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James Bowie

A land speculator and soldier, Jim Bowie (1796-1836) personified the type of adventurer who inhabited the U.S.-Mexican borderlands in the early nineteenth century. One of the most famous characters of Texas history, Jim Bowie was born in south central Kentucky, relocated with his family to Spanish-held Missouri in 1800, and then moved to central Louisiana the following year. Bowie grew up as a frontiersman, becoming a skilled hunter and a fearsome six-foot 180-pound brawler. As an adult, Bowie went into the Caribbean slave smuggling business with his brothers, earning a reputation as a deadly knife fighter among the denizens of the lower Mississippi River. By the late 1820s, he began speculating in land backed by financial partners in Natchez.

The land speculation business led Bowie to Texas in 1830. After ingratiating himself with the leading families of San Antonio, he began to work Mexican immigration law to his advantage, amassing grants of thousands of acres under suspicious terms. In 1831, he married Ursula Veramendi, the daughter of a local notable. Rarely at home, Bowie spent the next year traveling to and from Natchez on business, or scouting the frontier for new sources of wealth. In 1832, Bowie was lured into anti-Mexican government violence at Nacogdoches, and later fought in Mexico for the cause of Monclova as state capital. The new state government rewarded his allegiance by allowing him access to lucrative land deals. In 1835, Bowie’s good fortune ended as the new policies of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna criminalized most land speculation.

As a result, Bowie became a leading proponent of Texas independence. In the fall of 1835, he led Texian forces in several early engagements with Mexican troops. A natural leader, Bowie held the rank of colonel and was active in planning Texian strategy. In early 1836, Bowie arrived in Sal Antonio, where he decided, against orders, to fortify and hold the mission called the Alamo. He died in its defense on March 6, 1836.