The Argentine gaucho is a cultural symbol and a great deal more than your run-of-the-mill cowboy.
As with most characters that straddle the line between history and folklore, it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. So it is with the gaucho. That said, most people agree that these nomadic cattle herders lived in the pampas region, an area that stretches from Patagonia to Uruguay, bounded on the left by the Andes Mountains.
Miles from civilization, gauchos lived off the land, hunted wild cattle, and traveled exclusively on horseback. As the traditional saying goes, “the gaucho and his horse are one, the man on foot is half a gaucho.” The horse was typically the only thing a gaucho owned, both animal and friend to these lone riders.
All other animals however, weren’t so lucky, and were strictly treated as food sources. During the early 19th Century, salt was a scare commodity, which meant that gauchos had to cook their meat immediately. To do so, gauchos would slow cook the meat over red-hot coals, a cooking style known as the asado.
And while the gaucho typically ate alone and lived a predominately solitary live, he would occasionally cross paths with others of his kind. With their infamously quick tempers and excess of testosterone, these encounters occasionally erupted into a dangerous scuffle. Always ready for a brawl, the gaucho carried a sword, known as a facón, under his belt.
But, as modern developments arrived in Argentina, in the mid-19th century, things settled down for the gaucho. Though he still spent his days in the open air, his life were no longer his own. Expansive estancias (ranches) cropped up across the pampas and encircled the larger cities, specifically Buenos Aires. Rich ranch owners contracted gauchos to tend to their cattle and defend the homestead. But the cost of advancement and steady employment meant that the gaucho left his freedom behind.
That´s not to say he aged and settled down. Still hot under the collar as ever, the gaucho was a willing participant any time the country went to war. In the 1810 War of Independence against Spain, their participation was critical to Argentina´s victory. Gauchos´ bravery and sacrifice on the battlefield won them a change in reputation. Whereas they had been looked upon as lower-class vagabonds, the gaucho began to become a national hero.
Today, the gaucho is still a familiar face in the pampas region, but his presence is more predominantly felt in the area of Argentine fashion. The gaucho is a symbol of rustic elegance, autonomy, and hardworking ties to the land. Large baggy pants that are cinched at the ankles - known as bombachas, cowboy hats, berets, and even handle bar mustaches are all styles that make one think of Argentina way back when.