Mysteries of the Bowie Knife by Ann Schuyler

This Writing Series article is courtesy of the Little Falls Historical Society.

I sat by the window on the night of September 29th watching the last of four Super Full Moons when random memories ran through my mind.  A song from the 1940s, when I was in High School, “Racing with the Moon,” was my favorite. Suddenly a bat was silhouetted against the moon, then another. My thoughts turned to the mysteries of the Bowie Knife, both knife and mysteries have been in our family since 1899.

The story about the knife is that the original owner, a man named Carpenter, was in California during the Gold Rush of 1849. He was in a bar when someone pulled a gun on his friend and Carpenter stabbed the gunman in the back, killing him. That’s when he carved the first notch in the grip.

The first mystery is how the knife got to New York, and by the dates and monograms on it, it took 50 years! The first silver engraved monogram is “JSC ‘49” for Carpenter. We don’t know his first or middle names.

Carpenter showed up on our “Sunset View” family farm on Eysaman Road outside Little Falls, probably as hired help. He must have taken a liking to my Great Uncle Raymond Davis Eysaman, because the next silver monogram is “RID ’99,” when Uncle Ray was sixteen- years old. Why the monogram isn’t “RDE” we will never know. Maybe, Carpenter transposed the middle and last letters and thought Eysaman was spelled with an “I?” Another mystery.

Uncle Ray didn’t want to stay on the farm. He was a good scholar – graduating from both Little Falls Academy and Hamilton College. He also attended Yeates Boarding School for Boys in Lancaster, PA. He returned to Sunset View and taught at the Little Falls Academy for two years.

In 1908, he began a term of seventeen years at the prestigious Storm King School in Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY, also a boys’ boarding school. For ten years, he taught Latin and French. When he died in 1925, he was the school’s French Master, and a room was named for him.

When Uncle Ray willed the knife to his nephew, my father, Wilson John Eysaman, another silver monogram, “WJE 08” was added.

The knife is a fine example of craftmanship. It has a Coffin Style Hilt with a seven-inch blade. It is trimmed with engraved silver and has silver rope on the top and bottom of the grip, which is made of highly figured ebony. The sheath and knife are in excellent condition. There is no rust or pitting on the blade and the leather sheath is smooth and pliable. There are no markings on the knife indicating who made it.

“WJE” kept the knife locked up for forty-seven years, but when Christmas was approaching in 1976, it occurred to him that it was time to pass it on to the last male in the family. That would be his only grandson, Nicholas Robert Schuyler, then seventeen-years old. The fourth silver monogram “NRS’76” was affixed to the hilt, and the gift was given.

The person Carpenter haunts my mind. Where was he for fifty years? Maybe in prison for murder, but where would the knife have been? Maybe he headed east to hide from the authorities? Traveling by horseback, or possibly riverboats in the same areas? How did he ever find Sunset View? In those days, it would have been a remote farm on a high hilltop overlooking the Mohawk Valley.

When he found Sunset View, he must have been hired to help on the Jersey dairy farm. He must have told the story about the stabbing to young Uncle Ray. Maybe he embellished it to impress the boy. But why would he deface the black ebony knife handle?

Could he have been the hired man who locked the hired girl in the icehouse? Spoil alert! She was found in time. No story here. When this happened, I’m sure Great Grandfather would immediately send him packing. Exit Mr. Carpenter.

Forty-seven more years have passed since (my son) Nick was given the knife. Now, here’s the dilemma for him. There isn’t room on the hilt for anymore monograms. Who will Nick pass the knife to? He has twin sons! So, for the time being, the knife is in a safe place – and the mysteries are still unsolved.

POINT OF INTEREST: This Bowie Knife has recently been appraised for between $16,000 and $20,000!

Ann Schuyler is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.