The thriller writer Jack Carr recently devoted an episode of his Danger Close podcast to negative reviews of his new bestselling novel In The Blood. It is often amusing to look on as critics miss the point. What’s relevant here is that many negative reviewers complained that the characters spent too much time talking about their weapons and gear. Carr’s response was to this effect:
I dunno — my friends and I talk about gear a lot.
I can offer an exhibit in Carr’s defense. Recently, I posted magnificent photographs by Nicole Morgenthau, who captures Mountain Man reenactment in fine style. Which photo garnered almost all of the attention and commentary, here, on FB, and in real space? The one above, naturally. Because that big knife/short sword is badass. I know it, you know it, and Ms. Morgenthau surely knows it.
Turns out, there is a fine little sidetrail to explore here. What the Mountain Man is wielding at the charge might be called several things. Commentor John Maddox Roberts identifies it as an espada ancha. VikingSword.com references the classic Spanish Military Weapons in Colonial America 1700 – 1821 by Sidney B. Brinckerhoff and Pierce A. Chamberlain, noting that:
The espada ancha or “wide sword” is a form characteristic of and unique to the northern frontiers of New Spain; that is, what is now northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. Brinckerhoff and Chamberlain (1972, p. 74 – 75) postulate that these swords evolved in the early 18th Century from 17th Century Spanish style civilian or hunting broadswords whose 76 to 92 cm. (30 to 36 inch) long blades came to be cut down to lengths between 45 and 66 cm. (18 and 26 inches). From their inception, espada anchas were used both by the mounted militia, as well as the the famed presidial lancers, and by civilians, particularly those in mounted occupations such as traders, travelers and cattlemen…
Beginning late in the 18th Century and accelerating in the early 19th Century, single edged variants of the espada ancha begin to appear and later predominate (example 3, below). The early double-edged espada anchas tend to be light in weight when compared with the slightly curved to straight single-edged variety which have broader, thicker blades (Adams 1984, p. 22 – 23, gives representative measurements) similar to the all-purpose guard-less machete of the campesino (peasant). While the earlier form most likely has a well made blade from a specialized workshop, these later forms often have fairly crude blades, most likely of local manufacture.
A Taos trapper might well arm himself with such a blade.
However, historian and illustrator David W. Rickman, believes that the identification of the later, heavy, short blades as espadas ancha is off the mark:
There has long been confusion about the meaning of the Spanish term espada ancha, though I cannot understand why. Many years ago it became attached to Mexican short swords that were usually carried on the saddle. Espada, of course, means “sword,” and ancha means “wide” or “broad.” So, a literal translation is quite simply, “broadsword,” not “shortsword.” In fact, from period literature we know that these short swords were called machetes — and still are by Mexican horsemen.
I dunno about that — it’s a sword (espada), not a brush chopper (though it would certainly do for that job). I think I’ll stick with espada ancha. Unless Machete objects…
Whether you prefer espada ancha or machete, it seems that this form of blade derives from the Northern European hunting sword, often called a cuttoe. The name is derived from the French couteau de chasse — hunting knife — though it is clearly a sword rather than just a large knife. Many officers in the American Revolution carried a cuttoe, some crude and others pretty darn elegant.
The cuttoe is not to be confused with the cuttoe knife, which was a large-bladed clasp knife.
In 1775, one William Cocke set off for Boonesborough, Kentucky, carrying a message from Transylvania Company proprietor Richard Henderson to the early settlers led by Daniel Boone. Cocke was…
“… fixed …off with a good Queen Ann’s musket, plenty of ammunition, a tomahawk, a large cuttoe knife, a Dutch blanket, and no small quantity of jerked beef.”
First of all, let us note that he carried a musket, not a rifle — and a 60-year-old model at that. And a ’hawk and a clasp knife. A Dutch blanket was a particular pattern of heavy woolen blanket, popular on the frontier and among soldiers. It may or may not have been made in its original homeland Holland — by the late 18th Century Dutch blankets were also made in England and Ireland.
So here we are, talking gear. As one does. Probably gonna garner negative reviews*.
Anyway, whatever you call that Mountain Man’s blade, it’s badass and every single one of us wants one. It is known.
*Carr’s first novel, The Terminal List, is now a series on
East India Co. Amazon Prime. Critics hate it; viewers seem to love it. I’m two episodes in and it’s solid. It’s not going to displace The Old Man in my current viewing obsessions, but I like it. Once again, I think the critics have missed the point. Misread the wind, got the yips, jerked the trigger — missed by a mile. It’s almost as though they were predisposed to hate it or something. Hmmmm…
Thing is, nobody really cares about what professional critics think — the Internet has completely democratized opinion on such things.
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I don’t post a lot when you post on weapons but I certainly like reading them. I wonder if these critics just never had as many “guy” conversations. Of course, I’ve always found critics a weird breed.
I’ve complained before a thrillers here before, but sometimes I think people take little thing problems much more seriously than they should.
Vinny Singh says
I have to say to me the blade the horseman is carrying in the first picture looks broader and a bit shorter, like a machete, than the the blades you have below, which look like true short swords. In fact take away the guard and it is a machete.
David Wrolson says
Thanks to you-I am watching “The Old Man.” I did not like the first episode-but I am glad I stuck with it as we are hooked now.
I think next winter-I will do Peaky Blinders.
Peaky Blinders is, pardon me… peak TV.
Curious that you didn’t like Ep 1 — it hooked me from the get-go and that fight in the SUV was really visceral.
Ugly Hombre says
Carr writes action fiction for men a dying genre, has seen many elephants, is a real deal deadly warrior who can tell a hen from a rooster and has a .50 caliber distain for all things woke. Esp the dangerous and idiotic New Democrat Mega Queen Woke DOD.
If you follow what the New Democrats and fairy dusted Generals ( of all branches) are doing to the troops and readiness it will make you barf up your beans, and weep in despair for the future of the country
If you do follow it you know just how G.D. awful it is.
The American public were warned about it many times they covered their ears and eyes quivered in fear of the thought of the “Grab Um.” And voted the woke weasels in. Seems they wanted it. How you like Mao now jokers?
Of course the literary critics hate Jack Carr, he is everything they fear.
Quixotic Mainer says
Great article! I’ll bet there were a few along with Pico’s lancers when he gave the dragoons a hiding at San Pasqual. The only time I ever rooted against our heroes in Black Sails was when the Spanish let out the
I wouldn’t blame a guy heading off into the unknown for packing one along, it wouldn’t be nearly as awkward as a full length cut and thrust sword of any variety. But from the mileage our training group has put in, even a shorter sword like that has a huge advantage over the hawk. (Unless you throw it.)
And Carr is spot on about the tactical community, the only thing that gets brought up more than gym routines are new kit choices.
That scene with the dragoons coming through the brush was epic.
SQUIRE RUSTICUS says
Hello, I was able to pick up an original Espada Ancha from a friend Rick Bauman (American Mountain Man) about 20 plus years ago. Another friend from long ago Jeff Hengesbaugh (AMM) use to always have a few originals for sale, when I run into him at the Mountain Man Trade Show in the Courtyard of the Governors Palace in Santa Fe.
As a side note:They use to shoot the prisoners in the courtyard during the Colonial period, and in the 1970’s before they landscaped it, the traders rode into Santa Fe on horseback, staying in the courtyard with their horses and ghost of the dead.
I’ve also been lucky enough to pick up German hunting daggers, short swords, Mexican and South American machetes.I have
always hoped to pick up another Espada, but like most folks have to often follow other other priorities. I hold a strong interest in the Spanish and Mexican Colonial frontier, regretting not moving to the Taos Valley when I had the chance long ago, my life taking a different path.
Short swords and machetes are very handy for snakes, clearing brush, making a branding fire, fighting off a jaguar, or panther, or today the stranger whom comes out of nowhere with bad intent. When I was going to the backcountry of Northern Mexico in 2005-2006, I did not see any of the vaqueros on the ranches having any on their saddles, but know down further into Mexico it is common practice. If the machete is mounted on the left offside, you probably will never have a problem while roping. Another Sidenote: when in Mexico, we would be branding calves 8 miles from a town and a stranger would come out of the mesquite and Palma, greet us, maybe eat some watermelon with us and disappear. The vaqueros didn’t know them, just said, “they were probably just going someplace” ! Same up around Midland, Texas. Id see people walking out of the mesquite and cactus without a town for 30 miles, just drilling rigs. They were not workers.
Moore Makers in Guthrie, Texas makes fantastic fencing tools and dehorners. They use to have an outsourced machete that I’ve heard good things about, they just always seem to be sold out when I thought to purchase one. The fencing pliers, tools, belt cleaver and pocket knives I’ve gotten are great stuff.
Campers,Hunters, Packers, Frontiersmen, may wish to add one to the saddle when out in the open spaces.
When I was a young man I could have sure used it, ofcourse I’d have probably been laughed off a few places I worked on.
SQUIRE RUSTICUS says
I’d like to add, anyone working on a ranch, men in the outdoors, horsemen, Hunters, are GOING to talk about their gear. They are going to compare, admire, discuss the merits of, and debate the usefulness. Sometimes explaining why you use an item, can solve another persons future problem.
An example is learned to keep a small bell on my girth to keep cattle moving, when I was 13 from a man that taught me alot about handling cattle and horses. He’d been a buckaroo in Nevada, and mustanger in the 1940-50’s. He influenced my way of handling cattle, for which I was grateful. About half the men I’d worked around got excited and were rough. My father cowboyed in Montana and we always had cattle, but he never taught me as much useful cow handling knowledge.
My best horse gear came at the end of my cowboying. I was proud of a Elko Garcia bit, E. Garcia spurs, something I’d got from Hamleys. Where I was from, there was not too many people that used such gear. Some people did not like what they could not understand, so made light of these items.
When I was into “Buckskinning” (I always disliked the term) we all admired a knife made by Joe DeLa Ronde or David Berge, or a rifle made here or there from a maker whom honed his craft.
Hunting I may be proud of a how a rifle shoots, and another guy he wouldn’t own one for no amount of money.
It is also a way that we learn from one another. As an example a guy might say, see this bit, we’ll the maker did not get this one right, with these edges your cutting your horse mouth with the shank. Another guy might not have noticed, or looked at the detail.
We discuss gear, we just do !!!
Sorry I’m long winded
Thank you for these comments. Great stuff. Garcia are sure appreciated in this country.
SQUIRE RUSTICUS says
G.S. Garcia bits and spurs are treasure !!!
An Elko Star Spade bit I bought like 30 years ago, even has the tongue engraved with a copper roller. To take the time to engrave a piece not seen when in use, is a measure of their craftsmanship.
When I use to go to Cowboy trade shows I’d see traders that would have barely used, not old time bits for two or three times what JM Capriola was currently charging. When I was living in Washinton, I was able to pick up some bits at Hamley’s back when Pat Beard managed the place. Supposedly I picked up one of the last handmade bits Les Vogt was going to make. I don’t know.
The shame of it, is I haven’t had any horses the last 6 years (because of my employment) so they don’t get use, which is why they were made.
I’m glad I don’t have horses right now. My buddy just paid $450 a ton for hay — and happy to get any at all. Hay shortage is a crisis here these days.
SQUIRE RUSTICUS says
I purchased some cracked corn yesterday, which I feed to some does and fawns to supplement their fodder in the woods, at my house. My elderly father lives with me now, and lkes to watch the deer, probably missing not having livestock any longer. Thus we feed the deer and all the other critters (coons, foxes, opposums) that come in the night.
I noted the 40lbs. bags of Oats were running like $21. Special horse feeds higher.
Sadly, I’m betting there is a bunch of starving horses in the countryside, cause there have always been the sort of person that wants a bunch of horses, but not the commitment to pay what it cost.
After all a horse eats LIKE A HORSE !!!
It really is hard to see where this is all going with the prices for everything, and the droughts in the West.
Brian H. says
Terminal List was something I was drawn to by way of reading some of the very recent history of our war in Afghanistan (The Hardest Place by Wesley Morgan). I liked it well enough to finish which is more than I can say about half of the other…stuff that gets thrown on the various streaming platform walls. Since then I’ve caught a few interviews with Jack Carr etc. One of the common refrains I saw from the “critics” was how the story was some kind of right wing fantasy. Nothing I saw in the series seemed “right wing” to me. I must not be “woke” enough to get that.
Given that the Big Bad is corporate America/Big Pharma, it’s a ludicrous stretch to condemn it as right-wing fantasy. I have no idea what the left even is anymore. TL is relentlessly dark and certainly not for everyone. The hero gives a sicario the Jacob Greathouse treatment, fer cryin’ out loud. Fans of Eckert’s The Frontiersmen will remember THAT business.
Have you read The Afghanistan Papers? I think it should be in every high school curriculum. Documentary evidence of systemic failure of leadership across two decades.
Brian H. says
I’ll look into The Afghanistan Papers. I think it’s pretty clear that the U.S cannot win at long term counter insurgency. Seeing as how many empires were ended by it, maybe there really is no “counter” to an insurgency.
John Maddox Roberts says
You mentioned the “presidial lancers.” This is a subject that richly deserves an article. The Soldados de Cuera are a long-neglected subject. Many years ago, in the early ’70s, I checked a book from the UNM library called “The Leather Jacket Soldier,” by Odie B. Faulk. I see Amazon has a used copy, if you don’t mind spending $225 for a very short book. This is one of the books I categorize as “I shoulda stolen it when I had the chance.” The soldados de cuera were perhaps the last wearers of what the English called the “buff coat,” a multilayered sleeveless leather coat abandoned in Europe by the end of the 17th century but retained on the Mexican frontier well into the 19th. In Mexico it was sometimes made of as many as 20 layers of deerskin, long obsolete in Europe but still proof against the primitive native weapons of New Spain. They also carried the leather shield called an adarga, shaped like a heart or a halved peach, inherited from the Moors, and the inevitable lance, often paired with an espada ancha and, in later years, with the escopeta. All this topped with the jaunty, Zorro-style poblano hat. And they frequently rode barefoot. It was hard, thankless soldiering in the wildest country this side of Afghanistan and I suspect they could be pretty bad-tempered, which is understandable. I wouldn’t have wanted to fall afoul of them.
This is wonderful. Thank you.
Quixotic Mainer says
I second that idea for an article!
Corb Lund’s song “A Leader on Losing Control” is about bad tempered lancers exactly!
As an aside, I loved that picture enough to grab it as a desktop for my work computer. Looking at it in larger format, I realized that guy is riding in a charge with a jaw rope bridle! That’s even more interesting than the blade if possible. I’ve never gone more primitive than a bosal.
Agreed that the historical examples of the espada ancha are different enough from a machete to warrant their own classification. Nice breakdown, as these types of distinctions are pretty fascinating to me. They almost certainly COULD serve similar purposes but also share traits of the hunting sword examples I’ve encountered. It makes sense that the espada might have started as hunting swords and then been gradually modified with some ranging usage in mind.