Monday, March 16, 2009

Gauchos and Knife Fighting

Anonymous said...


Do many or any gauchos go armed with firearms now or in the past? If so Pistols?

Thank you, Lame Wolf

Gauchos and knives....
Gauchos are giving me a lot of work.:)
I’m using some of their knife fighting experience for the knife fighting section of my book.
I found some great information on a 1942 manual, that was recently reprinted here.
Gauchos as they once were known are pretty much gone. There’s no more Pampa roaming gauchos killing wild game and living off the land.
Most of them today are “peones de campo” , field workers working with cattle and horses.
Still, there’s enough of their gaucho traditions left very much alive, traveling trough the country I’ve met several and they are very interesting people. It’s better not to piss them off though.:)

Gauchos rarely used firearms. They preferred knives for several reasons:

1) Guns were expensive and hard to get in those latitudes. So was ammo. Keep in mind that gauchos had been around for a long time and guns in those days weren’t very popular.

2) Gauchos mostly fought for honor and (usually) preferred to stop at first blood. Killing someone on a fight occurred often given the brutal fights, but it was mostly considered a dishonorable thing, and the gaucho that killed his opponent would be mostly considered a pitiful person that had “disgraced” himself.
Using a gun instead was considered dishonorable and something weaklings used. Shooting a man armed with a knife was the most coward act, and would label you as yellow for the rest of your life.
When someone challenged you to a fair fight, you were expected to fight with a knife.

3) Knives are still VERY effective weapons. This is sometimes forgotten due to the popularity of firearms today. There’s more than enough documentation of people using guns ( mostly soldiers or police) against gauchos and ending up dead. Most of the encounters occurred in “pulperias” a kind of outpost/bar where gauchos got together to drink, gamble and trade.
In those tight quarters and against an experienced knife fighter with a foot, foot and a half long blade ( minimum length for a facon knife) gun or no gun you were pretty much dead unless you were quick and smart to get out of there, or keep the gaucho and his deadly knife at bay with tables or chairs.
Charles Darwin was fascinated and horrified at the same time when visiting Argentina, by the brutal yet honorable customs people had here. He mentioned how common scars to the face were, due to this tendency to fight.

Juan Moreira was probably one of the last, most famous and fiercest fighting gauchos, making the like of Jim Bowie pale in comparison.
I mean, he would usually fight and win, against several soldiers. Even when he was finally killed, he seriously wounded or killed most of them.
Even the man that finally killed him with a bayonet thrust to the back, (Sargent Chirino) lost four fingers and an eye.(Moreira shot him in hte face)

He had been hiding in the shadows waiting to strike while Moreira fought other soldiers.
Moreira used some neat weapons. Since he was constantly chased by soldiers and police, he also carried two big bore single shot pistols with him all the time.
Though he always carried at least two handguns on him, Moreira’s main weapon and the one he killed the most with was his formidable Facon knife, with a 2 FOOT blade.

Moreira’s facon (left) and his skull.
Notice the big "U" shaped crosspiece. This was specially requested by Moreira.
He used it to pary and stop knife, bayonet and saber attacks.
Moreira's steel was of such fine quality, the night he was killed he broke a soldier's saber with it when blocking a chopping attack.

Juan Moreira.

Of the 16 kills he has accounted, he used his knife in 9 of them.
This of course doesn’t include the frequent knife duels Moreira fought, and where the opponent was “marked” but not killed.
His facon, horse and dog were the only things he really trusted in life, according to his own words. He slept under the stars trusting his dog as a guard and never unsaddling so as to escape quick.
This was one of the last gauchos of old. He died in 1874.

Edited to add: Thought I should mention this; when using pistols, Moreira was very fonnd of shooting to the face.


Here’s some of Darwin’s stories:
Darwin on Gauchos:

Ranch Life and Pampa's Etiquette
At night we came to the house of Don Juan Fuentes, a rich landed proprietor, but not personally known to either of my companions. On approaching the house of a stranger, it is usual to follow several little points of etiquette: riding up slowly to the door, the salutation of Ave Maria is given, and until somebody comes out and asks you to alight, it is not customary even to get off your horse: the formal answer of the owner is, "sin pecado concebida" -- that is, conceived without sin. Having entered the house, some general conversation is kept up for a few minutes, till permission is asked to pass the night there. This is granted as a matter of course. The stranger then takes his meals with the family, and a room is assigned him, where with the horsecloths belonging to his recado (or saddle of the Pampas) he makes his bed. It is curious how similar circumstances produce such similar results in manners. At the Cape of Good Hope the same hospitality, and very nearly the same points of etiquette, are universally observed.

Shortly after our arrival at Don Juan's, one of the largest herds of cattle was driven in towards the house, and three beasts were picked out to be slaughtered for the supply of the establishment. These half-wild cattle are very active; and knowing full well the fatal lazo, they led the horses a long and laborious chase. After witnessing the rude wealth displayed in the number of cattle, men, and horses, Don Juan's miserable house was quite curious. The floor consisted of hardened mud, and the windows were without glass; the sitting-room boasted only of a few of the roughest chairs and stools, with a couple of tables. The supper, although several strangers were present, consisted of two huge piles, one of roast beef, the other of boiled, with some pieces of pumpkin: besides this latter there was no other vegetable, and not even a morsel of bread. For drinking, a large earthenware jug of water served the whole party. Yet this man was the owner of several square miles of land, of which nearly every acre would produce corn, and, with a little trouble, all the common vegetables. The evening was spent in smoking, with a little impromptu singing, accompanied by the guitar. The signoritas all sat together in one corner of the room, and did not sup with the men.

The Gauchos, or countryrmen, are very superior to those who reside in the towns. The Gaucho is invariably most obliging, polite, and hospitable: I did not meet with even one instance of rudeness or inhospitality. He is modest, both respecting himself and country, but at the same time a spirited, bold fellow. On the other hand, many robberies are committed, and there is much bloodshed: the habit of constantly wearing the knife is the chief cause of the latter. It is lamentable to hear how many lives are lost in trifling quarrels. In fighting, each party tries to mark the face of his adversary by slashing his nose or eyes; as is often attested by deep and horrid-looking scars. Robberies are a natural consequence of universal gambling, much drinking, and extreme indolence. At Mercedes I asked two men why they did not work. One gravely said the days were too long; the other that he was too poor. The number of horses and the profusion of food are the destruction of all industry. Moreover, there are so many feast-days; and again, nothing can succeed without it be begun when the moon is on the increase; so that half the month is lost from these two causes.
Lasso and Bolas:
So many works have been written about these countries, that it is almost superfluous to describe either the lazo or the bolas. The lazo consists of a very strong, but thin, well-plaited rope, made of raw hide. One end is attached to the broad surcingle, which fastens together the complicated gear of the recado, or saddle used in the Pampas; the other is terminated by a small ring of iron or brass, by which a noose can be formed. The Gaucho, when he is going to use the lazo, keeps a small coil in his bridle-hand, and in the other holds the running noose which is made very large, generally having a diameter of about eight feet. This he whirls round his head, and by the dexterous movement of his wrist keeps the noose open; then, throwing it, he causes it to fall on any particular spot he chooses. The lazo, when not used, is tied up in a small coil to the after part of the recado. The bolas, or balls, are of two kinds: the simplest, which is chiefly used for catching ostriches, consists of two round stones, covered with leather, and united by a thin plaited thong, about eight feet long. The other kind differs only in having three balls united by the thongs to a common centre. The Gaucho holds the smallest of the three in his hand, and whirls the other two round and round his head; then, taking aim, sends them like chain shot revolving through the air. The balls no sooner strike any object, than, winding round it, they cross each other, and become firmly hitched. The size and weight of the balls vary, according to the purpose for which they are made: when of stone, although not larger than an apple, they are sent with such force as sometimes to break the leg even of a horse. I have seen the balls made of wood, and as large as a turnip, for the sake of catching these animals without injuring them. The balls are sometimes made of iron, and these can be hurled to the greatest distance. The main difficulty in using either lazo or bolas is to ride so well as to be able at full speed, and while suddenly turning about, to whirl them so steadily round the head, as to take aim: on foot any person would soon learn the art. One day, as I was amusing myself by galloping and whirling the balls round my head, by accident the free one struck a bush, and its revolving motion being thus destroyed, it immediately fell to the ground, and, like magic, caught one hind leg of my horse; the other ball was then jerked out of my hand, and the horse fairly secured. Luckily he was an old practised animal, and knew what it meant; otherwise he would probably have kicked till he had thrown himself down. The Gauchos roared with laughter; they cried out that they had seen every sort of animal caught, but had never before seen a man caught by himself.

About two leagues beyond this curious tree we halted for the night: at this instant an unfortunate cow was spied by the lynx-eyed Gauchos, who set off in full chase, and in a few minutes dragged her in with their lazos, and slaughtered her. We here had the four necessaries of life "en el campo," -- pasture for the horses, water (only a muddy puddle), meat and firewood. The Gauchos were in high spirits at finding all these luxuries; and we soon set to work at the poor cow. This was the first night which I passed under the open sky, with the gear of the recado for my bed. There is high enjoyment in the independence of the Gaucho life -- to be able at any moment to pull up your horse, and say, "Here we will pass the night." The death-like stillness of the plain, the dogs keeping watch, the gipsy-group of Gauchos making their beds round the fire, have left in my mind a strongly-marked picture of this first night, which will never be forgotten.
General [Juan Manuel de] Rosas
is also a perfect horseman -- an accomplishment of no small consequence In a country where an assembled army elected its general by the following trial: A troop of unbroken horses being driven into a corral, were let out through a gateway, above which was a cross-bar: it was agreed whoever should drop from the bar on one of these wild animals, as it rushed out, and should be able, without saddle or bridle, not only to ride it, but also to bring it back to the door of the corral, should be their general. The person who succeeded was accordingly elected; and doubtless made a fit general for such an army. This extraordinary feat has also been performed by Rosas. By these means, and by conforming to the dress and habits of the Gauchos, he has obtained an unbounded popularity in the country, and in consequence a despotic power. I was assured by an English merchant, that a man who had murdered another, when arrested and questioned concerning his motive, answered, "He spoke disrespectfully of General Rosas, so I killed him." At the end of a week the murderer was at liberty. This doubtless was the act of the general's party, and not of the general himself.
Gaucho Ranch Skills
The great corral, where the animals are kept for slaughter to supply food to this beef-eating population, is one of the spectacles best worth seeing. The strength of the horse as compared to that of the bullock is quite astonishing: a man on horseback having thrown his lazo round the horns of a beast, can drag it anywhere he chooses. The animal ploughing up the ground with outstretched legs, in vain efforts to resist the force, generally dashes at full speed to one side; but the horse immediately turning to receive the shock, stands so firmly that the bullock is almost thrown down, and it is surprising that their necks are not broken. The struggle is not, however, one of fair strength; the horse's girth being matched against the bullock's extended neck. In a similar manner a man can hold the wildest horse, if caught with the lazo, just behind the ears. When the bullock has been dragged to the spot where it is to be slaughtered, the matador with great caution cuts the hamstrings. Then is given the death bellow; a noise more expressive of fierce agony than any I know. I have often distinguished it from a long distance, and have always known that the struggle was then drawing to a close. The whole sight is horrible and revolting: the ground is almost made of bones; and the horses and riders are drenched with gore.

In the course of the day I was amused by the dexterity with which a Gaucho forced a restive horse to swim a river. He stripped off his clothes, and jumping on its back, rode into the water till it was out of its depth; then slipping off over the crupper, he caught hold of the tail, and as often as the horse turned round the man frightened it back by splashing water in its face. As soon as the horse touched the bottom on the other side, the man pulled himself on, and was firmly seated, bridle in hand, before the horse gained the bank. A naked man on a naked horse is a fine spectacle; I had no idea how well the two animals suited each other. The tail of a horse is a very useful appendage; I have passed a river in a boat with four people in it, which was ferried across in the same way as the Gaucho. If a man and horse have to cross a broad river, the best plan is for the man to catch hold of the pommel or mane, and help himself with the other arm.
Treatment of Horses:
One evening a "domidor" (a subduer of horses) came for the purpose of breaking-in some colts. I will describe the preparatory steps, for I believe they have not been mentioned by other travellers. A troop of wild young horses is driven into the corral, or large enclosure of stakes, and the door is shut. We will suppose that one man alone has to catch and mount a horse, which as yet had never felt bridle or saddle. I conceive, except by a Gaucho, such a feat would be utterly impracticable. The Gaucho picks out a full-grown colt; and as the beast rushes round the circus he throws his lazo so as to catch both the front legs. Instantly the horse rolls over with a heavy shock, and whilst struggling on the ground, the Gaucho, holding the lazo tight, makes a circle, so as to catch one of the hind legs just beneath the fetlock, and draws it close to the two front legs: he then hitches the lazo, so that the three are bound together. Then sitting on the horse's neck, he fixes a strong bridle, without a bit, to the lower jaw: this he does by passing a narrow thong through the eye-holes at the end of the reins, and several times round both jaw and tongue. The two front legs are now tied closely together with a strong leathern thong, fastened by a slip-knot. The lazo, which bound the three together, being then loosed, the horse rises with difficulty. The Gaucho now holding fast the bridle fixed to the lower jaw, leads the horse outside the corral. If a second man is present (otherwise the trouble is much greater) he holds the animal's head, whilst the first puts on the horsecloths and saddle, and girths the whole together. During this operation, the horse, from dread and astonishment at thus being bound round the waist, throws himself over and over again on the ground, and, till beaten, is unwilling to rise. At last, when the saddling is finished, the poor animal can hardly breathe from fear, and is white with foam and sweat. The man now prepares to mount by pressing heavily on the stirrup, so that the horse may not lose its balance; and at the moment that he throws his leg over the animal's back, he pulls the slip-knot binding the front legs, and the beast is free. Some "domidors" pull the knot while the animal is lying on the ground, and, standing over the saddle, allow him to rise beneath them. The horse, wild with dread, gives a few most violent bounds, and then starts off at full gallop: when quite exhausted, the man, by patience, brings him back to the corral, where, reeking hot and scarcely alive, the poor beast is let free. Those animals which will not gallop away, but obstinately throw themselves on the ground, are by far the most troublesome. This process is tremendously severe, but in two or three trials the horse is tamed. It is not, however, for some weeks that the animal is ridden with the iron bit and solid ring, for it must learn to associate the will of its rider with the feel of the rein, before the most powerful bridle can be of any service.

Animals are so abundant in these countries, that humanity and self-interest are not closely united; therefore I fear it is that the former is here scarcely known. One day, riding in the Pampas with a very respectable "estanciero," my horse, being tired, lagged behind. The man often shouted to me to spur him. When I remonstrated that it was a pity, for the horse was quite exhausted, he cried out, "Why not? -- never mind -- spur him -- it is my horse." I had then some difficulty in making him comprehend that it was for the horse's sake, and not on his account, that I did not choose to use my spurs. He
exclaimed, with a look of great surprise, "Ah, Don Carlos, que cosa!" It was clear that such an idea had never before entered his head.
Horsemanship, Work:
The Gauchos are well known to be perfect riders The idea of being thrown, let the horse do what it likes; never enters their head. Their criterion of a good rider is, a man who can manage an untamed colt, or who, if his horse falls, alights on his own feet, or can perform other such exploits. I have heard of a man betting that he would throw his horse down twenty times, and that nineteen times he would not fall himself. I recollect seeing a Gaucho riding a very stubborn horse, which three times successively reared so high as to fall backwards with great violence. The man judged with uncommon coolness the proper moment for slipping off, not an instant before or after the right time; and as soon as the horse got up, the man jumped on his back, and at last they started at a gallop. The Gaucho never appears to exert any muscular force. I was one day watching a good rider, as we were galloping along at a rapid pace, and thought to myself, "Surely if the horse starts, you appear so careless on your seat, you must fall." At this moment, a male ostrich sprang from its nest right beneath the horse's nose: the young colt bounded on one side like a stag; but as for the man, all that could be said was, that he started and took fright with his horse.

An old bull crossed a boggy stream, and took his stand on the opposite side to us; we in vain tried to drive him away, and failing, were obliged to make a large circuit. The Gauchos in revenge determined to emasculate him and render him for the future harmless. It was very interesting to see how art completely mastered force. One lazo was thrown over his horns as he rushed at the horse, and another round his hind legs: in a minute the monster was stretched powerless on the ground. After the lazo has once been drawn tightly round the horns of a furious animal, it does not at first appear an easy thing to disengage it again without killing the beast: nor, I apprehend, would it be so if the man was by himself. By the aid, however, of a second person throwing his lazo so as to catch both hind legs, it is quickly managed: for the animal, as long as its hind legs are kept outstretched, is quite helpless, and the first man can with his hands loosen his lazo from the horns, and then quietly mount his horse; but the moment the second man, by backing ever so little, relaxes the strain, the lazo slips off the legs of the struggling beast, which then rises free, shakes himself, and vainly rushes at his antagonist.
Gaucho Dinner:
Later in the evening we came across a small herd. One of my companions, St. Jago by name, soon separated a fat cow; he threw the bolas, and it struck her legs, but failed in becoming entangled. Then dropping his hat to mark the spot where the balls were left, while at full gallop, he uncoiled his lazo, and after a most severe chase, again came up to the cow, and caught her round the horns. The other Gaucho had gone on ahead with the spare horses, so that St. Jago had some difficulty in killing the furious beast. He managed to get her on a level piece of ground, by taking advantage of her as often as she rushed at him; and when she would not move, my horse, from having been trained, would canter up, and with his chest give her a violent push. But when on level ground it does not appear an easy job for one man to kill a beast mad with terror. Nor would it be so, if the horse, when left to itself without its rider, did not soon learn, for its own safety, to keep the lazo tight; so that, if the cow or ox moves forward, the horse moves just as quickly forward; otherwise, it stands motionless leaning on one side. This horse, however, was a young one, and would not stand still, but gave in to the cow as she struggled. It was admirable to see with what dexterity St. Jago dodged behind the beast, till at last he contrived to give the fatal touch to the main tendon of the hind leg after which, without much difficulty, he drove his knife into the head of the spinal marrow, and the cow dropped as if struck by lightning. He cut off pieces of flesh with the skin to it, but without any bones, sufficient for our expedition. We then rode on to our sleeping-place, and had for supper "carne con cuero," or meat roasted with the skin on it. This is as superior to common beef as venison is to mutton. A large circular piece taken from the back is roasted on the embers with the hide downwards and in the form of a saucer, so that none of the gravy is lost.


Shambhala said...

I remember reading "El Gaucho Martin Fierro".

It was mandatory reading in Castellano, along with "Don Quixote".

Srben said...

If you're looking for resource material for the knife section, look up "Take 'Em Down, Put 'Em Out. Knife Fighting Techniques from Folsom Prison" by Don Pentecost. It's required reading :)

The last cause said...

I noticed you mentioned "a 1942 manual" if it is by Fairbairn, keep in mind FerFal, his chart of bleed out was optimistic and was designed for a smallish blade.

With such a blade, try looking into Don Pentecost's work, ultra realistic, effective and quite brutal.

Love the Juan Moreira history, wonderful stuff, it would be interesting to see if that period in time was more violent then the current era in Argentina.

John_Barleycorn said...

For knife fighting training, I highly recommend the Filipino martial arts, known variously as arnis, kali, or escrima. I've dabbled in many styles and nothing comes close to FMA when it comes to blade work.

Don Williams said...

Ferfal, a question. I've seen adverts for an English translation of a Spanish book on knifefighting --supposedly written in the 1800s -- called Manual of the Baratero.

Supposedly talks about use of a Spanish pocketknife called the Navaja. Have you ever heard of it and ,if so, do you have any opinion on it's usefulness?


FerFAL said...

Shambhala, Martin Fierro actually has some good knife fighting in it.
The book is full of Argentine "slang", I'm surprised they use it.

Srben, I'll have to look into it, sounds interesting.
My book will have some prison stuff, but that I learned from the inside (long story)

The last cause, the book I'm refering to is called "Esgrima Criolla" by Lopez Osornio.
For anyone that knows Spanish, this book is a little gem.
It includes knife fighting, unaremed disarm moves (0% BS ones)
It even has some short spear, boleadoras fighting, and poncho defense. Very neat, and very down to the point on what gauchos and indians used.
I'll aply some of those to modern times in my book.

John_Barleycorn, PMA is very good and efective. It can get a bit complicated though, I'd stick to simple and basic moves adn just spar alot with sticks and chalked up knives.
Don Williams,
The book? No never heard of it but sounds very interesting.
iF you mean "navajas" yes, of course.
My fahter is Spaniard and so is my family on my mother's side.
I had navajas since I was a kid, carried one to school (diferent times, I know)

Navajas are nice becuase they are pretty big pocket knives with solid locking mechanism, but I much prefer a large folder that can be opened single handedly.

Osornio's book is similar regaridng how he analizes actual street fighting techniques.


Anonymous said...

Hello Ferfal,

I read on your blog that you have young kids. Yet, I have not read much about what you do for their bug-out needs. Is that mostly the domain of the wife. I know that in my case, the wife carries everything the kid would ever need in the diaper bag. It is just maternal instinct and experience because I know for a fact she has no clue what the term BOB means.

Here is list off my memory:

extra set of cloth and shoes
powder milk
sun tan lotion
hand sanitizer
hand cream
kid's Tylenol
Starburst candy

I'm probably leaving out a bunch of stuff, but all I know is that the kid always has what she needs when we are out.

A safety measure I have observed in my wife is that she enters the car and locks it first then she sits the kid in the car seat. Most people I see sitting their kid on the back seat are standing outside the car with the door open and their back to the parking lot.

You have great blog.


Natog said...

I have used Bolas to great effect as a young miscreant on other kids. I used tennis balls and they worked great out to about 40 yards. IIRC I had a 4' string connecting the tennis ball to the center.

I did make dome with cable and 1oz lead fishing weights, but never used it on anything. worked real well though!

Canis Lupus said...

The bad guys in the ninetieth century's Paris had some bad ass folding knives, check out this video
22cm (9in) of steel into your stomach...

Carol said...

This book is amazing. I think the husband is going to love it.