The Sandbar Fight, also known as the Vidalia Sandbar Fight, was an 1827 brawl featuring Jim Bowie. The brawl occurred at the conclusion of a duel, and resulted in Bowie being seriously injured. Bowie was nonetheless the victor. While the site of the duel was originally on the east (Mississippi) side of the river, the course of the river has changed. The site now exists on Giles Island on the west (Louisiana) side of the river; the land is still owned by Mississippi.
The duel and following brawl at the sandbar followed prior conflicts in central Louisiana (half a state away from the Sandbar). Members of the wealthy and well-established Wells and (related) Cuny families (and friends) were in conflict with a variety of recent arrivals. Disputes involved competing financial interests, allegations of vote fixing in a sheriff's election, dishonored notes (bad loans), denied bank loans and the honor of a woman (rumors). Participants in the brawl had engaged in prior duels, fist-fights and exchanges of gunfire. Two prior attempts at resolving disputes by dueling had ended without resolution (shouting matches between seconds or failure of one party to appear). "The site was primarily chosen as it was thought to be outside the jurisdiction of law enforcement and less likely to be subject to anti-dueling laws." There was little cause for enmity between the duelists (who had been friends), but much between the heavily armed groups that accompanied them.
The relationship between James Bowie and Major (former sheriff) Norris Wright was known to be violent. In a previous encounter Wright shot Bowie; the intervention of observers prevented Bowie from then killing the smaller Wright. Afterwards Bowie carried a sheath knife specifically for a rematch, which occurred in the sandbar brawl.
On September 19, 1827, both Bowie and Major Norris Wright attended a duel on a sandbar outside of Natchez, Mississippi. Bowie supported duelist Samuel Levi Wells III, while Wright favored Dr. Thomas Harris Maddox, both of Alexandria, Louisiana. About 16 men were present. Wells had also brought supporters, including Major George McWhorter and General Samuel Cuny. Maddox was supported by Colonel Robert Crain, Carey Blanchard, Alfred Blanchard, and several unnamed others.
The duelists each fired two shots, and, as neither man was injured, resolved their duel with a handshake.
As the duelists turned to leave, Bowie came forward to meet them. Seeing this, Maddox's friends ran forward to join the group. Cuny, who had previously fought with Crain, is recorded as having called out to him, "Col. Crain, this is a good time to settle our difficulty." Crain fired, missing Cuny but striking Bowie in the hip and knocking him to the ground. Cuny and Crain then exchanged fire, with Crain sustaining a flesh wound in the arm and Cuny dying from a shot to the chest.
Bowie, rising to his feet, drew his knife and charged at Crain, who struck him so hard with his empty pistol upon the head that it broke and sent Bowie to his knees. Wright appeared, drew a pistol, and shot at the fallen Bowie, missing. Wright then drew his sword cane and stabbed Bowie in the chest, but the thin blade was deflected by his sternum. As Wright attempted to pull the blade free, Bowie reached up, grabbed his shirt, and pulled him down upon the point of his Bowie knife. Wright died quickly, and Bowie, with Wright's sword still protruding from his chest, was shot again and stabbed by another member of the group. As Bowie stood, pulling the sword cane from his chest, both Blanchard brothers fired at him, and he was struck once in the arm. Bowie spun and cut off part of Alfred's forearm. Carey fired a second shot at Bowie, but missed. As the brothers fled, Carey was shot and wounded by Major McWhorter.
The Battle of the Sandbar lasted more than 10 minutes, leaving Samuel Cuny and Norris Wright dead, and another four men—Alfred Blanchard, Carey Blanchard, Robert Crain and Jim Bowie—wounded.
Crain helped carry Bowie away, with Bowie recorded as having thanked him, saying, "Col. Crain, I do not think, under the circumstances, you ought to have shot me." One doctor reputedly said "How he (Bowie) lived is a mystery to me, but live he did." The doctors who had been present for the duel managed to patch Bowie's wounds.
Newspapers (regional and national) picked up the story, which became known as the Sandbar Fight. Bowie's fighting prowess and his knife were described in detail; he had matched or bested multiple opponents after being severely wounded. Many of the participants provided accounts to the press (but James Bowie did not). Eyewitness accounts agreed that Bowie did not attack first, and the others had focused their attack on Bowie because "they considered him the most dangerous man among their opposition." Press accounts decades later departed greatly from the eyewitness versions.
A grand jury was convened in nearby Natchez, Mississippi. Bowie was never called to testify. No indictments were returned.
James Bowie was seriously wounded (2 bullets, 7 stabs and wounds due to Crain's thrown pistol) requiring months to recover. He prominently wore a large sheath knife thereafter. After the Sandbar fight, Bowie moved to Texas, married into wealth, searched for a lost silver mine, lost his new family to chorea and was a leader in the battle to free Texas from Mexico. He famously perished at the Alamo. Bowie was a legendary knife fighter but the only personal knife fight that he provably participated in was the Sandbar fight.
After the Sandbar Fight Bowie's knife became very popular. Many craftsmen and manufacturers made their own versions of it. His fame, and that of his knife, spread to England, and by the early 1830s, many British knife manufacturers were also producing Bowie knives, exporting many of them to the United States for sale. By 1835 (while James Bowie was still alive) "Bowie knives" were advertised (without further explanation). By 1838 a newspaper writer from New Orleans assumed that everyone had seen one. Bowie knifes were widely used as weapons until at least the 1870s when large-caliber reliable pistols became widely available. The design of the knife evolved into a wide range of blades during the nineteenth century. By the middle of the twentieth century it became specifically a large sheath knife with a "concave clip point, sharp false edge cut from both sides, and a cross-guard to protect the user's hands".
- Mississippi Department of Archives and History. "The James Bowie Sandbar Fight Historical Marker". Retrieved August 9, 2009.
- Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. "The Sand Bar Fight Historical Marker". Retrieved August 9, 2009.
- Edmondson (2000), p 120
- Flayderman (2004), p 288
- Edmondson (2000), p 97
- Edmondson (2000), pp 82-85
- Hopewell (1994), pp. 28, 30.
Edmondson (2000), pp. 97–98.
- "The Bowies and Bowie Knives" (PDF). New York Times. January 27, 1895. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- Hopewell (1994), p. 31.
- Edmondson (2000), pp. 99–101.
- Hopewell (1994), p. 32.
- Archimedia Interactive Alamo: victory or death 1995
- Hopewell (1994), pp.33–34.
- Flayderman (2004), pp 289-291
- Davis (1998), p 218
- Davis (1998), p 216
- Davis (1998), p 638
- Hopewell (1994), p. 55.
- Hopewell (1994), p. 56. Edmondson (2000), p. 122.
- Flayderman (2004), throughout
- Hopewell (1994), p 42.
- Davis, William C. (1998). Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barret Travis. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-017334-3.
pp 209-219 and associated notes
- Edmondson, J.R. (2000). The Alamo Story-From History to Current Conflicts. Plano, TX: Republic of Texas Press. ISBN 1-55622-678-0.
Chapter 10: Mr. Bowie with a Big Knife
- Flayderman, Norm (2004). The Bowie knife : unsheathing an American legend. Lincoln, R.I: Andrew Mowbray. ISBN 9781931464123.
Chapter 10: The Defining Moments: The Sandbar Fight
- Hopewell, Clifford (1994). James Bowie Texas Fighting Man: A Biography. Austin, TX: Eakin Press. ISBN 0-89015-881-9.
Chapter 5: Battle of the Sandbar