Gauchos are South American cattlemen, much like the cowboys of North America. They live in the pampas, hills, and mountains of South America. They roam the pampas as horsemen and cowhands. They have become romantic figures just as our cowboys. The classic gauchos were mostly mestizos which are people of mixed European and Indian culture. There are as many different gauchos as the many different terrains there are in South America.
The Pampas is the region of Argentina where the gauchos are most abundant. The Pampas cover one-fifth of the country. The Pampas was named from the Quechum Indian word that means "level land". The Pampas is a large flat plain that covers approximately 403,000 square miles. The Pampa's landscape contains mostly grass, with some small bushes, and few trees. The western Pampa is cattle country. The large farms and ranches are fenced in now, but the gauchos used to drive huge herds of cattle across unfenced land.
Argentina and Uruguay are the countries where the gauchos are most abundant. There are types of gauchos all over Latin America, but Argentina and Uruguay are the most known for having gauchos. Gauchos are an important part of Uruguay's and Argentina's folklore. Not only this, but the gauchos were important in herding cattle on the pampas for both of the countries. Some other countries where there are gauchos in South America are Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, and Peru.
Many years ago gauchos lived on horseback and traveled widely. They survived on meat and yerba mate which is a tea-like herbal drink full of caffeine. The yerba mate was served in a gourd and sipped in through a silver straw called a bombilla. Their daily life consisted of caring for their herds of cattle, and catching wild cattle. The gaucho's weapons were a simple knife and a boleadora, which was stones bound with leather strips. The gaucho used the boleadora to trip animals by throwing it at their legs. A gaucho's home, when he was rarely there, was a mud hut. It was covered with cowhides and contained a few horse skulls as stools to sit on. The gauchos were employed by a wealthy landowners called a "patron". When a gaucho worked for a patron, they also promised to fight as soldiers against his enemies. The gauchos often didn't marry the women they lived with even though she raised his family, cooked his food, milked the cows, made cheese and did other things for the gaucho.
There are still Gauchos today, but their way of life has changed dramatically. These changes have been caused by the encroachment of civilization and technology. Their lifestyle was changed because the estancias (large ranches) they used to work on were fenced in. They can no longer ride as freely as before. They still work hard- mending fences, branding cattle, rounding up the herds and tending the sheep. There are not as many men becoming gauchos because they are moving to cities and working there, which is an easier way to make a living.
The gauchos were the cowboys of South America, but they were very different from our cowboys of North America. They were also alike in some ways. They were both highly romanticized, and used widely in folklore. Their clothes were very different, but it was because of their different ways of life, and tasks that they performed. They were both skilled horsemen and both seemed to live outside the law without the restraints of living in a city.
Gauchos wore a unique style of clothing. They wore a fringed poncho which was a square of cloth with a hole for the head. They wore broad-brimmed hats. They wore long-sleeved cotton shirts and loose baggy pants called "bombachas". They wore a silver belt and for boots they used the hide from the hind leg of a newly killed colt. He pulled it over his foot and leg so it would dry in a boot shape. He wore spurs and had a long knife hanging at his side. Gaucho apparel has changed some, from the traditional dress. Sometimes now, gauchos wear jeans instead of the traditional bombachas.
Gauchos were very important in the folklore of Uruguay and Argentina. They are used in literature and highly romanticized just as the cowboys of North America. The Gaucho Martin Fierro, by Jose Hernandez, is a famous epic poem that is still studied today. The following excerpt from the poem talks about the feeling of pride that the gauchos had.
There are also many other stories about the gauchos. One story, called "The Old Chief and the Caudillo" is about an Indian chief and his grandson and how they were captured by gauchos. They got away and were never captured again.