Two Facones and a Dagger
is an utilitarian type of knife.
Actually, it is a big butcher's knife with a curved edge and a straight back.
It is interesting to note that in Spanish language there exist the words "cuchillo" (masculine noun) and "cuchilla" (feminine noun).
Gauchos seemed to find the image of a "pregnant blade" in the "belly" or curved edge of the cuchilla, so it's the legend around the origin of the use of a feminine noun to name this type.
The cuchilla is a knife of full tang construction, with wooden slabs attached to the tang by rivets. It has no bolsters.
Cheap and easy to find everywhere, cuchillas are one of the most popular types of knife in use in the country in present times.
An interesting variant of this type, is what I call “cuchillo de campo” (country knife), which was of later appearance, may be during ends of XIX C.
The cuchillo de campo, is also of full tang construction, slab attached with rivets, usually of wood or antler, and a false bolster made of brass or nickel silver. The shape of the blade is slimmer, and similar to that of the “puñal”.
Ways of carry a knife
Customary, gauchos carried their long bladed knives in their backs, crossed through their "tirador" (wide belt) and with the edge upwards. This enabled them to carry a very long blade easily, especially when riding a horse, and also to unsheathe it very quick and ready to cut. On his books published during XIX Century, English traveler and author, Cunninghame Graham, wrote that these knives crossed on the gauchos' backs looked like the latin sail of Mediterranean boats.
(Note: "tirador" is the name of a heavy and wide leather belt, closed in the front with a distinctive and big silver buckle called "rastra". The belt also carried important personal papers and money like the cowboy "moneybelt", and was usually decorated with silver or gold coins.)
A small knife, of not more than 13 or 15 cm blade, is usually carried on the front, near the right side of the rastra. It´s called “verijero” and explained later.
As a knife collector whose personal interests cover several different aspects of the fascinating world of knives, it has never ceased to amaze me, the similarities about two most interesting types of knives: bowies and gaucho "puñales".
Although historical, economic and cultural behaviors of North and South America followed different roads, the significance of both knives in our respective history and culture are of similar great importance.
As a matter of fact, both the saga of the conquest of the Frontier, the conflict with the Indian, and the cattle industry are all dominant factors in the development of the two Americas.
Both knives suffered the early menace of restrictive laws, trying to control its use. Both were principal and sometimes only weapons for their owners. But also, they were multi-purpose tools in the hands of settlers, farmers, cowboys or gauchos. In both cases, knives were used with outstanding skill by our countrymen.
There are also several features of South American knives, whose exact meaning or actual use are not clear today; the same happens with certain characteristics of bowies.
Of the several types of gaucho knives used in the past, I personally consider the most interesting type to study (specially for bowie collectors), is the variant known as "puñal", a knife which was widely used along the territories of what today is Argentina, as well as Uruguay and southern Brazil. This type features subtle distinctive differences of design in each of these regions.
Several years ago I developed my own theory, tracing a common root in both the bowie knife and the puñal. I don't know if this theory would be widely accepted among our leading bowie authorities in the USA, and I can't say if I'll ever be able to fully demonstrate its complete truth, but in the meantime I humbly consider and present it to our readers as an approach to the study of these most interesting types of knives - bowies and South American puñales- taking into account their broad use during a large historical period of our countries.
The use of the name "puñal" could be rather confusing for the historian, as the shape of this knife can not be related to the classical European "poignard". Anyway, old European catalogs from the cutlery firms which supplied this kind of blades to the South American trade, call them "puñales" or "daggers" in their literature.
It is also interesting to point out, that in local common day language -e.g. in a newspaper crime news- it is usually referred as a "puñalada" for "stabbing". So is the verb used to name the act of receiving a wound with an edged weapon, no matter the actual shape or type used in the stabbing.
Also, it is very common among Argentine military personnel to call any type of fighting or military knife "puñal" without paying attention to its actual shape or design. This could somewhat explain the wide use of the word "puñal" among common people, referring to any kind of knife.
Original blades for puñales were forged in Germany, Belgium, France and England, but the exact story of its origin remains a mystery, as well as who designed its distinctive blade shape, and the actual date of appearance - perhaps XVIII Century or earlier.
The Spanish influence of these knives is evident as soon as you compare its shape with the Belduque, Albacete and Flandes knives brought by the Spaniards to our lands. On the other hand, there is a Germanic influence too, as there were several types of knives of German origin which used the same blade shape long before the gaucho knife.
The so called "Mediterranean Dagger" (actually a single edge knife) is a knife which was used in Spain, Italy and France during the XVII and XVIII Centuries, and it is commonly shown as a probable origin of the early bowie knives. Probably connected to certain Genovese and Corsican fixed blade knives, too.
As a matter of fact, we know that Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas received a very strong French and Spanish influence in those days, and some early bowies show a strong reminiscence of the European dagger or knife. This can be easily seen for example, in the classic lines of the knife Searles made for Rezin Bowie.
Both South American puñales and early bowies or Spanish Mediterranean daggers, can be compared with large butcher knives and actually, this was the way bowie knives were described in early documents and newspaper accounts of knife fights.