In 1863, Domingo Sarmiento commissioned a photograph of the defeated followers of Angel Vicente “Chacho” Peñaloza, leader of one of the last Federalist insurrections in the Argentine interior. By the time the blurred portrait of some 70 bedraggled gauchos was taken, the Unitarian governor of San Juan province had already ordered the execution of their leader and exhibited his head on public display. Doubtless Sarmiento, biographer of Juan Manuel de la Rosa (the other famous caudillo from that troublesome province), found in the picture of barefoot peasants, seemingly impotent without their charismatic hero, confirmation of his hope that this act of exemplary violence by a new generation of liberal state builders had finally closed the chapter on local warlords and prepared the path for national unity.

This evocative photograph graces the cover of Children of Facundo, a pioneering exploration of the popular...

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