Monday, November 3, 2008

Typically of American Origin

Bowie knife - A formidable weapon
The knife is named after James Bowie (1799-1836) an adventurer and American soldier but it is believed that either his father or brother actually designed the Bowie knife. Due to his exploits, James became a hero to many as he defended his land and beliefs. In later years he became a colonel in the Texan army and fought against Mexico. In 1836, James Bowie and his companion Davy Crockett helped fend off thousands of Mexican soldiers at the Battle of the Alamo. They, together with almost 200 Texan soldiers held the Mexican army at bay for 13 days, but finally the Texan army succumbed and was killed. Bowie, who had been ill for some days and had taken to his bed before the final onslaught by the Mexican army was killed in his bed.

Bury the hatchet -
A gesture of peace
We often use this term to describe putting old scores behind us and starting anew which is not too far from the original meaning. The origin of the term comes to us from American Indians who made peace with the settlers. In 1690, Samuel Sewall wrote “Meeting with the Sachem (Indian chiefs), they came to an agreement and buried two axes in the ground, which ceremony to them is more significant and binding than all the Articles of Peace, the hatchet being the principal weapon.”

The Stetson -
A hat designed with cowboys in mind
After travelling across America in the late 1800s and watching cowboys on the range, hat maker John Batterson Stetson decided to design a hat specifically with a cowboy’s needs in mind. When he returned home, he designed a special hat with a large brim to keep out the sun. The hat became very popular with the cowboys and soon the “Stetson” was mass-produced.

Uncle Sam -
A catch-all of terms
As usual, there are several claims to the authenticity of this phrase. Some believe that it began with a meat packer named Samuel Wilson who lived in Troy, New York. Wilson was nicknamed Uncle Sam by his employees because of the initials US that was stamped on the company’s shipping cases. The expression Uncle Sam perhaps took hold during the war of 1812 to counteract the British John Bull symbol. It was not until more than 60 years later that Harper’s magazine portrayed Uncle Sam in the striped suit and top hat image that we are accustomed to seeing today.

The Sequoia -
The largest tree in the world
A Hungarian botanist Stephen Ladislaus Endlicher named the massive trees after the American Indian Sequoya (c.1770-1843). Sequoya could see the value of the European’s customs, especially the written word. He decided the Cherokee nation should have a written language all it’s own and so devised 86 characters that described the sounds used by the Cherokee Indians. His work took him almost 12 years to complete, but his language was quickly learned and accepted by other Cherokees. Later, a newspaper was published using the Cherokee language that he developed.