The Catholic Defender: Jim Bowie, Pioneer, Hero, and Catholic Convert
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
“And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.” John 14:16-18
From both of the scriptural texts above, it is clear that Jesus will always be with His Church, and also the Counselor, the Holy Spirit will be given the Church. The Catholic Church is not made from human hands but from the very power of God.
From the “Great Commission”, the Church is sent out to go to all the nations, to bring the gospel, the sacraments, the life of the Church that people will be saved. The Church is like a great ship traveling through murky waters in time and space. Countless souls have been united with the Church bringing God’s Light into the darkness.
Conversion stories are sometimes the most inspiring because people can relate to making difficult decisions. One such story is that of a famous American pioneer, Jim Bowie.
Jim Bowie’s patriotism and faith instills a love for God, a trusting in God, and a love for family, friends, and Country. In his early years, Jim Bowie became known for creating a knife that would become known as the “Bowie Knife”. In his rowdy days, he became involved in some personal battles, most known as the famous “Sandbar Fight.” This was a classic knife fight that Bowie won a tough fight using his “Bowie” knife. This popularized the knife as everyone wanted one.
By the 1830′s manufacturers made their own versions and it spread as far away as England. Jim Bowie did receive wounds as a result of the Sandbar fight, he was shot in the hip, in the arm, he was stabbed seven times, once in the chest, and shot one more time. Jim Bowie originally was not part of the fight, but was supporting a friend (Samuel Levi Wells III) who had mixed with another rival group. The September 19, 1827 noon engagement almost took the life of Jim Bowie. But he survived.
After recovering from his wounds, Jim Bowie decided to leave Louisiana and Mississippi and traveled to Texas in 1828. At that time, Texas was part of Mexico which held to a common rule that those who lived there must be Catholic (1824 Constitution of Mexico). So, Jim Bowie decided to undergo Catechism to investigate the Faith of the Apostles.
Consider what Jim Bowie was deciding to do? He was considered a fighter, a roughen who bore little of polite society. He was now beginning to learn of the Prince of Peace who can finally give Jim Bowie peace.
On April 28, 1828 Jim Bowie was Baptized and received into the Catholic Church. His sponsor was the town of San Antonio’s administrator Juan Martin de Veramendi and his wife, Josefa Navarro.
On September 30, 1830, Jim Bowie becomes a citizen of Mexico, and on April 25, 1831, he marries 19 year old Maria Ursula de Veramendi, the Daughter of his Sponsor into the Catholic Faith. They had two children, Marie Elve was born on March 20, 1832, and James Veramendi was born on July 18, 1833.
During this time, between 1830 and 1832, the Mexican Congress was passing laws that seemed to discriminate against non-Mexican civilians, like the influx of Anglo like Jim Bowie. As a result, this led to some organizing against Santa Anna by famous people like William B. Travis whom Jim Bowie had known. Bowie was appointed a Colonel by Sam Houston over the Volunteer Militia.
The fight for Texan Independence officially began on October 2, 1835 and San Antonio would be the place of several skirmishes surrounding an old adobe church known as the Alamo. It is times like this that faithful followers of Jesus can only place their faith in Him. I served in Iraq and we too were surrounded by enemy forces who threatened to attack us on the JSS. Jim Bowie’s Catholic Faith would be huge to help him.
Finally, on February 3rd, 1836, William B Travis with 30 regulars interred the Alamo joined by Colonel Bowie and his volunteers on Feb 13. There were disciplinary issue between Bowie and Travis that were hardly healed before the Mexican forces under Santa Anna began to arrive. On Feb 23, Davy Crockett and 12 Tennesseans entered into the Alamo just before the major battle would began.
The Alamo was important to Sam Houston who was training Texans and depended on time. Bowie was able to share his Catholic faith showing his courage, his honor, and his patriotism. This inspired his men to include Davy Crockett. During the siege of Alamo, Colonel Bowie became ill being confined to a bed by two doctors who could not make a diagnosis.
On February 25, another 32 Texans interred into the Alamo and when Travis was sure there was no more help coming, he drew a line in the sand and everyone crossed it. Jim Bowie called for his men to carry him over the line while lying on his cot. This point is disputed by historians as they are not sure the line in the sand was ever drawn.
On March 6, the Alamo fell as it was surrounded by several thousand Mexican under Santa Anna. The North wall was breached by canon fire and Mexican Soldiers were able to enter into the Alamo. From mission compound to compound the defenders fought, drawing knives and using their muskets as clubs.
Jim Bowie’s death was circulated giving some different scenarios, one story given in a newspaper reported that Jim Bowie was carried out and escaped, but that one is not given much credit. Another story given is that he was so sick he was near death when the Soldiers entered his room, he didn’t have much a fight. The most popular story is seen from John Wayne’s Alamo movie. Here, Bowie died on his cot, “back braced against the wall, and using his pistals and his famous knife he was bayoneted to death.”
When Jim Bowie’s mother first heard of his death, she told the papers, “I’ll wager no wounds were found on his back.” The Defenders of the Alamo had withstood an Army 30 to 1 for thirteen days. Today, I focused on Jim Bowie because of his conversion to the Catholic Faith. At the moment of his death, it is easy to believe that he had his spiritual Mother on his lips, Our Blessed Lady, The Virgin Mary.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” After serving nearly 27 years in the Army myself and who have been outside the wire in harms way, I am so thankful that I had my Catholic Faith during all of those times.
In the past I have been challenged by some how I could serve in the Army and be a Christian, I am reminded by something Jesus said, “He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one. For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors’; for what is written about me has its fulfilment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
Jim Bowie is an American hero, but because he accepted Christ and His Catholic Church, he died in the state of grace. Today, we may find ourselves in trying times. We have our own personal battles. There is much violence in the world today, everyday, we lose somewhere between 25-30 Veterans a day to suicide. I hope that stories like Jim Bowie may be an encouragement to go another day, to trust in the Lord and Our Lady no matter how tough things get.
The story of the Alamo has always been a great story to me growing up. When I went to Iraq with the 2-5 Cavalry in 2006, the youngest Soldier that joined in my Platoon just three months before the deployment, was very green (17 years old). This Soldier would perform very well under battlefield conditions. I always had fun with him as he is from Mexican descent. What great respect I have for him. I was honored in 2012 when he asked me to sponsor him into the Catholic Faith in San Antonio at the Easter Vigil.
Just like Jim Bowie who was baptized in San Antonio in 1828, my Soldier was received into the same Church Christ founded in 33 A.D. God is so good as He continues to save His people.
“Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13