Bear & Son Gold Rush Bowie: A Fitting Fighting Knife

April 10, 2024  
Categories: Knives and Axes

Fighting knives are nothing new since the act of fighting occurred with knives in hands. But for much of history, the fighting knife was what was handy for any number of thankless tasks like cutting up a meal or making kindling. Optimizing the knife for a fight is relatively new development and it is optimized by the Bowie knife.

confederate soldier with bowie knife

An enlisted Confederate artilleryman poses with a Bowie knife. [Charles C. Rees]

The Bowie knife is linked to Jim Bowie, although he is unlikely to have come up with such a blade before anyone else as large hunting and skinning knives were standard fare. On the American frontier, these doubled as combat weapons when reaching for it was preferable to reloading a single-shot musket. But the life and myth of Jim Bowie and his knife created an icon of a weapon that morphed into the modern fixed blade combat knives we have today. But the original Bowie style is still very much alive in wood and steel and produced by countless makers. But frequently these blades are ungainly and best used at the campground, rather than a faithful adaptation of a design that was a fighting knife first and a tool second. Bear & Son’s Gold Rush Bowie is a fitting and functional tribute.

bear & son bowie

The Bear & Son Gold Rush Bowie

Bear and Son has been making all matter of cutlery from small automatic knives to large, fixed blades in their facility located in Jacksonville, Alabama since the 1990s. Their Bear Ops and Bear Edge lines verge on the tactical taste, but Bear and Son’s focus is very much in the wood, antler, and steel of vintage blades. 

Bear and Son makes more than a half-dozen Bowie variants to consider. These range from their 3 inch Baby Bowies to the Freedom Fighting Bowie, which features an 8 inch blade. The Gold Rush Bowie is based on a style of fighting knife prevalent in the decades after Jim Bowie’s demise at the Alamo. These blades featured a longer false edge as seen on earlier Bowies as well as a wider length between the belly and the spine of the blade where the back edge begins. The blade was often paired with a prominent brass, bronze, or iron handguard and wooden grip panels over a full tang. Blades like these were in style at the time of the California Gold Rush up through the American Civil War.

bear and son bowie and sheath

Bear & Son’s Gold Rush Bowie is available with either a 7 3/8 inch or 9-inch blade made of Sandvik 12C27M Stainless Steel. This Swedish steel keeps an edge readily and resists corrosion well but is not so hard that it is impossible to sharpen. This full tang blade gives an overall length of the blade of 12 inches or 14 3/8 inches. The rounded tang features brass riveted cocobolo grip panels with a brass guard press fit between the panels and the blade. 

bear and son logo

Field Use

I will be the first to say that I am not inherently a knife guy, despite the fact that I use knives regularly to process game and practice my fire-starting techniques. I wanted a bowie as a photo prop to pair alongside blackpowder revolvers, muskets, and other small arms where a big blade would have been a historically accurate backup. But finding a proper readily made blade that honored the original was difficult.

1860 army revolver with bear and son bowie knife

There are many bowie style knives out there today, but they run the gamut from poorly made to oversized with too many modern features. At a distance, some of the wood-and-steel versions look the part until you look more closely to realize the proportions are all wrong and the steel doesn’t look like it would hold a good edge. Most bowies out there are of a more modern twist with rubberized scales and large, coated blades that come with or without serrations. These blades are big, heavy, and meant to for chopping but not so much for finer tasks. Certainly, these would be too unwieldy to pass as a fighting knife. 

When I received my Bear & Son 12 inch Gold Rush Bowie, it quickly became apparent that this was more quality than what I would need for a photo prop. It is a knife you can actually use and have it look good while in use. 

The knife is tightly fitted with no inletting gaps between wood, rivets, and blade. The 7 3/8 inch blade itself has an excellent taper ground and it looks the part of an original, but in stainless. And boy is it sharp. The measure of a good blade is to catch it when you run it across your fingernail and it did. It was even good enough to take the hair off my arm with ease. Be careful and use the included leather sheath whenever possible!

The only point of concern was a very slight rattle from the brass guard. There is a little bit of play where it is press fit between the blade and the scales. After plenty of meat processing, bone breaking, and more than its fair share of woodcutting, the guard is still not going anywhere. The rest of the blade is holding up just fine too. 

The 14 3/8 inch Gold Rush Bowie has a slightly longer blade and handle, but I found the 12 inch model to be just about the right size in the grip for my large hands with more than enough blade to hack and jab lightly and quickly. The blade is perfectly balance and in its sheath it weighs a very carriable 15.7 ounces. 

It does not have the weight of one of those camping-style bowies, but it is easy to carry, and easy to wield. But there is more than enough blade the slice picnic hams and break through pork ribs. Saplings over a half-inch thickness are just as easy. The Gold Rush Bowie is equally at home carving stakes and making kindling as well. For a decorative design, it does a lot and still cleans up well. 

The Bear & Son Bowie: Where History Meets Function

Admittedly, if you spend your time de-meating small critters or peeling oranges, a smaller knife might be more appropriate. But for most tasks, bigger is better if you can bear the bulk. Jim Bowie certainly understood that, and generations of other fighting men (and ladies) certainly have. Cutting through stuff is easier with a big sharp blade from a utility standpoint. But simply going too big can also mean being too clumsy. There are plenty of Bowie-inspired knives out there, some good and some bad. But the Bear and Son Gold Rush Bowie is blade that is nimble, useful, and tastefully pays tribute to a great fighting knife with the same time-tested features that more knife-toters could stand to appreciate. 

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Terril Hebert

Terril Hebert

About the Author

1 Comment

  1. Chuck

    I recently acquired the 12 inch Bowie and in the words of Crocodile Dundee, “This is a knife.” I was amazed at the finish of the knife. While it is, indeed, a solid, heavy duty knife, it is also a knife that you would be proud to hang over the mantle. My blade guard doesn’t rattle, so the author of this article must have gotten some kind of fluke. Like a Japanese katana, not only is this a deadly weapon, it is also a work of art. And more importantly, not priced like a true Japanese katana. Sorry, the $300 “katana” that you bought off the internet is not a true katana where if you have to ask how much it is, you can’t afford it. Secondly, you probably wouldn’t be invited to the swordsmith’s workshop to view his work. Like exclusive Japanese restaurants, unless you are introduced by someone already a patron, you don’t get past the madam at the front desk.


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