Bowman was one of seven children born to Reverend Peyton Bowman and the former Ellen Tobin, from Virginia and South Carolina, respectively. He grew up in South Carolina and graduated from Wofford College in Spartanburg in 1871 and worked as a teacher while reading law. He was admitted to the bar in San Antonio, Texas in 1874 and practice there until 1882. He married the former Marguerite Grenet on November 7, 1877. He reportedly left Texas while under indictment for forgery.
He returned to Sumter, South Carolina until moving to Birmingham in June 1888 where he was made partner in the firm of Bowman & Harsh, later Bowman, Harsh & Beddow, and initially specialized in criminal law. Soon he took up a number of damage suits against the railroads, for which he became known as an "anti-railroad lawyer." Some of his legal methods were the basis of a move to have him removed from the Alabama State Bar in 1890.
Though he chose not to run for office himself, Bowman gained a reputation as a convincing speaker with a powerful delivery and a fluid range of idiom which he could shift rapidly depending on his audience. In 1892 he chaired the gubernatorial campaign of former Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture Reuben Kolb of the populist "Jeffersonian Democratic Party". He was criticized for campaigning for the protection of the political rights of African-Americans, whom some in his party viewed as key to a natural coalition with poor whites against the "Bourbon Democrats". During the 1894 miner's strike Bowman criticized Governor Thomas G. Jones's use of the Alabama State Militia to suppress strikers.
Bowman was also known to never shy away from a fight. A Birmingham Age-Herald reporter related that, "Bowman's local reputation is that of a turbulent man when in liquor, and he has had many encounters." On the evening of June 12, 1894, Peyton Bowman struck Thomas Jeffers, a former Mayor of Birmingham, during a dispute at the bar of the Florence Hotel. Jeffers' 20-year-old son, Eugene heard news of the fight and stormed to the bar to demand satisfaction. Peyton Bowman shot and killed the young man while John T. Bowman held him. They were both charged with murder, but acquitted in February 1895 on the grounds that he was defending himself.
Bowman continued his career as a rhetorician, participating in the "Populite" Free Silver Movement in 1895. He lectured in favor of prohibition in 1907, but later changed his stance and argued against prohibition in 1911. Meanwhile, Bowman had restored his professional reputation to the degree that he was made chair of the Alabama State Bar's Committee on Grievances in 1909.
Bowman left Birmingham for Camden, South Carolina in 1913. Soon after arriving he jumped out of a hotel window to escape a fire resulting in paralysis of his legs. He died in Asheville, North Carolina in September 1916 and is buried in a family plot at the Savannah Advent Church Cemetery in Bishopville, South Carolina.
- Vernon Courier (June 14, 1894)
- "The Bowman Murder Trial" (June 21, 1894) The Montgomery Advertiser.
- Porterfield, Charles Ellington (1965) "A Rhetorical-Historical Analysis of the Third Party Movement in Alabama, 1890-1894" Ph.D. dissertation. Louisiana State University
- Peyton Green Bowman Jr at Findagrave.com