Cuchillo Gaucho
Knives of the Argentine Gauchos

Example 1. A single-edged cuchillo gaucho with a low fineness silver alloy handle and sheath, late 19th or early 20th Century. The display face of the handle (above) bears an embossed depiction of the crest of Argentina, while the sheath tip shows a figure in 19th Century military uniform. Surprisingly, the opposite surface of the handle and scabbard, which would have been worn against the body, shows even more extensive bas-relief decoration, patriotic in character. The well-worn and often resharpened blade is marked only with GEN in an arc, likely the worn remnant of a SOLINGEN inscription. The flat back of the blade shows filed decoration. Overall length (including sheath): 44.7 cm. (17.8 inches); blade length: 24.5 cm. (9.6 inches).

Cuchillo gaucho (faca gaucha in Portuguese) is a generic term for a type of knife characteristic of the gauchos, horsemen of the pampas (plains) of South America, principally Argentina, of mestizo (mixed Spanish and Indian) heritage. Analogous to the cowboy of the American west and the Mexican vaquero, the gauchos were mounted cattlemen initially living and working in vast undeveloped areas at the fringes of "civilization". Aside from its obvious potential as a weapon in duels, which were to mark rather than kill an adversary, the cuchillo gaucho has a reputation as a truly multipurpose tool and was used for tasks as diverse as slaughtering and skinning cattle, working leather, cutting wood and making adobe bricks. In the wilderness the gaucho could listen for distant approaches by sticking his knife into the ground and pressing an ear against its hilt. The knife was the gaucho's primary eating utensil: a large chunk of meat would be placed in the mouth and the excess cut off with an upward stroke of the knife, stopping short of amputation of the nose. Afterwards, it would serve as a toothpick. And, of course, in the gaucho's and cuchillo gaucho's twilight in our century, its use as a can opener was inevitable. The cuchillo gaucho was traditionally worn diagonally over the small of the back, stuck in the gaucho's wide tirador (belt, usually decorated with silver coins) and secured by its integral sheath clip, edge up and hilt adjacent to the right elbow.

Example 2. A single-edged cuchillo gaucho with a low fineness silver alloy handle and sheath, late 19th or early 20th Century, the blade inscribed with an outline of scissors and the text ARMERIA DE PARIS; CARLOS RASETTI & CA; BUENOS AIRES. The back of the blade is flat to slightly rounded. A plain silver alloy band has been soldered around the sheath near the tip to repair damage and additional areas of solder repair are noted on the sheath which also shows several bent areas. The belt clip is a replacement likely made during the working life of this weapon. The scabbard is illustrated reversed (the opposite side) in relation to the knife. Overall length (including sheath): 44 cm. (17.5 inches); blade length: 27.2 cm. (10.7 inches).

While Tinker (1967, 1968) uses the term facón in an overall generic sense, Domenech (1987, 1989) reserves the term facón for an early form of the gaucho's knife, having a single-edged blade, often recycled from a broken sword or made from a file, ten to twenty inches in length, and always equipped with a guard. Domenech employs the term daga for a similar double-edged variant which might omit the guard and cuchilla to refer to a ten to fifteen inch single-edged butcher knife featuring a straight back and rounded edge. The most common surviving form, according to Domenech, is the puñal, which originated in the early to mid-19th Century, and which has a guardless single-edged spear shaped imported blade of European (German, French or English) origin with a false edge near the tip. One characteristic of puñales is the thickening of the steel of the blade at the transition into the hilt called a button. Domenech (1987, p. 42) notes that angulated button forms are usually associated with knives of Argentinian origin, while Uruguayan and Brazilian forms have a button rounded in cross-section with a further clue being an extension from the sheath to cover the button. Though both lack a "false edge", the two examples on this page would probably be best classified as puñales. While puñales with eight to ten inch long blades are still popular for costume wear, four to six inch blades are now preferred for modern uses.

Many thanks to Dr. Richard Stein for alerting me to Abel Domenech's articles and to Ivan de Almeida Campos for clarifying the proper use of the terms facón and cuchillo gaucho

Domenech, Abel, "Knives of the Gauchos," in The Blade Magazine (September-October, 1989), p. 44 - 49, 68.

Domenech, Abel A., "Knives of the Gauchos," in Knives '88 (Northbrook, IL: D.B.I. Books, Inc., 1987) p. 37 - 43.

Tinker, Edward Larocque, The Horsemen of the Americas: An Exhibition from The Hall of the Horsemen of the Americas; The Humanities Research Center; The University of Texas (Austin); April-October 1968, (San Antonio, Texas: The Witte Museum, 1968).

Tinker, Edward Larocque, The Horsemen of the Americas and the Literature They Inspired, (Austin, Texas: The University of Texas Press for the Humanities Research Center, 1967).

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Version 1.1 ~ 20 June 1999 ~ Copyright © 1998, 1999 by Lee A. Jones