Saturday, September 15, 2012


10/31/06 10:45 pm

It was cold along the river. The wind clawed its way down Beth's back. From the side of the bridge, the catwalk hung out over the water. Scratches on her knees and palms burned as she carefully crawled along. With each gained inch, she sobbed. The walk seemed to grow narrower and the knots in her stomach twisted tighter.

When she reached the center, she clutched the railing and pushed her back against the girder, only then could she breath. She did not look down.

From her perch she could see where the dark waters flowed over the banks and lapped at the walls of the raised fishing shacks. Lights glowed in those the water had not yet reached. If she looked directly ahead, she could see the rippling path of the harvest moon on the water. It beckoned.

Beth traced the moonpath until she looked directly at the glowing orb, suspended in the center of its halo. The sad face still watched her. For the last century she had watched him rise over the water and wondered what made him so sad. She shivered and pulled the thin jacket close around her shoulders. She lifted the thick chain at her neck, looked at the round, gold watch and laughed. It wasn't a century at all, just an hour since she'd come to this place. It was 11:30, almost the witching hour. The heavy gold chain caught the moonlight and threw it back defiantly.

Beth wondered at his sadness and almost felt sorry for him. What could he possibly know of sadness? He was cold and empty and barren. Always, he beheld the world with sadness. If the world became too much for him, he turned his face from it.

Perhaps it wasn't sadness. She studied the expression closely. Perhaps it was frowning disapproval. Endless attempts to pull away from the earth, only to be pulled back must be a great frustration. Yes, yes, she thought, that's it, frowning disapproval. Disgust made him turn away, longing to be free.

As she looked at the moon, Beth felt her anger grow. Who is he to sit in judgment on me, she thought. He, a pale reflection of strength, had nothing of his own to give.

"What do you know of anything?" she flung at him.

He did not answer, just continued to frown. How did the he continue to shine like that? How keep that same face, revealing nothing.

How did he combat the frustration, the wretched helplessness that engulfed the mind and still smile? She had been unable to shut it out for weeks now. There had not been enough work, enough to read, watch or eat to drive it away. Until now... until now there had been no way out of the flood of ceaseless thought, of looking for a way out.

"Now I can forget," she whispered. The slow, agonizing crawl had made her forget. Only a fear greater than any other had conquered the relentless gnawing in her mind. But only for awhile. She knew if she went back it would be waiting for her. Already she sensed it beginning to push against the doors she had barred in her mind.

Beth studied the path that started just beneath where she sat. It was so lovely and silvery. Stretching away to where the moon hung, watching her. Waiting. She imagined that if she stepped down she would find that path was truly made of silver. It would be cool and smooth. Walking would only be a matter of gliding along, no effort.

Life, she thought, has become too difficult. I just want to stop thinking about it. I want to leave it all behind. I don't want to get up tomorrow and find the problems standing by my bed. Debts must be paid, children must be clothed, fed and housed and there was not enough time. I want time to laugh, to rest, to be at peace. I'm so tired.

She leaned her head back against the cold steel and closed her eyes. Tears rolled, long and slow, down her cold cheeks. "I am so old and I have no time."

Her voice broke. Beth clenched her fist and pushed hard against the walk, trying to ease the ache pushing at her chest, at her mind. She opened her eyes and looked at the frowning face before her.

"I miss reading stories to the children, baking cookies, sewing, making my house a home. I miss reading a good book before bed. I miss the late night laughter with my husband. It's work from morning until night with no leisure."

"I don't mind work," she said to the frowning face. "I just want to be something more than a machine. I want to count for something more than how much money I make. I want to think of more than how I'll pay the next bill. I want to matter to someone. I want to laugh. I want to enjoy living again. But I can't do everything. I don't have enough time."

She pounded the walk, anger pouring out, setting ripples in the path. There had never been choices, never a right time. There always seemed to be only one path.

 She raged up at that face, "Why couldn't I have had a choice? Why wasn't I asked what I wanted from life? But no, events were simply dished out, regardless of how much pain they caused or how close I came to the edge."

"I can get very close to the edge now," she said softly to the glowing white face. "I have learned to dance on the edge. Once I couldn't have got this far. Just look at me now."

She put her feet under her. Grasping the girders on either side of her, she carefully pushed herself to a standing position, her back pushed hard against the bridge footing behind her.

"See," she whispered breathless, triumphant. "See! Once I couldn't do this."

Long ago she had learned to wear a smiling mask and laugh at herself. No one had asked her if she was happy. They simply assumed she was. You must never let anyone see you cry. Never let anyone see the pain or fear.

"I have tried to tell them, you know, to explain." She stared out at the disgusted face. "I never seem to have enough time to do everything. I want to but I just can't. I want to be all the people they want me to be but when do I get to be who I want to be?"

"Don't glare at me like that." She clenched the steel beams at her sides. They were smooth and cold beneath her hands. The tears on her face felt like drops of ice and the knot in her chest became a stone.

"You have no right to judge me. You hang there night after night, scorning people you don't even know, all the while taking your light from another. You can't even pull yourself away from your own chains."

With one cold hand she again caught the chain around her neck and dangled the round watch in front of her. "Just as I am tied to this, you too are tied." She hesitated, a slow, sly smile stealing over her face. "But I can remove my chains. I can cast off all my chains."

She let go of the other beam and used both hands to lift the chain over her head. Holding it aloft, she laughed out loud. "See how easy it is for me."

Again she laughed at the face of the moon. It seemed pleased and returned her smile. The moonpath wavered and shimmered beneath her, as if anticipating. The moon sank lower.

"Wait! Please, don't go. I have to show you." She reached up, stretching the watch out toward the smiling face. "See, I'm free, I'm free."

She swung with all her might. The golden orb with its heavy chain was, for a moment, suspended before the smiling face of the moon. Then, with gathering speed it descended in a glittering arc to the moonpath below.

The smooth, sliver surface cracked, splintered and disappeared. The smiling moon slipped beneath the horizon as the night echoed with a final cry of liberation.


The little girl ran along the bank of the river and laughed in delight. The moist ground felt wonderful under her feet.

 "Jennie, come back. You mustn't get too far ahead."

"Oh but mama, just feel how cool it is on your feet. It don't squish up 'tween my toes neither."

Mary laughed and slipped off her shoes. It did feel good. This land was flooded in the fall. They had feared the spring rain would do the same. It had not and Jim got the crop in the ground on time.

Jenny stopped and looked up at the blue sky. "Mama, look, Mr. Moon is showin' his round ole face in the daytime. Why?"

"Well, maybe he wanted to share this golden day, Jennie. Maybe he's lonesome."

"Well, with that frowny ole face, I reckon so." Jenny had no time for the moon. Something ahead beckoned to her. It caught the sunlight and threw it into her eyes. She darted off.

"Jennie, wait."

Jennie giggled and ran ahead. She squatted on the ground and the small fingers scratched at the black silt. It resisted the efforts to release the prize. Jennie was persistent. She dug her nails into the new earth and curled them around the dazzle. She pulled.

"What have you got, Jennie?" said Mary.

Jennie held up her find. "Gold," she said.

Mary took the object gently in her hand. "Why, it's a watch on a gold chain. Oh my, Jennie, this looks expensive."

"What time is it, mama?"

"Oh, it doesn't work, dear. After being in the river, it wouldn't. Nothing but a fish could survive the river. It stopped at twelve o'clock." She studied it carefully.

"Perhaps we can get it repaired for you."

The Bourbon Century

Latin American History
May 3, 1991

The last Hapsburg to rule in Spain was Charles II.  By the time of his reign, the government had long been thoroughly corrupt and apparently unconcerned with the condition of the economy and government of the country.

The trade with the Indies was nearly completely in the hands of foreigners.  The revenue from the Indies, what little there was, barely made it to the bank before creditors collected.  The Army had lost any distinction it had as a result of the many lost wars it had experienced since the sinking of the Armada in 1588.  In short, the country was going to hell in a hand basket.

The Hapsburgs had been having a wonderful time bankrupting Spain; there is no reason to suppose Charles was any different.  He could not have helped knowing the state of his country but he apparently made no effort to correct the situation until his death.  Even if he had tried, it is doubtful if it would have mattered by this time.  Charles' health was bad and resulted in his being consistently at the point of death and constantly making crowned heads nervous by it.

Intrigue is not a modern concept and countless nations have been handed back and forth by conspiracies.  France and England had arranged to have an Austrian Archduke take over the Spanish throne at Charles' death and to divvy up the possessions.  While Charles may have been contrary about dying, he was obviously a prudent man with a concern about his country. He must have realized under Hapsburg rule Spain would only continue to decline.  He left a will naming seventeen year old Philip of Anjou, grandson of Louis 14th, as his heir. Philip of Anjou became Philip V of Spain.  Perhaps this was Charles' way of doing penance for his sins or of repairing the damage done to Spain by his own family.

Whatever his reason, it immediately plunged Spain into the War of the Spanish Succession.  France paid most of the cost of this war and it was devastating for her but it was a new life for Spain.  Even though she lost some of her possessions as a result of the war, it was to Spain's benefit.  Fewer possessions take less money to run and less military energy to defend.

In the beginning some objected to the country being run by the French king and his French advisers.  After all, this was the same Spain which had known centuries of foreign domination, the older members of government would not easily welcome its return.  However, once they realized these were the same kind of men who had helped France prosper they accepted the leadership.  Spain supported their new King and were overwhelmingly loyal to him.

Although, all major post were held by Frenchmen to start with, gradually well-born, military men took over; in turn, the noble class died out.  Under Bourbon rule Spain blossomed.  With the French came enlightenment ideas which would affect all areas of Spanish society in both Spain and New Spain.  Government, diplomacy, economic affairs and cultured life returned.

Reforms began with Philip and his ministers and continued until the last Bourbon ruler, Charles III in 1746.  Charles III is considered to be perhaps the finest King Spain ever had and it is under his rule that the most extensive and beneficial reforms occur. The idea of the French rulers was to centralize government and bring the monarch's power to the local level; by the end of Charles III's reign this was accomplished and both Spain and New Spain had, for a time, experienced prosperity.

The creation of the Ministry of the Marines and the Indies in 1714 nearly eliminated the Council of the Indies.  All policy making decisions were delegated to the Ministry of the Marines and the Indies, as were matters concerning finance, commerce, trade, war, and most matters concerning the colonies.  The Council continued but it dealt mostly with court matters.

The House of Trade was moved to Cadiz in 1717, a seaport town, and its functions limited.  An effort was made by Philip V to bring back the flota but it didn't work. In the beginning trading monopolies were created along the same lines of the Dutch East India but only one survived very long and was profitable.

It was under Charles III and on the advice of an economist, Jose Campillo, that private registers or individual sailings were authorized.  With the introduction of free trade, Spanish trade increased to the point of nearly eliminating all foreign traders.  The result was so good duties were reduced and in some cases eliminated.  Trade between colonies was allowed as well.  These changes caused a decrease in smuggling and a drop in prices of manufactured goods in the colonies, and raw goods in Spain.

The opening of trade helped Spain but only slightly affected the Indies, since all trade was carried out with the soul purpose of filling Spain's purse.  Latin America was still being stripped of its resources for the benefit of Spain.  The increase of trade created a growth in the merchant class in Spain and Latin America, but these were usually members of the privileged class. It was a case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  In no way nor at any time do the Indian, mestizo, and mulatto benefit from the trade increase.

Another major reform was the division of viceroyalties into smaller units called intendencies.  This was a French idea which had been used in Spain by Philip V and was now brought to Latin America by Charles III.

The ruler of these intendencies was called the intendent and was nearly always a Peninsular Spaniard.  His powers included operation of the government, administering justice, promotion of economy - trade, agriculture, industry - oversee the church, provide military defense, collect taxes and see to the welfare of the people.  Below him were sub-delegates to help him deal with this enormous job.  It is obvious from the list of duties that smaller units would of course be easier to deal with in every way.  The lines of authority were clearer and more efficient and less corrupt government was possible.

The church was not an institution France admired and in France it was kept under tight rein.  In spite of the Bourbon kings of Spain being devout, they felt the church was too rich, too powerful, and too large.  Over a period of time the King had lost the most of his right to nominate clergymen to Rome.  After the King recovered this right, he then proceeded to reduce the size of the clergy.  By 1717, Philip V would allow no new convents in New Spain and by 1734 no one could enter religious orders for ten years.  The clergy could no longer assist in the making of wills.  This circumvented the church's ability to accumulate wealth by getting those making wills to leave their property to the church as a means of atonement.  In 1753 Charles III issued a concordate allowing the Crown to tax church property and in 1767 he expelled the Jesuits from Latin America.

The Bourbon reforms in Spain were evident but not until the reign of Charles III was there real evidence of these reforms in Latin America.  It is difficult to tell how effective they were because they existed for only a short time.  Government did improve to some extent, trade improved, and wealth increased for some, including the crown.  By restricting the church, reducing the clergy, and decreasing its wealth the crown reduced its power.  However, its influence remained, especially in Latin America where it became an instrument of revolution.

However, inequalities existed and the reforms did not address these.  The enlightenment prized so highly by the French and so eagerly accepted by the Spanish Americans was the catalyst for the resulting revolutions. Before the reforms could take a firm hold the people changed. The division between Peninsulares and Creoles widened allowing the creation of revolutionary thought to express itself.  The unfair treatment of Indians, mestizos and mulattos would provide the revolutionaries with an army.

The transplanting of institutions and ideas which were to give Spain greater control gave Latin America the structure, the means, and the determination to break away.  In essence, the Bourbon century was successful in one area it never intended to be. 


Fagg, John.  Latin American History.  The Macmillian Company:      London:  1969, 213-372.

Gibson, Charles.  Spain in America.  Harper Torch Books:  New     York:  1967, 160-216.

Graham, Richard.  Independence in Latin America.  Alfred A.     Knoph:  New York:  1972, 3-131.  

Herring, Hubert.  A History of Latin America: From the Beginning     to the Present.  Knoph:  New York:  1968, 237-286.

Gaucho: The Man Behind The Myth

Anthropology: Special Studies in Latin American Cultures

Tracking down a folk hero is not an easy task, particularly when sources are limited or in a foreign language.  In spite of limited sources, I have tried to present the scope of the gaucho character and a synopsis of the events that lead to his creation and evolution, for that is truly what happened to his character. I have necessarily abbreviated the historical information and limited my focus to the gaucho in the Banda Oriental area.

When I began this search I had a preconceived idea of the gaucho from a childhood song. He was a romantic figure much like our American cowboy, a free spirit, a man of strength and high ideals, a man content with what he could carry on horseback, and who yearned to return to his sweetheart.  However, as the search ends I find the gaucho of my childhood song is very different from the actual man.

In the beginning the gaucho was called changador, gauderio, gauso, or gaucho.  The origin of these names is unknown and only the latter term stuck. [Nichols 1942:3] However, the term gaucho appeared around the middle of the 18th century in what is now present day Uruguay. It usually referred to a man without fixed employment. To some a gaucho was a "shiftless person, given to cattle rustling, drunkenness and disorder." [Encyclopedia Americana 1985:345]

Regardless of which definition you choose, the gaucho was considered the lowest rung on the social ladder, the '"scum of society"'; and yet, as his numbers grew, so too did the fear and admiration by society as a whole. Eventually, he will be portrayed as "dashing calveryman, successful lover, singing minstrel of the plains, and noble defender of the unfortunate. [Nichols 1942:4 7]  While the gaucho was in fact and in fiction all of the above, my search leads me to believe he was the result of a combination of time, events, place, and necessity.  Although time has changed much about the gaucho from his manner of dress to his character, he was unique. 

The clothes of the gaucho of the past differs greatly from that of the modern gaucho. Decoration seems to have been an aspect acquired over time.  A wide silver belt, baggy trousers, bright scarf, shirt, vest, jacket, and poncho over one shoulder recall the romantic gaucho of story and song. [World Book 1988:68 Encyclopedia Americana 1985:345]]  Gauchos wore headbands topped by small, narrow brimmed hats, held in place by a chin strap.  The silk neck scarf they usually wore could be used to keep dust out of their nose and mouth or as a strainer for water. [1942:13]   The modern gaucho has retained these particular items of dress.  However, Nichols' account of gaucho dress is not nearly so charming.

"Gauchos usually had neither shirts nor trousers, . . . never lacked a poncho, which was a piece of coarse cloth coming down to their knees and tied at their waists by a broad sash. . .adorned with . . . silver coins if our gaucho were wealthy. They . . .wore boots . . .coming halfway up their legs, and made of the skin stripped from the legs of horses or cows." [Nichols 1942:13]

Probably the most important item of dress still utilized by the gaucho is the facón.  This is a 14 inch razor sharp knife worn behind and sheathed in leather and used for protection, killing, eating, as a tool in handling hides, and for shaving.  It is forbidden to ever touch a gaucho's facón. [Nichols 1942:13 Laxalt 1980:490]  Proper use of this instrument appears to be an art.  Skill was required in duels and marking one's opponent by slashing the nose or eyes was preferred to murder, not a pleasant thought to be confronted with if one valued one's looks. [Nichols 1942:14]  Laxalt cites an old gaucho on the use of the facón in fighting.

"'When there is surely to be a fight, you cannot hesitate.  In the same movement, you must draw you facón and slash your enemy's face to show that you mean business.  If it does not end there, you must fight to kill.  Then your knife must wave in your hand like a snake.  And when you strike, it must be like a snake    once, and mortal." [1980:491]

Nichols states that meat was put in the mouth and a bite sliced off.  After a meal it served as a toothpick. [1942:12] One is left wondering how quickly the gaucho learns to handle the facón deftly and exactly what their noses look like.

Not only was skill necessary in using the facón but as horsemen they were expected to be unsurpassed.  Most of the gaucho's life is spent on horseback.  He must be able to ride any horse and if it falls, he must land on his feet with the reins in his hand.  [Nichols 1942:14]

The gaucho lived mostly on beef roasted over an open pit and washed down with mate, a bitter herb tea.  He would spend many leisure hours playing cards and was also a heavy drinker.  The favored drink was aguardiente, a sugar brandy.  [Laxalt 1980:501 Encyclopedia Americana 1985:345]

Most gauchos were mestizos of Spanish or Portuguese and Indian, or Indian and Negro descent; however, anyone of any race could be a gaucho. It was not his race but his life style which set him apart. Gaucho was not a race; it was a class.  According to Nichols, this class "existed as a separate entity in society" during the hundred year period between 1775 1875. While there had been gauchos before this period it was only with the advent of large shipments of hides that this group begin to grow and become a class. The creation of this class was dependent on the horse, the cow, and the development of a contraband trade in hides.  [Nichols 1942;4,7,17,26 35]

With the Spanish arrival in Latin America came the horse and cow.  While Spain was busy exploiting the natural resources of Latin America, namely gold and silver, the horse and cow did what came naturally.  I might add they did it very well. On the pampas of Buenos Aires in Entre Ríos and the Banda Oriental or present day Uruguay things were booming.  The Banda Oriental had been designed by the Spanish as a hunting ground for cattle and they had discouraged settlement in the area.  [Nichols 1942:32]  It didn't take long for people to notice this untapped resource. The events which lead to the emergence of the gaucho class can be better understood if one first understands the extent of this dependence of society on the horse and cow.

Just as the American cowboy needed his horse, so too did the gaucho and some of the ways the gaucho used the horse says much about his character.  Horses were used to convey coffins to the cemetery by lashing the box crosswise to the saddle. Drawing water from the well was done by tying a rope to the pommel and bucket and dropping it down the well; the horse would then pull it up. Those who committed crimes against society were sewn up in a green hide and left in the sun.  Death was slow and certain as the hide dried and shrank. Making butter was also done on horseback and was quite simple.  One began by placing the milk in a hide bag and attaching it to the saddle girth with a long rope.  The gaucho mounted and rode at a hard pace while the bag bounced on the ground.  After a suitable time you had butter.  Bathing was perhaps, to my mind at least, the most significant indicator of gaucho character.  He would ride into the water, swim around his horse, remount, and ride out.  [Nichols 1942:19]  The gaucho never exerted himself needlessly.

Obviously the horse was more important alive but the most important part of the cow was the hide and it was necessary to kill the cow to get it.  Saddles and bridles were of hide. The reins, traces, and lasso were twisted thongs.  Bolas were stones wrapped in hide and connected by hide strips.  Ropes and cords were strips of hide.  Bags were hide sewn with hide strips.  Grain was preserved in hide cribs protected by hide shelters.  Boats were of hide.  Corrals were stakes bound with hide thongs.  Carriages were strengthened with long wet strips which when dry would be nearly as hard as steel.  All wooden parts of a carriage were covered in soaked hide for the same reason and the springs were twisted hides. [Nichols 1942:18 19]

Clearly it isn't difficult to grasp the importance of these animals after discovering the number of uses they were put to.  The only source of commodities were cattle, mules, and stock products and the source of all that could be exchanged for any manufactured articles or luxuries from Spain. [Nichols 1942:19]

In 1543 Spain established her fleet system but before 1600 exportation of hides was hardly over 27,000 because of trade restrictions, poor transportation facilities, and Indians.  In the beginning, Buenos Aires had little in the way of exports but by 1618 she had a limited export in hides.  [Nichols:1942:27]

Any rancher who dealt in hides formed cattle hunts, called vaquería, for lost cattle for hides to export and to increase his stock with strays.  After obtaining the required permit, he would hire a band of men who specialized in hunting down cattle.  The band was usually composed of criminals and outlaws. While the vaquería did exist earlier, it reached its peak in the 18th century when the hide market was booming.  [Nichols 1942:22 25]

Of course when it was noticed that one could receive European manufactured goods in exchange for hides it was only a matter of time before everyone was attempting to catch the same boat.  Indians began to hunt as well.  The army always has to have a cut of the pie of course and they were sending armed troops into the heart of Indian lands to hunt. [Nichols 1942:25]

With so many now hunting cattle it became more difficult to find them in the usual places.  This forced the vaquería to range farther and farther to get the necessary hides and this usually meant into distant hostile lands.  It was in these hostile lands that vaquería members began to settle to be near their source of income.  It was here the contraband trade would begin and here the gaucho would evolve.  [Nichols 1942:25]

It must be said here that the vaquería served as a school for the gaucho.  It was with the vaquería that the gaucho practiced the use of bolas and lasso.  He would learn ways of handling cattle, such as how to hamstring them, how to strip off hides, and prepare them for shipment. With the vaquería he would hear of markets where he could dispose of illegal wares in the future.  [Nichols 1942:23]

If it were not for the hands of fate or of governments interfering in the lives of men, things might march along at a nice even clip.  Unfortunately, someone always interferes.

The small size of the settlement in the Plata meant that few Spanish ships came to the region.  Also, Spain was at war, as usual, and could not afford the necessary warship guard to establish and maintain a new route.  She stuck to her northern route through the Antilles, Mexico, and Peru.  So what could not be shipped directly from ships at Buenos Aires could be sent through Peru and on to Spain.  This would have allowed Buenos Aires to compete with merchants in Peru if a glitch had not occurred in 1622.  It was at this time a Royal Custom House was established in Córdoba which required transit duties of 50%. [Nichols 1942:27]  Any profit the hide hunters may have realized was now cut in half.  It doesn't take much imagination to figure out the solution to this problem.  Smuggling is the obvious way to cut out the middleman, in this case the Royal Custom House.      As a result of the transit duties the contraband trade became necessary and with it the men skilled in the handling of cattle and schooled by the vaquería. Thus time, events, place and necessity now converged to create the gaucho and these will continue to alter his character for centuries.

The actions of the gaucho might be illegal but over all they were sanctioned by the Spanish settlers unless one were personally affected by those actions.  They might not be the ideal neighbor but they were of value to "local society". [Nichols 1942:33] Nichols description suggest a gaucho of all trades.

"He collected Uruguayan livestock and drove it to purchasers on the Brazilian frontier; . . .hunted cattle for hides to be similarly sold; or. . . he smuggled European goods to their local market. . . . He might work for some impresario from Santa Fe or Buenos Aires; or . . . a Brazilian of similar interests, or the captain of some passing French, English, or Dutch boat. (He). . . was the means whereby the community received the goods it needed, and at pleasantly advantageous prices. [Nichols 1942:33]

In the beginning my impression of the gaucho was that of a chivalrous cowboy.  I learned he most definitely was not that.  Nichols says that "a hearty dislike of walking . . .led to an . . . inclination to steal horses.  She goes further by saying that the cruelty of their everyday occupations had its general effect on their characters.  They could cut the throat of a man as coldly and dispassionately as that of a cow. They placed no value on life and equally death did not bother them.  [1942:15]

This is not the picture of a man one would want to bring home to mother, and yet, the gaucho did have some redeeming qualities.  They were hospitable, willing to give food and lodging to any traveler, even though they didn't know who he was or where he was going or why.  They were personally courageous and stoic in endurance of hardship or pain. They were highly independent men as well, working when they chose and leaving their employer when they chose. " It was possible to survive on the pampa without work and with relative comfort."  [Nichols 1942:15]  He was a true vagabond.

Another aspect to his character was his competitiveness.  Possessing special skills was not enough; one must also test them and prove himself superior to all others. Nichols says this quality made the gaucho apt at war. [Nichols 1942:16]  And it was war which caused the first real change in attitude toward the gaucho.

In 1809 Viceroy Cisneros "made direct and open trade with Europe" legal by decree.  The gaucho suddenly found he had no way to make a "dishonest living" and he was no longer useful to society. [Nichols 1942:53]  Fortunately, fate again intervened.

In the Plata region a period of war existed during the first half of the nineteenth century.  Nothing could have suited the gaucho more and he embraced it wholeheartedly.  It was his element and a game as well.  He could use his skills to their fullest and he had an audience.  There was no need to alter his lifestyle because he already knew how to live off the land.  He could find water and food where others couldn't.  "With the sun for a guide, the ordinary tools of its work for arms, and saddle cloths for a bed, a gaucho army became as independent as any in the world."

It was after the wars for independence in which he fought hard and dedicatedly that the term gaucho came to be respected.  The appearance of hundreds of unkempt gaucho riders in their colorful ponchos, carrying knives lashed to poles and yelling obscenities must have been terrifying to the opposing forces.  Barbaric the gaucho armies might be but with a competent leader they were highly effective.  Then the wars ended and once again the gaucho finds himself without a raison d'être.  [Nichols 1942:53 57]

Rudolph says the "spread of estancias, appropriation of land and wild herds, hunting and slaughter, regulation and control of hides and tallow brought the gaucho life to an end.  Eventually he is recruited to work on estancias." [Rudolph 1986:23]  And yet, the gaucho did not die. He simply changed his place of employment once more.

The Romantic movement which started in Europe in the late sixteenth century had spread to Latin America.  The emphasis was on "individualism and nationalism" and stressed "artistic freedom to pursue new subject matter and fresh literary forms."  [World Book 1988:112]  The gaucho acquired a new position in society and in fact became a whole new man.  It is this movement which gives the gaucho his romantic nature.  He became "a symbol of the national spirit and . . . national achievement".  [Nichols 1942:59]  The stories which result from this period show him as irresistible to women, an excellent singer, a defender of the downtrodden, and a man unjustly persecuted.  [Nichols 1942:59 61]

This image of the gaucho became so popular that in the early part of the twentieth century in Argentina it became popular to "play gaucho".  Nichols mentions there were even clubs where members congregated to play the guitar, sing gaucho songs, read gaucho stories, write gaucho newspapers, and act in gaucho plays.  [Nichols 1942:62]  No longer is the gaucho disreputable, now he is a hero.

The more I read of the gaucho the more I wanted to understand how the forces which created such a man and changed him so often also elevated him to the role of a hero.  I think I found the answer, at least part of it, in these two quotes from Lehman's study of Carlyle's Theory of the Hero.

"A man's course of life is the road his environment forces him to follow; his education is the discipline and enlightenment which his environment affords."

"Thus the pressure   the need   of a world of men diversifies the form which the essential Hero assumes." [Lehman 1966:58 59]

The gaucho was truly molded by his environment but the "world of men" made him a hero.

Each time it seemed the gaucho would die out he has managed to survive.  Even today he still exist in the Pampa region of Argentina.  But civilization may finally do what Spanish conquest and wars could not do. Once large estancias are divided and fenced and roads encroach into the interior.  One gaucho cited by Laxalt said "When the roads are here, the old gaucho way of life will be gone.  No longer can we live untouched by the corruption of outside influences."  [Laxalt 1980:500]  And yet, one must look back at another time when the outside world intruded. The forces which helped create the gaucho then are not so very different from the ones he faces today.  Perhaps he will continue to survive. 


Burns, E. Bradford.  1980.   A History of Brazil. 2nd Ed.  N.Y. Colombia University Press. p. 84.

"Gaucho." 1985.  Encyclopedia Americana.  Grolier Inc.  Conneticut.  12:345.

 -------------. 1988. World Book Encyclopedia.  World Book Inc.  Chicago.  8:68.

"Latin American Literature." 1988. World Book Encyclopedia.  World Book Inc.  Chicago.  12:112.

Laxalt, Robert.  1980.  Gauchos: Last of a Breed.     National Geographic 158:478 500.

Lehman, B. H.   1966.  Carlyle's Theory of the Hero:  It's Sources, Development, History and Influence on Caryle's     Work.  New York.  AMS Press  pp. 58 59.

Nichols, Madaline Wallis.  1942.  The Gaucho. North Carolina.  Duke University Press. pp. vii 63.

Rudolph, James D. 1986.  Argentina: A Country Study. 3rd Ed.      Area Handbook Series. Washington, D.C.  U.S. Government Printing Office.  p. 23.

The Castilian Character

Fatalism, heroic ideals, indifference and contempt for others' thoughts and ideas, and religious devotion to the point of fanaticism would be the simplest way to define the Castilian character.  However, character does not form in and of itself but is a result of the combination of one's environment and the events that occur in one's life.  The Castilian character formed in just this way.

The Iberian Peninsula is an area surrounded by water and mountains, effectively isolating the people from the ideas and customs of the rest of the world.  Inland, the varied topography served to isolate the Iberians from each other as well, creating localism but making it difficult to unite groups in a common cause.

The land itself, most of which is poor soil, with few ports, and a harsh climate made wanderers of the people.  Whether searching for fresh pasture land or the hope of a better life in a far-away land, these people developed a character which is self-sufficient, hardy, determined, and adventurous.  All of these characteristics would contribute to create the conquistadors and set them on the journey to the New World.

As an American it is hard to visualize over 2000 years of rule by at least seven conquering hordes; for the Iberian Peninsula, it was a way of life.  Perhaps as hundreds of years would go by the Iberians began to relax and feel this time would be the last.  It wasn't.  An endless supply of conquerors seemed to stream across the borders of the Peninsula for centuries.  Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthiginians, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, and Moslems came; each leaving their mark on the land and its people.    

The Romans, with their focus on cities and law, effected a great change on the people.  They brought the Christian religion and with it rigid orthodoxy and religious zeal.  The Roman changed even the language of the Iberian Peninsula;  Spanish is a corruption of Latin.  In order to break the ties of people to places, the Romans would move them from one place to another.  Thus, the country was unified by law, language, and forced colonization.  These concepts would show up centuries later in the Spanish conquest and colonization of New Spain and would gradually forge a new country.

With the Moslems came new habits and customs, such as the siesta.  Schools, the arts, and classical learning were introduced.  The use of marble, tiles, bright colors and designs in architecture changed the face of the country when introduced in conjunction with mosques, palaces, and fountains. It would take centuries but this architecture was transplanted to the new world with only slight and gradual modification.

All people grow tired of being conquered and the Spanish were no different but to have a re-conquest there must be an army.  It is possible the poor could envision a better life under the rule of their own people; however, the motives of the nobility, Church, and King to regain their wealth must always lie under the surface.  The discovery of what was thought to be the body of St. James gave the Christian remnants the motivation they needed.  God was with them and with the battle cry of Santiago, the re-conquest began in earnest.  With each successive victory their numbers would grow until the Moslem invaders were pushed back across the sea.

The Church was a unifying factor in the re-conquest but the iron hand of Castile and Aragon in the latter part added nationalism to religious zeal.  The Inquisition served to mop up any remaining dissenters.   Centuries of Moslem rule was over.  The Jews with their religion and wealth were gone.  Spain had purged its nation and church and set herself on a course for economic ruin.  

After 500 years of war with the Moslems, there is certainly good reason for the Spaniard to have acquired a religious devotion and a love for military lifestyle.  His belief in his own courage, strength, and virility was reinforced.  No longer would he allow other nations to make the rules for him.  Never would he grub in the dirt or barter in the market place.  As a soldier, for God and King, he would live and die as he chose, conquering the heretic.

Soldiers, government officials, merchants, clerics and settlers sailed to New Spain.  They set out to christianize the pagan peoples they met there, as well as take their land.  To the Indian the armored conquistador must have appeared as a god who was half man, half beast.  He saw a god with light skin, a body which reflected the sun, and an ability to run like the wind.  These gods carried rods which thundered, smoked, and killed.  By various methods the Indian would learn that these weren't gods but mortals. It would be too late. The Indians' own fatalism would do them in; their myths foretold destruction and it came.

As for the Spanish view of the Indian, it varied from person to person and time to time.  Columbus thought they were gentle people who would be eager to be Christianized and serve the monarchy.  They eventually were all these things, but the Spanish reputation was acquired in getting them to that point.      The island Indians were considered little more than animals.  While Indians on the mainland were slightly more civilized, the demand for a labor force ensured that the colonist would remain blind to the humanity of the Indians.  Only with the arrival of clerics concerned with the plight of these people did they acknowledge the fact that these were human beings, deserving humane treatment.  Even with this knowledge the Indian was most often mistreated.

The discovery of the New World brought new vistas to Spaniards.  Novels which told of knights, maidens, exotic lands, strange people, and hidden wealth were popular and enticed the adventurous conquistadors to explore and conquer.  They were after all valiant men; they had vanquished their enemies. Whatever fate awaited them in this new land was unimportant compared to the possible wealth and glory.  Some came to seek gold, some glory.  They all came to conquer and claim the land for their own, no matter what the risk.  It could be said they were being true to their Roman heritage.  The motto for the conquistadors could have been written by Caesar: I came, I saw, I conquered.  They did. 


Davies, Nigel  The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico.  Penguin Books:  London, England:  1983, 247-253.

Fagg, John.  Latin American History.  The Macmillian Company:  London:  1969,

Gibson, Charles.  Spain in America.  Harper Torch Books:  New York:  1967, 1-159.

Haring, C.H.  The Spanish Empire in America.  Oxford University Press:  New York: 1947, 3-41.

Herring, Hubert.  A History of Latin America: From the Beginning to the Present.  Knoph:  New York:  1968, 64-203.

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