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Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Gaucho and His Knife

American knife technique was strongly influenced by techniques practiced south of the border. Argentinian gauchos often carried a long fighting knife called a facon. Ernest William White presents a fanciful view of the skills of the gaucho in Cameos from the Silver-land (1881).
Amongst his special powers however must be early enumerated, skill with the knife, by the aid of which he is more than a match for an Englishman with his revolver: of course the latter is unaware of the mode of attack, and this is the great source of danger. Formerly the Gaucho was afraid of the revolver, but not so now; perhaps the knife is up his sleeve and whilst addressing his victim with great politeness, it is allowed to run down into the hand and, before a revolver can be levelled, is plunged with lightning stroke into the heart of his adversary, no mistake is made, the aim is always deadly; sometimes the knife reposes in his long riding boot, and stooping down apparently to arrange that, is suddenly withdrawn and launched on its fatal mission; at others resting with the hilt on the curved middle finger and the blade along the forearm ready to be darted point first, and at a distance of ten yards it is winged with certain death. In fact it would take a good swordsman with his favourite weapon to obtain an advantage over a Gaucho with his facon; when they fight, they cover the left arm with two or three folds of the poncho, allowing the ends to hang down and form a shield which, kept in perpetual motion, effectually screens them and dazzles the eyes of their adversary, and so it is very difficult to see or get near them; they are stupendously quick with the arm and wrist but clumsy on the lower limbs: yet take his knife from him and the gaucho is helpless for business, pleasure or attack. With equal facility the Gaucho manages the bolas and the lasso and at the distance of thirty yards blunders are seldom committed; these instruments in his hands are really formidable, so that a European, whether on horseback or on foot, and engaged in a deadly struggle with him, is to a great degree helpless: if again in treachery a Gaucho hides behind a rock or tree for the passing traveller, his doom is pretty well sealed; his horse entangled with the bolas or himself with the lasso, there is no escape except perhaps by the instant severing of the latter with a very sharp knife, which many keep for the purpose.

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