James Bowie (/ˈbuːi/ BOO-ee)[a] (c. 1796 – March 6, 1836) was a 19th-century American pioneer, slave trader and soldier who played a prominent role in the Texas Revolution, culminating in his death at the Battle of the Alamo. Stories of him as a fighter and frontiersman, both real and fictitious, have made him a legendary figure in Texas history and a folk hero of American culture.
Bowie was born in Kentucky. He spent most of his life in Louisiana, where he was raised and where he later worked as a land speculator. His rise to fame began in 1827 on reports of the Sandbar Fight. What began as a duel between two other men deteriorated into a mêlée in which Bowie, having been shot and stabbed, killed the sheriff of Rapides Parish with a large knife. This, and other stories of Bowie’s prowess with a knife, led to the widespread popularity of the Bowie knife.
Bowie’s reputation was cemented by his role in the Texas Revolution. After moving to Texas in 1830, Bowie became a Mexican citizen and married Ursula Veramendi, the daughter of the Mexican vice governor of the province, Juan Martín de Veramendi. His fame in Texas grew following his failed expedition to find the lost San Saba mine, during which his small party repelled an attack by a large Native American raiding party. At the outbreak of the Texas Revolution, Bowie joined the Texas militia, leading forces at the Battle of Concepción and the Grass Fight. In January 1836, he arrived at the Alamo, where he commanded the volunteer forces until an illness left him bedridden. Bowie died with the other Alamo defenders on March 6. Despite conflicting accounts of the manner of his death, the “most popular, and probably the most accurate” accounts maintain that he died in his bed while defending himself against Mexican soldiers.