Dmitry Zavalishin, a Decembrist, wrote about his 1824 visit to Alta California:

The second, Padre José Altamira, was more a politician and soldier than a monk or missionary. He always carried, like all lay Spaniards, a knife or dagger under the leather which was wrapped around the calves of their legs and which was substituted for boot tops, since they wore shoes, not boots.

The cowhide calf sheathes are well attested for soldiers, perhaps less so for priests. Zavalishin may have exaggerated, but was it in fact common for the Spanish population of California to carry a dagger on the leg?

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    I can't provide more than essentially hearsay, and even less specific to the area you're asking about, but AFAIK, carrying a knife (to use as a tool rather than as weapon) was common for laypeople everywhere, with Finland being about the last countries to lose that custom. Actually, I recall a Workplace question about someone being unsettled about his new coworkers carrying knifes...
    – Faerindel
    Feb 16, 2017 at 16:59

1 Answer 1


I found independent confirmation of this tradition in the 1848 diary of James C. Ward, which was serialized in The Argonaut in 1878. He described "the riding-dress usually worn here" as including "leather bottas bound around the calves, with knife tucked into the top of the right one".

Zavalishin and Ward were from different countries and wrote in different eras. It does seem to have been common to carry a small blade in the cuff on the calf.

  • For better or worse I unexpectedly ran into this answer two days after asking. This is great closure for a question that had zero upvotes! Feb 16, 2017 at 6:29
  • A bit of further corroboration is in Khlebnikov's 1828 "Notes about California" in California Through Russian Eyes (Gibson, editor): "Californios always carry a large knife, which is wrapped in something and placed behind their suede leggings; they use it at the table." Mar 10, 2017 at 2:43

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