Sharp knives and whittle wisdom
Cowgirl Sass & Savvy by Julie Carter
Long ago, the silver screen warped the image of the cowboy in the minds of the general public. Western wear catalogs and country music singers haven’t helped much with the real picture of the cowboy.
No, Virginia, cowboys don’t dress like Buffalo Bill.
In lives dictated by work, wind and weather, not necessarily in that order, function trumps fashion every time.
Cowboys and their female counterparts dress to get the work done and wear as many of the necessary tools of the trade as possible.
One of those necessary tools is a knife. These are used daily to cut hay strings, change the minds and attitudes of bulls, cut the rattles off a dead snake, perform tack repairs and traditionally, give the fingernails a trim.
For decades, the pocket knife, sleek in form, was transported by simply slipping it into a front jean pocket for safekeeping.
As it became more of a tool than just a blade for cutting, knives were worn in a scabbard or sheath in a surprising variety of places: attached to the belt, vertical above their back pocket, horizontally on the belt, in a cross draw position in the front or simply in the pocket of their leggings.
Scabbards can be a personal fashion statement. Often adept at leather work, rawhide stitching, knot tying and tooling, cowboys’ workday knives are usually cased in sturdy proof of their skill. Their Sunday-go-to-meeting knife scabbards may even have tooling to match their saddles and gear.
Knives come in a variety of personal choice brands. We’re not talking Swiss Army here – these knives are as practical as the cowboys who wear them.
You see everything from working knives to seasonal hunting knives to the finest Damascus steel, fancy inlaid-handled knife for church.
Special folding knives made popular by the ropers come with a clip to hold them in a back pocket for quick access in the case of a tangled endangerment. Sometimes it is necessary to cut a perfectly good rope to save the life of a roper or the leg of a horse.
Panhandle punchers who receive load after load of 400-weight steers and bulls swear that in Louisiana knives are used exclusively for peeling pecans because 99 percent of the male cattle that come from that area are still bulls.
“Steer” is apparently not a Cajun word.
Ranch cowboys are forever using their knives at cattle working time and a measure of pride is taken in just how sharp their knife is, frequently drawing blood just to prove the point as they lightly graze it across their forearm shaving a few hairs as it goes.However, clean and sanitary is optional.
It’s not unusual for cowboys to castrate calves all morning and use the same knife to cut their meat at the meal afterward. Careful ranch wives make sure there is a clean knife strategically placed by the cake plate.
Not often thought of but definitely one historical use of a knife is in horse trading.
Many traders whittle during the often lengthy discussions involved in the bartering. I’m told that if the trade is going the trader’s way, his knife will pull the whittle toward him. If the trade is going the other way, slivers are driven off the piece of wood toward the buyer.
That’s a good point to know. Probably Buffalo Bill was the first to establish that principle.