Cane Versus Jim Bowie’s Knife

“Another hero of the old Southwest was James Bowie, born in Tennessee in 1795, killed in action at the Alamo if 1836. His father, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, operated a small plantation near Elliot Springs, growing cotton, corn, sugar cane, and tobacco. When James was seven years old, the Bowies moved further into the Southwest, seeking more productive soil, bringing their half-dozen slaves along with them. They finally settled outside Opelousas, in Louisiana, and here they prospered.

James and his brothers John and Rezin, Jr., became known as “those wild Bowies,” because of the way they hunted wild cattle with lasso and knife, instead of using the conventional long spear and pistol. Rezin invented the famous Bowie knife, with its ten-inch long, single edged, slightly curved blade, and its guard at the handle. Jesse Cliffe, his blacksmith friend, first made it. But Brother James brought it fame.

The Bowie boys teamed up in 1818 with Jean Lafitte, the pirate leader who had distinguished himself at the Battle of New Orleans. Lafitte, during this period, was operating out of Galveston, in Spanish Mexico; his business was the smuggling of slaves into the United States.

But the most repeated stories concerning James Bowie dealt with his famous knife, which ornamented numerous encounters in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. For example, there was the fracas of September 18, 1827, which started at Natchez-under-the-Hill, rendezvous of brawlers, gamblers and worse. Eleven Louisianans, bent on arranging a duel between two of their group, met at Natchez to complete plans.

After picking up two doctors they recrossed the river to Louisiana near the village of Vidalia. The duelists were Colonel Samuel Welles and Dr. Thomas Maddox, bitter political opponents in a recent campaign. James Bowie was acting as a second. Pistols were decided upon for weapons.

The duel proper turned into a fiasco when two shots, fired on each side, went wild. The politicians were about to shake hands and forget it all but the spectators had been stirred by the proceedings to remember certain grievances they had against one another.

Suddenly, a Colonel Crain fired at Jim Bowie without warning and wounded him in the thigh; another of Bowie’s enemies, Major Wright, attacked him with a sword cane. Calmly, Jim drew the famous knife and sliced the cowardly Major to the backbone. “Damn you Bowie, you have killed me,” remarked the Major and expired.”

(Romanticism and Nationalism in the Old South, Rollin G. Osterweis, LSU Press, 1949, pp. 196-197)