James Bowie was born in Burke County, Georgia in 1796 (some sources believe it was in Elliott Springs, Tennessee in 1795). He had a good education and it is claimed he could speak in English, French and Spanish.
Bowie left home in 1814 and settled at Bayou Boeuf, Louisiana, where he was involved in cutting down trees for sale at New Orleans. He eventually formed a partnership with his brother, Rezin Bowie, in developing sugar plantations in Louisiana. Boone also became involved in the slave trade. This was highly profitable and in a couple of years was able to spend $65,000 on land in Louisiana. During this period Rezin Bowie designed what later became known as a bowie knife.
In 1828 Bowie decided to go to Texas where he hoped to continue with his policy of land speculation. This was highly successful and by the time he married Ursula Maria de Veramendi in 1831 it was stated that his estate was worth $250,000.
In 1833 Bowie went to New Orleans on business. While he was away his wife and two children died in a cholera epidemic. In 1835 a group of Anglo-American colonists in the Mexican province of Texas rebelled against Mexican rule. The Texas Revolution began on 2nd October, 1835 and attempts were made to remove General Perfecto de Cos from his base at San Antonio de Bexar.
On 28th November, 1835, a group of volunteers under the leadership of Bowie and Edward Burleson, attacked a Mexican mule train. It was believed that the mule train was taking silver to pay the Mexican soldiers under the control of General Perfecto de Cos. After a brief gunfight the Mexicans fled leaving behind their mules. The Texans discovered the mule packs contained grass rather than silver.
Soon after the rebellion began the Texans surrounded San Antonio de Bexar. On 7th December a group of volunteers led by Ben Milam attacked the town. After the death of Milam on 7th December, Bowie took over the leadership of the rebels. After two more days of fighting General Perfecto de COs called for negotiations to take place. COs offered the rebels control of San Antonio de Bexar in exchange for his men being allowed to return to Mexico.
General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and 7,000 Mexican troops arrived back in San Antonio on 23rd February, 1836. About 200 Texans took refuge in the fortified grounds of the Alamo. Colonel William Travis was given command of the regulars and James Bowie the volunteers. However, Bowie was struck down with typhoid and Travis eventually took over sole command of the fortress.
Santa Anna ordered the shelling of the Alamo but the Texans refused to surrender. On 6th March the Mexican army stormed the fortress. During the battle 189 Texans were killed. This included James Bowie, William Travis and Davy Crockett. It is estimated that 1,500 Mexicans died during the fighting.
Promoted to the rank of colonel he was given command over the volunteer forces in the Alamo fortress. However, he was struck down with typhoid and Colonel William Travis took over sole command of the fort. It is believed he was killed by the Mexicans while he lay in his bed on 6th March, 1836.