Back around 1995, I began to research Bowie knives and their place in the Gold Rush. What I really wanted was something cool to hang on my belt besides a butcher knife (which by the way, would have been a good choice). There were some replica bowies available but nothing grabbed me. I eventually decided to create my own "historically based" bowie with a coffin-shaped handle. I purchased a large bowie blade blank from Dixie Gun Works and discovered it was tempered and profiled but had no taper to the blade. The 1/4" slab needed to be flat-ground to a finished form. Yikes!! Grinding that hardened blank on a wheel turned out to be a chore as untempering and retempering the steel was out of the question.
|My Fantasy Knife Circa 1995|
Photo by Floyd Oydegaard
|Carved Pommel Pattern|
Photos by Lindy Miller 2011
So, that's the tale of the knife I liked, now on to the story of the knife I love. A long-time client from my antique restoration days, had the habit of dropping in on me for visits when I had the Carpenter's Shop in Columbia. His specialty is buying, selling and collecting original Gold Rush material. During one of those visits in 2001 he showed me an antique, guardless bowie knife that he had just purchased. What struck me about this rare bowie was its simplicity, balance and pure, no-nonsense look, but what really got me going was its history. The knife was the product of Joseph Bache and was marked with his cartouche, "J. Bache, Sonora". Bache was a French blacksmith who was active in Sonora in the 1850's. So far, a hammer and rifle have been discovered, marked with his name in the same manner as the knife. The man was obviously multi-talented and he had lived just down the road. This knife was screaming at me to be replicated and the owner was willing to let me document it. Woo hoo !!
|My Replica of the Joseph Bache Bowie|
with Collected Data and Probable Sheath
I don't own a forge and even though the original knife was likely the product of one, I decided to use the reduction method for my close-copy. I purchased a length of 1/4" X 2" 01 Toolsteel from Texas Knifemaker's Supply in Houston. The original knife is a hefty 15" long with a full thickness tang for balance. The untempered tool steel proved to be a delight to work with compared to my previous experience. This time I tapered the blade on a belt sander and found it much easier. I decided to copy the wear pattern of the orginal blade to give my replica a feeling of having been used. When the blade was finished, I sent it back to Texas to be heat treated. The simple "dog-bone shaped" oak scales replicate the original as do the custom steel rivets. The finished knife holds an edge beautifully and is a pleasure to use in the kitchen when it's not doing history work. I really do "love" this knife and what it represents to my personal journey as a historian / craftsman.