William B. Worthen, former director of Historic Arkansas Museum (HAM), and Mark Zalesky, renowned knife expert and journalist, have co-authored “A Sure Defense: The Bowie Knife in America,” a book detailing the history and legacy of the Bowie knife, the famous weapon born on the American frontier in the early 19th century.
The book provides an in-depth history of the Bowie knife, from its inception in the 1830s to its revival in contemporary times, and includes more than 200 full-color illustrations and descriptions of selected knives with craft or historical significance, including knives owned by Davy Crockett, Theodore Roosevelt and Gen. Winfield Scott.
The Bowie knife has special significance in Arkansas history, as it proved to be a useful weapon and tool on the Arkansas frontier. Named after the famous frontiersman, Jim Bowie, it is also known as the “Arkansas Toothpick.” Further, Arkansas blacksmith, James Black is famous for having forged a blade for Jim Bowie.
The book’s conception developed from the exhibit by the same name, held at HAM from Dec.13, 2013 to June 22, 2014, and is part of the museum’s long-term commitment to interpreting the history and modern revival of knives. Further examples of this commitment include HAM’s collaboration with the American Bladesmith Society (ABS) to create the Knife Gallery, a permanent exhibit which includes the ABS Hall of Fame.
Swannee Bennett, director of HAM, and Donna Uptigrove, exhibits curator, oversaw development of the book, with both working closely with Worthen and Zalesky. “Bill and Mark are to be commended for the in-depth documentation and research they have completed for this monumental work on the historic origins, subsequent history and mythology of the Bowie knife,” said Bennett. “This is an authoritative text, built upon excellent scholarship, coupled with exquisite graphics of more than 200 important Bowie knives that tell the story of one of the most iconic objects in American history.”
Department of Heritage (DAH) Director Stacy Hurst has been impressed with the activity that has come from HAM’s Knife Gallery. “All of our divisions have very unique communities that have formed around various historical or cultural topics, and the knife enthusiast community that has been active at HAM is especially dedicated,” said Hurst.
Worthen and Zalesky will be conducting a book signing of “A Sure Defense: The Bowie Knife in America,” at HAM on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, from 1 to 4 p.m., in conjunction with the museum’s 50th Annual Christmas Frolic, a free, family-friendly event. Copies of the book will be available for purchase.
“A Sure Defense: The Bowie Knife in America,” was available for purchase beginning Tuesday, Nov. 28, in HAM’s Museum Store and online: www.HistoricArkansas.org/store. It will also be available through University of Arkansas Press and Knife World.
Worthen served as the director of HAM for more than 40 years. During his lengthy tenure, he oversaw the restoration, reconstruction, and interpretation of significant historic buildings on HAM’s campus. He has also published numerous articles and books on the subject of Arkansas history, including the two-volume study of Arkansas’s creative legacy, “Arkansas Made,” a project that he did with current HAM director, Swannee Bennett.
Zalesky’s knowledge of knives and related items is widely recognized. He has penned hundreds of articles about knives and has served as an appraiser, museum consultant, and is an officer of the Antique Bowie Knife Association. Further, he is the editor and publisher of KNIFE Magazine, a monthly publication that he has a longtime association with.
Historic Arkansas Museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission to the galleries and parking are free; tours of historic grounds are $2.50 for adults, $1 for children under 18, $1.50 for senior citizens. The Historic Arkansas Museum Store is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Historic Arkansas Museum is a museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, which was created in 1975 to preserve and enhance the heritage of the state of Arkansas. Other divisions of the department are Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas State Archives, Arkansas Arts Council, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center and Old State House Museum.