Exploring Gaucho History
In the Americas, few professions are romanticized quite like that of the cowboy. Images of rugged men dashing about on broncos have earned a place in both North and South American history, the hardships of their chosen lifestyle masked by the allure of wide open skies and days full of adventure. In this post we will explore the history of the Argentine gaucho.
While the North American cowboy of the 19th century operated in generally organized and regulated ways, the Argentinean equivalent, known as gauchos, got their start hunting down escaped livestock and wild horses around the capital city of Buenos Aires. This fertile lowland area known as the Pampas would eventually become home to the gaucho, who vastly preferred the life of a lawless nomad to that of a city dweller.
Over time, a distinct gaucho culture began to flourish on the Pampas. A gaucho attire came to include loose fitting trousers (a necessity given their intrinsic relationship with the horse. Many gauchos are said to have walked bow-legged due to their lack of walking), a large knife known as a faton (which they used frequently and often violently), a leather whip, a heavy woolen poncho, and a signature hat known as a boina, which loosely resembles the French beret.
The legend of the gaucho grew exponentially during the Argentine War of Independence. Bearing striking similarities to the American soldiers who fought during their Revolutionary War, the gaucho were able to use their intimate knowledge of the terrain to their advantage, and their involvement played a large part in Argentina’s independence from Spain. Epic poems began to pop up championing the gaucho’s heroics, including José Hernández’s 2,316 line Martín Fierro, to this day considered one of Latin America’s finest pieces of literature.
Following the war, the gaucho began commercial cattle herding as it found its way onto the Pampas, their prowess on the horse making them a perfect candidate for the job.