What is a Gaucho Knife?

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Widely used in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay,  Gaucho knives are knives used by the Gauchos, the cowboy tribe of the South American pampas, for both fighting and utility tasks.

While they are not in majority as they once were across the Argentinian Pampas, their most valuable possession was, and yet remains so, is their knife! These aboriginals interestingly never carried guns but only a knife, originally termed as the ‘Cuchillo’.

Along with an elaborately adorned metal hilt and sheath, the Gaucho featured a big, heavy blade whose length was within 10-20 inches. The Argentinian silversmiths used to make this knife.

In the early days, it was the only tool used for everything, ranging right from cleaning the hooves of horses, using as a razor and fork, making other tools, to resolving a disagreement. Thus, a Gaucho knife was lovingly tagged as ‘The Peacemaker!’ Let’s learn about it in detail!

Historic Overview

Muela GAUCHO-20A Genuine Red Stag Antler Handle Hunting Knife with Leather Sheath
Muela GAUCHO-20A

The term ‘Gaucho’ literally stands for ‘free man’, the one who has no permanent home and is always on the move.

The Gaucho tribe also has no masters. Thus, these people are without any command. They are adventurers who excel in horse riding, cattle rearing, and hunting. They may have settled for some time in a small rustic abode (rancho in the open country) but they finally choose to get involved in cattle ranching tasks.

Representing a blend of the Native American and Spanish blood, Gauchos initially showed up in Uruguay after which they went until Argentina and Brazil. With many cultural legends in their name, they have left an exciting mark in these areas.

They are basic nomads who work with the cattle and have no money. They have to improve their skills for survival. In the name of material possessions that they carried, they carried only a few, namely, a horse, a poncho as a blanket and as an overcoat, a wide belt adorned with coins, and a knife useful both as a tool and as a weapon.

It is impossible to imagine a Gaucho without this knife, as it is the most versatile tool to be used in the most diverse situations. The knife is carried at the waist with the hilt to the right or inside the boot.

Apart from using it as an eating fork and a hunting knife, a Gaucho knife is also used for making leather crafts required for controlling a horse and performing farm activities. Even today, leather artisans use it to braid leather, cut leather strips and emboss leather.

The knife is also used as a reliable tool for protecting from wild animal attacks. Some more common uses of this knife are cutting branches, preparing sticks, and doing general woodwork. A Gaucho knife is a cultural legacy of this tribe.

Types of Gaucho Knives

In reality, the Gauchos used different Argentinian knives due to which there is more than one type of knife of Gaucho that you may come across today. These knives got different names as per their shape, design, and local rituals.

Being not so literate people, the Gauchos gave different names to their knives, giving less attention to the genuine knife characteristics.

Further, there is no definite set of characteristics to distinguish one knife from the other. The present classification is what different books have made as per the local customs and widely accepted forms of each variant. It should also be kept in mind that different knives were made for taking the benefit of the available materials for the sake of improvisation.

Basically, there are five types of Gaucho knives namely, daga, facón, puñal, cuchilla, and verijero. The first two are combat weapons, while the other two are multipurpose tools. The tribe’s skill in handling a long blade for handling delicate or small cutting jobs is likely to help them in using long facons as a single knife for common use.

Facon

Cold Steel Facon Argentinian Gaucho Fixed Blade Knife with Sheath, One SizeAs the Portuguese explorers explored South America, the aboriginals including the Gauchos embraced the facon’s big blade that can kill an animal or a human. They found it ideal for their needs.

Deprived of the privilege of wearing a sword by different decrees, the Spanish Caballeros adopted this knife in South America, especially in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay as a reliable weapon of self-defense. Later, the gauchos along with the rural working class in Uruguay and Argentina adopted it.

The term facon is derived from the Portuguese word, faca that literally means a knife. In the Portuguese language, the facon means a big knife. It is a pure fighting weapon having a blade whose length is around 15 to 18 inches. This can give you an illusion of it being a sword although it is not.

The long length makes it uncomfortable to use it as a tool. The width is proportional but it is not that wide. The blade is slim and has a single edge that is sharpened and has a counter bevel.

However, at times, a short double-edged design is present close to its point. It is common to spot a fuller in this long blade to ensure an improved balance and lightweight feel.

This knife is about the size of a standard English carving knife and has crude embellishments. The hilt is robust and is made usually of silver (luxurious feel), horn, or bronze.

The sheath is made using raw leather and features a braided rim. Typically made using a section of a broken sword or bayonet, this knife was, at times, was forged using old worn tools such as files by frontier blacksmiths.

Facons come with a double guard that is typically in the shape of an S. However, it can be as an inverted U or as a plain short crossguard. The guard aims to defend the holding hand during combat or deflect the adversary’s thrust. The overall design makes the facon an eye-striking weapon.

The owners use it with just a single hand while grabbing a protective item such as a poncho in the other for blocking the blows. This knife is usually worn on the waist’s back, an ideal position for a quick pull in a free-hand motion.

An attractive sub-type of facon is the caronero, a highly long-bladed knife or dagger with a single or double edge making it look like a genuine sword. The blade length is almost double the length of a standard facon blade.

It is used to kill cattle. Due to its huge size, this facon is usually carried between the caronas, which is a leather section of the gaucho saddle.

There are no guards seen in caroneros, as otherwise they get entwined with the saddle. Contrary to the common belief, these knives were more commonly used by the lawless gauchos and military people.

Due to lethal history, facón and similar weapons were regularly banned in Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil. With the introduction of handguns in the 19th century, the use of this knife as a weapon for close combats declined.

Many gauchos continued to wear it and used it mostly as a utility or a meat carving knife. Still, it is used at times to settle arguments. Herein, two opponents trigger slashing facial attacks and stop the combat when one of them no longer sees lucidly due to blood oozing from the cuts.

Today, although facons are not widely used, many people still use it for traditional purposes or as a unique tool for their collection.

Here is modern-day Facon from Cold steel

 

Daga (Dagger)

The daga is identical to facón in terms of shape but its long and thin blade is double-edged. Being used as a weapon, the daga is greater than a standard knife but is inferior to the facon. The gauchos made the dagas using the old bayonets.

Cuchilla

cuchilla gaucho knifeCuchilla is a utilitarian knife. To be specific, it is a butcher’s knife that is big, has a straight rear, and has a curved edge. In Spanish, interestingly, cuchilla is a feminine noun and cuchillo is a masculine noun. As per a legend, the feminine name comes from the fact that the gauchos perceived a pregnant-like portion in the belly or the curved edge.

A cuchilla has a full-tang construction featuring slabs of wood affixed using rivets to the tang. There are no bolsters. Currently, you can easily spot this knife in the countryside.

An interesting sub-type of this knife is the country knife, also called cuchillo de campo, which was introduced in the 19th century. Even this one has a full tang and a slab handle of antler or wood affixed by rivets. However, it also has a false bolster of nickel silver, or brass. The blade’s shape is similar but thinner than that of the puñal.

Puñal

Gaucho Punal KnifeGaucho puñal, just like a bowie, acted as the only tool for their owners. It is a multi-purpose tool for cowboys, farmers, and settlers. The origin of this knife is unclear but its few characteristics are, that of a bowie.

In the local modern language such as of crime news, a puñal is referred to as a puñalada, which means a stabbing tool. Stabbing, when used as a verb, refers to the act of getting a wound from an edged weapon regardless of its type or shape.

Argentinian military commonly refers to any type of military or fighting tool as puñal without focusing on its design or shape. This explains the wide use of this world among people.

Originally, the blade of this knife was forged in Germany, England, France, and Belgium. The Spanish impact on it is evident when you compare its shape with the Belduque and Flandes knives carried by the Spanish. Similarly, a Germanic influence also becomes evident, as many models were of German origin.

A Gaucho puñal features a thin, spear-pointed stylish blade along with an inherently forged button or bolster fortifying and splitting the blade from its tang. There are also file marks or cuts on the rear of the blade. You will also see some notch in the ricasso of the blade.

The blade has a rat tail tang that stays enclosed inside the handle. The bolster has a round shape in Southern Brazilian and Uruguayan models, while it is square in Argentinian models used at present. Of these, the rounded bolster is of earlier appearance. Due to a bolster, there is no guard in a puñal.

Verijero

This is a classical dagger-like knife with a small blade that a Gaucho used for cutting tobacco and castrating. It is used for tasks or in situations wherein a facon proves to be uncomfortable. Nevertheless, its utility is limited. Gauchos carried it in the front with the hilt visible above the belt.

As a fact, the luxurious knives of silver and gold were first introduced in the first half of the 19th century. In these days, these pricey knives were chiefly used by wealthy ranch and landowners, politicians, and high-ranking military. The ordinary gauchos could not use them, as they were very poor and carried only a few personal belongings.

Nevertheless, the liking for attractive silver-embellished knives triggered even in the Gauchos for having the most valuable possessions acting as icons of rank. Thus, they tried to grab these knives by all means, including both trade and theft.

In general, the Gaucho knives were originally made using local woods, deer antlers, or cow horns. At times, they were decorated with small silver pieces or coins. Even nickel silver and silver alloys of cheap quality were also used.

Despite the Spanish influence, the Gauchos always prefer fixed blades of good length; they never used folding knives.

Current Usage

Today, it is rare to see a Peacemaker suspended from the belt of a modern cowboy. However, you may easily spot a puñal featuring a short blade been spanned on the human spine or a small verijero in the front of modern gauchos on the work field.

Although not a problem in a small countryside, having a large knife behind the belt while walking in a street in a town is deemed incorrect by the current customs. Thus, all men who work in the country carry a small knife having a fixed blade as a practical tool.

The facons and dagas are only seen in festive parades due to their little practical use.

Salient Features of a Typical Gaucho Knife

If you wish to gather some genuine Argentinian Gaucho knives or facons, you need to know about its salient features, which are as follows:

  • Hand-crafted: A Gaucho knife is typically crafted by hands for catering to the differing requirements. Focus is always on the design so that you feel comfortable using the knife without compromising a firm grip. At the same time, the design is attractive enough to easily catch the attention of its probable buyers.
  • Very Long Handle: Most normal knives you may have used or seen tend to have small handles, which makes it a bit hard to grab or work with them. This discomfort is not the case with a Gaucho knife. The credit goes to the very long handle due to which makes it is easy to hold it.
  • Steel Blade: Gaucho knives typically have a fixed blade that is made up of steel. While the original ones were made up of inox and other steel types of that time with silver and nickel coating, the modern ones are made using carbon steel varieties. Thus, you can expect consistent, smooth cuts even if you wish to cut finely. It will also not rust quickly.
  • Hardwood: The handle of a genuine Gaucho weapon is made using hardwood that augments the appeal although it can be made using antler or horn. Still, the wooden handle has a unique charm. It is known for its durability apart from the aesthetics.
  • Ideal Balance: A Gaucho knife is designed in such a way that both the right- and left-handed owners can easily use it without compromising any of the expected benefits such as grip and solid feel. This is because the design is done by keeping the goal of the ideal balance in mind.
  • Sheath: It is common for steel blades to become rough with non-stop use due to which it needs additional protection. This is the reason why a Gaucho comes with a leather sheath.

Conclusion

A Gaucho knife is the most treasured belonging that is used by the South American Gauchos. It is used as a combat as well as a utility knife due to which it is considered as a highly multi-functional tool. Gauchos have used it for protection, hunting, cattle rearing, eating, and carving. Even today, it is rare to see a Gaucho without this knife. There are many types of these knives such as the facon, daga, cuchillo, puñal, and verijero.