It does not take a rocket scientist to write about antique Bowie knives and an enigmatic 19th century knife maker. James Black of Washington, Arkansas, was not initially a controversial figure. 19th century newspapers and books described him as the maker of the first Bowie knife. In 1972, Black’s story was printed in the Congressional Record of the 92nd U. S. Congress under the title, “The Tale of the Man Who Invented the Bowie Knife.”

But then, in the late 20th century, a few prominent historians began challenging Black’s claim to fame. One of them declared it was all “hot air blowing out of Arkansas” and questioned whether Black ever lived. In this book, Dr. James Batson has displayed dogged determination, extreme patience, and exceptional research skills to seek the truth behind the elusive and enigmatic Black. Batson has spent endless hours poring through musky archives. He has driven dusty roads to track down obscure historical locations.

As a result of the depth and thoroughness of his research, James Batson has unearthed a trove of new information. Like an archeologist determining the appearance of a dinosaur from only a handful of petrified bones, Batson has reconstructed the life of the historical James Black.

One of the questions posed by Black’s critics was “Where are all the knives that Black supposedly made?” They are here, in this book. An award-winning Master Smith in the American Bladesmith Society and former chairman of that organization, Dr. James Batson has had extensive experience faithfully and precisely reproducing these same knives. He knows their history, but he also knows them-inside and out—better than anyone else.

Finally, it was necessary to transform the accumulated wealth of knowledge into coherent words. Here, again, Batson had the necessary experience. For more than three decades he designed and tested missiles for the U. S. Army. All the information he accrued had to be compiled and presented in a comprehensive fashion. In Batson’s case, being a rocket scientist helped him write history.

J. R. Edmondson