A Bowie knife is commonly used in modern times to refer to any large sheath knife. The term also applies to a specific style of knife designed by Colonel James "Jim" Bowie and originally created by James Black.
Description of Bowie Knives
The historical Bowie knife was not a single design, but was a series of knives improved several times by Jim Bowie over the years.
The version most commonly known as the historical Bowie knife was rather large and of massive construction, as knives go, having usually a blade at least six inches (15 cm) long and 12 inches (30 cm) was not uncommon, with a relatively broad blade that was an inch and a half to two inches wide (4 to 5 cm) and made of steel usually between 3/16" and 1/4" thick (from 4.8 to 6.4 millimeters). The back of the blade often had a strip of soft metal (normally brass or copper) inlaid intended to catch an opponents blade, a concept borrowed from the medieval Scottish dirk, and also often had an upper guard that bent forward at an angle, also intended to catch an opponent's blade. The back edge of the curved clip point, also called the "false edge," was often sharpened in order to allow someone trained in European techniques of saber fencing to execute the maneuver called the "back cut" or "back slash." A brass quillon was attached to protect the hand, usually cast in a mold. It is likely that the blade shape was derived from the Spanish navaja clasp knives carried in Spain and the Spanish colonies in the Americas.
The shape and style of blade was chosen so that Bowie knives could serve usefully as a camp and hunting tool as well as a weapon. Many knives and daggers existed that could serve well as weapons, and many knives existed that could serve well as tools for hunters and trappers, but the Bowie knife was designed to do both jobs well, and is still popular with hunters and sportsman even in the present day.
The curved portion of the edge, toward the point, is for removing the skin from a carcass, and the straight portion of the edge, toward the guard, is for chores involving cutting slices, similar in concept to the traditional Finnish hunting knife, the "puukko" (though the typical early 19th Century Bowie knife was far larger and heavier than the typical puukko). The blade is generally long enough and heavy enough that the knife can be used as a hatchet or machete, but not so heavy or long as to be cumbersome. Most such knives intended for hunting are only sharpened on one edge, to reduce the danger of cutting oneself while butchering and skinning the carcass.
Since the late 1970s, Bowie knives with sawteeth machined into the back side of the blade have had a certain popularity among collectors, possibly due to the appearance of such a knife in the first Rambo film with Sylvester Stallone. Knives with this feature are still being made and sold, often called "survival knives" and incorporating a hollow handle that can theoretically be used to carry assorted survival gear, of quality ranging from the excellent to the very poor. The actual utility of sawteeth on a knife is debatable (to say nothing of hollow handles, which may be prone to breaking if the knife is poorly constructed), and many hold that the sharp teeth endanger the user when used to gut and skin a large animal carcass such as a deer or elk, as well as making the knife much less useful as a weapon as they make it prone to getting stuck (though in some instances they can serve to scrape the scales off fish). A proper Bowie knife is long enough and heavy enough that the user can usually chop through wood with it much faster than he could use the sawteeth. Nonetheless Bowie knives with sawteeth on the back of the blade have become popular.
Bowie Knife Collecting
Bowie knife collecting is a popular hobby with many Bowie knife shows, including a popular one in Avoyelles Parish. Many modern Bowie knife makers take pride in creating their own designs and techniques as well as recreating the work of the historic knife-makers. The American Bladesmith Society has been established to promote the craft of bladesmithing and educate the collector. The ABS maintains its Hall of Fame collection at the Historic Arkansas Museum.
Old Washington State Park
The birthplace of the Bowie knife is now part of the Old Washington Historic State Park which has over 40 restored historical buildings and other facilities including Black's shop. The park is known as "The Colonial Williamsburg of Arkansas". The American Bladesmithing Society has also established a college at the site to teach new apprentices, journeyman, and masters in the art of bladesmithing.
This information is taken from the Wikipedia.