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My dear friend Gonzalo:
I was delighted to read the link to the Forum you have sent to me and to read the post about gaucho knives.
I feel that the information that you and other Forum members have provided is a very thorough and serious approach to the issue of Creole Knives, and find that little has to be added to what was said.
I would be honored to participate in this Forum, but by the reasons you know, it is very difficult for me at present time to participate in the Argentine and Spanish Forums I am usually part of. I wish this will change next year, after my new book is finished, and will be more than happy and a true honor to take a little part in it.
In the meantime, I sincerely thank you for your nice comments about my works, and I kindly request you to tell the Forum members who posted their comments in this thread, that I thank them sincerely for their kind references to my books.
At the same time, and as per your kind invitation, I´m enclosing a little article, and pictures, containing some information which may be will help in the understanding these fascinating knives.
I have to apologize for my English, and hope my writings can be understood in spite of some improper phrase construction, or other mistakes.
I was very pleased to write it and I request you to publish it in the Forum, if you find it is worth enough and of interest to their Membership.
Of course I keep to your orders if some additional explanation is needed around these themes.
I hope you enjoy this writing and also wish it would be of the liking of the Forum members, and I thank you and them for this nice opportunity of placing this post.
Please receive my best cordial regards, Abel
A short essay about gaucho knives: Facón, Daga, Cuchilla and Puñal.
And a short study of the different knives used by gauchos, and some interesting coincidences and a common root between puñales and bowies.
By Abel A. Domenech
We call in a generic way “cuchillos criollos” (creole knives) to the different types of edged weapons used by gauchos in the past. We employ this generic name, as actually, gauchos didn’t use just one class of knife, but different ones, depending on their personal tastes, customs, or what they could find or acquire.
About the gauchos.
The Gaucho was a very particular human type: a free man, always changing of settlement, with no personal land, few personal belongings, and no boundaries.
An excellent rider, hunter of wild cattle, with no employer and not fixed job, he preferred to be an errant rider crossing the silent and deserted big plains.
Gauchos appeared as a result of the crossing of the Spanish with the local Indians, and it is generally believed that his appearance happened for the firs time, in territories of what today belongs to the Republica de Uruguay, on the North bank of River Plate, and that they quickly spread across the River, to territories of what today is known as Argentina.
Both gauchos of Uruguay and Argentina, have very similar characteristics, in customs, and clothing. A little different type of gaucho, also developed later in the southern region of what today is Brazil, in the Rio Grande do Sul zone.
What we can call a “gaucho type” appeared under several different names, during the XVII Century, and they were called “changadores” “arrimados” “camiluchos”, gauderios, etc., before being called “gauchos” for the first time, probably around end of XVIII century.
It has to be explained, that the first Spaniards settlements around the coasts of the River Plate, where made around the 1530´s, and after their initial failure, great part of the few horses and cows brought from Spain, gained liberty and escaped to the great open plains which offered these animals ideal conditions of grass, water and mild weather.
These initial little herds gave place with the pass of the following 150 years, to the huge herds of thousands and thousands, of “Cimarron” (wild) cattle (both horses and cows) which astonished the voyagers who arrived to these lands in the following centuries after the First Foundations of Buenos Aires.
These huge herds, gave origin to a big local industry based in the chasing and hunting of wild cattle, just to take their hides for export to Spain, which required the special permission of the Cabildo, institution which represented the King of Spain in our lands.
These expeditions required many men to work as hunters, killers and skinners, and also of soldiers to protect them against the attack of Indians.
Of course, many entrepreneurs found that more profitable business could be made organizing their own non authorized expeditions to get the cattle, and smuggle the hides to other places of Europe.
Gauchos were men of the frontier, and recognized no Law, no King, no Patron, and committed robberies, and other felonies, and as such, were pursued by the Law.
Their services as knowledgeable men of the plains, was requested from time to time by owners of big rodeos of cattle, or by the chiefs of the expeditions organized by the Cabildo to hunt wild cows, and get their skins. This helped to put an end to the pursuit of the Law, at least during the course of those authorized expeditions.
But then, they also hunted wild cattle for themselves, without the required Cabildo permission, and smuggled the skins for their own profit, or were employed by the organizers of the non authorized expeditions.
Later, in several stages of our history, they were forced to form part of the regular Army and, badly armed and badly equipped, employed in Independence and Civil wars, and during the war against the Indians, both under orders of military brass, politicos or civilian leaders.
These human types known as camiluchos, gauderios and other names given before that of “gauchos”, all of them had similar characteristic behavior, remained in constant change, adaptation, and modification of their clothes, tools, and ridding apparel, according to times, and personal possibilities. Everything was capable of being used, changed, adapted, modified, to their personal tastes, or customs. That’s why it’s so difficult to classify the edged weapons they employed, and also their other pieces of tackle and riding equipment.
Anyway, to study an object, it’s necessary to arrive to a classification method, and to use a more or less methodic description, to allow us to observe a specimen, and classify it, in such or such variant.
We always should have in our minds though, what we said before, regarding to the personality of gauchos, and their ability to adapt or modify his equipment, including his riding tackle, and weapons.
This is especially important with their knives, because we always find pieces which do not fit exactly within the characteristics we hereby show, or fit in any of the types named here, but should be classified in one of the four types we propose.
Real Gauchos disappeared around 1880/1890´s, with the arrival of wire fences, the telegraph and the railroad. They adapted themselves, to become employees of estancias, under the directions of its owner, or otherwise they just vanished.
Today, the public image of gaucho is very different to the true sense it has in the past. A new, positive image replaced the bad one he had in the last centuries.
He is now the icon who represents Argentinians, in a similar sense as cowboys represent the Americans.
Far from its true origins, it is known today for his riding skills and the knowledge of the cattle and the secrets of the countryside work, his personal valor, and his generosity, everything forming an image coined by the romantic sense given by literature, and the forgiveness of the pass of time.
Gaucho´s arms and tools:
Gauchos were simple poor people. Skilled riders, and handlers of cattle, they had very little equipment. The lazo (lariat) and bolas (throwing weapon inherited from the Indians) were his tools and weapons.
The hobbles were a humble but important tool which prevented the loosing of their horse in the middle of the great lonely plains, by tying together the front legs of the horse. A gaucho without horse, in the middle of the great plains, was a dead man.
Then of course, was the knife, an edged weapon, and a multi purpose tool that he used almost at any time during his day.
Gauchos had limited access to firearms, which in our territories were reserved to the high or military classes almost exclusively.
For this same reason, gauchos seemed to look firearms with disdain and little confidence, preferring edged weapons over all other types.
Several types of knives were used by gauchos in the past. They received different names depending on its shapes and general design, and local customs.
It is worth noting that being persons of little literacy, they called their knives under different names, paying little attention to their true characteristics, but using the names they have heard from their older people. Thus, a knife was a facón for one person, but the same was called a “daga” by another.
It is also worth noticing that the features which must be present in a specific specimen in order to classify it as a particular type are subject to debate, as there is no definite or rigid pattern or list of characteristics which exactly define each one.
So the present classification which I propose in my books and writings, are those I used during the last 25 years, and can be considered of rather “modern” usage, based in the local customs, and the most widely accepted morphology of each variant. Some authors may accept these definitions and others propose some little changes.
When considering gaucho knives, we must always bear in mind that their manufacturing was more a result of improvisation and of taking advantage of the available materials, than a true cutlery product, as it happened with the English cutlery trade.
As a matter of fact, the local “cutlery industry” was very simple: silversmiths took blades imported from Europe, and provided rich handles, and occasionally sheaths.
Then simple blacksmiths made entire simple knives with whichever metal was at hand.
Old or broken swords, sabers or bayonets, donated their blades to make facones or dagas.
Basically, we can establish four main types: facón, daga, cuchilla and puñal.
Each of these knives have sub-types depending on subtle design differences, size or regional manufacture.
However, this analysis would be out of the scope of this article.
On the other hand, we should understand that the luxurious silver and gold embellished knives made their first appearances after the 1830/1840's when the true local silversmith trade was established.
In those early years, this type of costly knives were mainly destined to wealthy "estancieros" (ranch and land owners), high rank military or rich "politicos", not for ordinary gauchos which were usually very poor and owners of very few personal belongings as said.
Anyway, the taste for flashy silver ornamentation for their knives and horse headstalls and saddles, quickly spread among gauchos and Indians, becoming their most prized possession.
Both indians and gauchos became very fond of use of silver in their riding tackle and knives, as a power and rank symbol. Though both human types were usually very, very poor, they tried by all means (including trade and robbery) to get some silver in their belongings.
Common knives were handled with local woods, cow horns, or antlers of small plains stags. Sometimes, they were adorned with coins, or small pieces of silver. Later, nickel silver was also used, as well as low quality silver alloys.
Curiously enough, and in spite of their Spanish heritage, gauchos have never been fond of navajas, or of any other type of folding blade knife, and always preferred fixed blade knives, and of good blade length.
Now, let’s see some characteristics of each type:
, is a thoroughbred fighting weapon. Its long blade (15” to 18” long) was usually made with a portion of broken sword, saber or bayonet or sometimes, it was specially forged by frontier blacksmiths, usually from old worn tools, like files.
Facones made with military blades
The blade of a typical Facón, is very long and slim, single edged, and sometimes with a short double edge near its point.
The presence of a fuller is common in these long blades.
Facones also feature a double guard, usually "S" shaped, sometimes with the form of an inverted "U" or a simple short crossguard. It was intended to protect the hand of the bearer during a fight, or to deflect an opponent thrust.
Two Facones and a Daga
An interesting sub-type was the "caronero". It is a very long bladed facón or dagger (single or double edge) -almost a true sword- which was carried between the "caronas" (a leather part of the gaucho saddle, thus its name). Caroneros do not usually have guards, as they could get entangled with the saddle when reaching for the weapon.
Contrary to the popular belief, caroneros were not common or popular among gauchos. They were used by “bad gauchos” (pursued by Law), militia members or soldiers, and only very occasionally, by a gaucho.
(dagger) is similar to the facón in shape, but the distinctive feature is that its long slim blade is double edged.