To Dirk or to Bowie?

My work on a revision of To Save My People, the story of Major Ridge, a Cherokee chief who fought to save the Cherokee’s land from American taking before the Trail of Tears, brought to my attention the history of the Bowie Knife. Major Ridge first uses a knife around the turn of the Eighteenth Century, and in earlier drafts this knife was a Bowie.

I knew somewhere deep inside, though, that the Bowie name was associated with the Wild West, something that came later, after the events of To Save My People. But when was the knife originally created? I didn’t know. So I looked up Bowie Knife and found this Wikipedia article, here. This article revealed that the knife was developed by Bowie’s brother during the 1820s. Two decades too late for me to refer to a Bowie Knife in my novel.

This led to the question of exactly what knife he would use, considering I wanted him to use a knife rather than a Tomahawk.

I continued my search. I looked for historical knifes in the USA. The first site that came up in the browser was a review of nine blades that affected the course of history from History.com. You can see that site, here. That site gave me an overview of some important blades, but didn’t give me the answer I sought. So I kept going.

Eventually, I found a history of fighting knives, here. This history began at the beginning of the Stone Age with the simple carving of stone into blades, through the Bronze Age, into Midieval Times, pre-industrial era, and current developments. I tracked through this history and found that there were a couple of possibilities: the Scottish Dirk and the Spanish Navaja. The Spanish Navaja could have been in the hands of the Cherokee through the early explorers who traveled the region, or have worked its way up through Florida and Louisiana. The Dirk, however, could have come more directly, through one of Major Ridge’s ancestors.

Major Ridge, and his wife Susannah, were both mixed-blood Cherokees, their ancestors, in part, coming from Scotland where traders–who sought to escape British tyranny in the colonies–found their way into Native lands. There they married Cherokee women and settled in the Nation. These ancestors would have brought with them Scottish weapons, thus the Dirk.

To find a description of this weapon I turned again to Wikipedia’s article on the weapon, here, and discovered it was a much more pointed weapon, intended for stabbing over the slicing of the Bowie knife. This will change some of my character’s actions, though only slightly, and I will have to be conscious of this change as I move through my critique edit of To Save My People.

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