Conflict and violence characterized rural society in nineteenth-century Buenos Aires province. The interests of a rancher class of large landowners desiring servile, sedentary, low-wage laborers to tend their vast herds and a gaucho class of itinerant, seasonal ranch workers, whose traditional lifestyle and economic well-being depended upon geographical mobility clashed head-on. So-called criminality on the pampa often reflected the socioeconomic conflict between gauchos and terratenientes whose political power permitted them to enforce their class interests through such local officials as jueces de paz and alcaldes. National and provincial leaders, faced with chronic civil and foreign wars and Indian raids, sought to conscript the skilled gaucho horsemen into army and militia cavalry units. Officials and ranchers adeptly utilized the law and broad definitions of criminality to exert social and labor control over the rural population. An examination of rural criminality illuminates the broader spectrum of pampean social relations and the continuities of political power in nineteenth-century Argentina.

Criminality is not always the simple manifestation of anti-social behavior by pathological or inadequately socialized individuals unwilling or unable to act in an acceptable manner. In some instances, crime reflects not biological, psychological, or even behavioral phenomena, but rather a “social status defined by the way in which an individual is perceived, evaluated, and treated by legal authorities.” Those groups in society capable of controlling the political and legal machinery frequently determine what is legal and what is criminal. In short, political power may define legality.1

Baldly stated, these premises underpin the conflict perspective on criminality, a viewpoint that differs markedly from the prevailing functionalist position. According to functionalists, society charges the state with the duty of restraining those who do not act in accordance with shared fundamental values that are codified into law. A consensus of commonly held interests and customs determines what is legal, and the state protects society from those who are inadequately or criminally socialized.2

Drawing upon but not confined to Marxist thought, the conflict viewpoint rejects functionalism’s consensual vision of society and focuses upon class relations. Conflict between competing social groups becomes institutionalized and codified into law. Dominant classes may utilize the law to buttress their interests and, in extreme cases, law becomes “a tool of the ruling class.”3 Criminality represents socially created categories of behaviors and characteristics that conflict with the interests of the most politically powerful segments of society. Socially marginal groups which take little or no part in formulating definitions of criminality clearly stand the best chance of being classified as criminals—gauchos being a case in point.4

Beyond protecting the interests of a ruling elite, law exists, as E. P. Thompson has noted, “in its own right, as [an] ideology” that not only serves but also legitimizes class power. This ideology powerfully shapes what a society deems acceptable or legal and serves to justify dominance by one class. According to Douglas Hay, law may operate as one of the “chief ideological instruments” to protect the interests of the propertied. Once deified, property may “become the measure of all things” including legality.5 Criminality, then, is mutable, changing constantly as different groups come to power and redefine it. Social change produces legal change and new definitions of criminality.6 Conversely, consistency in law over time reflects a continuity of social structures that perpetuate the same class in power. Such was the case in Buenos Aires province, where the porteño landowning elite maintained and strengthened its legal control over rural society throughout the nineteenth century.

The porteño ranching-commercial elite retained influence and the power to shape law despite nominal political changes in the Argentine nation. Their manner of defining and prosecuting vagrants, deserters, rustlers, and other rural criminals reflected salient class economic interests. The need for tractable ranch workers on the labor-short pampa prompted them to push successfully for the enactment of legal labor controls. The military and political interests of the provincial and national governments coincided, occasioning the aggregation of numerous vagrancy and conscription statutes in the comprehensive Rural Code of 1865. The code gave ranch owners control over the rural labor force and provided a bountiful harvest of conscripted “criminals” to fill the ranks of the army and frontier militia. It also presented a clear ideological statement of the goals and values of the landed elite and of porteño politicians, whose control of law made de facto criminals of most of the adult rural male population.

The landowners’ imposition of law brought them into direct conflict with long established customs of a gaucho subculture. Gauchos, itinerant pampean horsemen, evolved as a social class during the seventeenth century, hunting wild cattle and slaying them for their hides. Officials defined those licensed to kill cattle as peones and those who did so on a freelance, contraband basis as criminals—changadores, gauderios, and later gauchos. The great natural abundance of the pampa, with its plethora of cattle, horses, ostriches, and other wild game, meant that a skilled horseman and hunter could live without permanent employment by selling hides, feathers, pelts, and eating free beef. This pampean largess shaped the gaucho’s independent, migratory existence and his aversion to a sedentary regimen. Gauchos developed their own customs and way of life, placing them in diametric opposition to the legal constraints imposed by the rancher-dominated government.7

Pampean ranchers faced chronic labor shortages during peak seasons of roundup, branding, shearing, and harvest. From the eighteenth century on, a series of statutes limited the geographical mobility and economic options of the gaucho and tried to force him into obligatory peonage on large estancias. Vagrancy and conscription laws as well as internal passport requirements provided the specific legal tools for the gaucho’s subjugation and proved successful enough to render other types of labor controls, such as debt peonage, unnecessary on the pampa.8

Argentine vagrancy laws found precedents in the medieval legislation of Spain, England, and other European countries, where such laws served as means of labor, criminal, and social control. The Black Death that decimated the European labor force in the mid-fourteenth century motivated the English gentry to impose that nation’s first vagrancy law in 1349 and to strengthen it three years later. The statutes persisted even after the precipitating context—labor scarcity—disappeared and by the 1530s had become weapons of criminal rather than labor control. From the mid-sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth century, emphasis shifted from merely criminal to broader types of social control. Officials used branding, physical disfigurement, and the death penalty to prosecute the so-called “dangerous classes”—the poor. The definition of vagrancy expanded to encompass “rogues,” “vagabonds, and most of the rural and urban poor.9

In Spain, seventeenth-century statutes dealt harshly with the unemployed of Valladolid whom authorities feared to be socially dangerous. The lash, the galley, or the branding iron awaited the convicted vagrant. A law of 1692 set military service as the penalty for vagrancy, fixing a pattern also followed in Argentina. Spanish authorities, like the English, came to view “paupers, vagrants, rogues, and felons as a single, dangerous class. Poverty, in effect, became a crime. The hostile attitude toward the poor and the broad application of vagrancy laws carried over into colonial legislation in the Americas.10

In the Río de la Plata region, vagrancy laws fulfilled the same diverse functions of labor, criminal, and social control that similar statutes had performed in Europe. As in England, labor shortages prompted official action. Authorities in mid-eighteenth-century Buenos Aires ordered all vagabonds and idlers” out of the city to aid with the wheat harvest. In addition to applying vagrancy laws, colonial officials also required pampean peones to carry a working paper or papel de conchavo. Viceroy Rafael de Sobremonte in 1804 ordered rural workers to carry a document signed by a patrón attesting to their employed status. Unless they renewed the document every two months, workers could be declared vagrants and forced to labor two months without pay on public works.11 The relatively light sentence, compared with subsequent punishments, indicates that the intent of the legislation at that time did not extend beyond labor regulation to more generalized social control.

Sobremonte also required a second type of document, a certificación or papeleta de fuero o alistamiento. The papeleta affirmed the bearer’s military status and served as a model for military enrollment papers demanded during the national period. The burden of military service weighed heavily upon ranch workers because of the sparsity of the rural population. Superb horsemen who were skilled with lance, facón (swordlike knife), and bolas, the gauchos were especially suited for cavalry units vital in pampean warfirre. The gaucho’s deep-seated independence, heightened further by rampant official abuses of power, provoked a generalized disdain and hatred for law among the rural population whose livelihood depended upon the unfettered mobility to seek work or game anywhere on the pampa.12

During and after the independence struggles, 1810-1816, Argentine leaders further developed and refined the legal labyrinth entangling the gaucho. Increased demand for soldiers prompted a series of conscription laws, beginning in May 1810, when all males aged eighteen to forty became subject to active militia service. Laws of March 23, 1812, February 11, 1814, and May 30, 1815, imposed additional military obligations. The 1814 law required males to carry a billete impreso, an official form attesting to military service.13 Rural workers also faced continued requirements for working papers. Governor Manuel Luis de Oldén decreed on August 30, 1815, that workers carry a document signed by both an employing rancher and the juez de paz. Those not renewing the paper every three months could be classified summarily as servants or vagrants and assessed attendant obligations and punishments.14

Minister of Government Bernadino Rivadavia gave Argentine vagrancy statutes their enduring force and form during the 1820s. Decrees enacted from 1822 through 1824 broadened and strengthened the classification of vagos y mal entretenidos (vagrants and ne’er-do-wells) to include, at a justice’s whim, virtually any rural male. With nothing more than verbal testimony by a juez, a man could be sentenced to several years of military service as a vagrant. A further decree of July 17, 1823, forbade workers to leave an employer’s ranch without his written permission. Two years of military service or, less commonly, of public works, chastened the ranch worker with neither job nor proper document.15 By the 1820s, rural vagrancy and labor legislation was clearly functioning as a tool of social control. The government consciously sought to reduce the gaucho class to obedient ranch peons and servile soldiers.

Yet a third type of document, an internal passport of travel between partidos or outside the province, sealed the gaucho’s fate. A decree of February 22, 1822, imposed the passport on pain of military service, thereby drastically curtailing the geographical mobility of the rural population.16 Violations of the passport requirement became the most common crime on the nineteenth-century pampa, and countless men served extended terms of military duty for not possessing a document they could not even read.

The welter of legislation passed in the 1820s laid the juridical foundation for the subjugation of the gaucho during the following decades. The political, military, and legal constraints solidified at that time persisted throughout the century. Governments, whether Unitarian or Federalist, liberal or conservative, bolstered and extended the power of the landowning elite over rural society.17

Far from breaking with the legislation developed by the Unitarian Rivadavia, the porteño Federalist Juan Manuel de Rosas, who took power in 1829, vigorously enforced it. The “Restorer of the Laws” redoubled the prosecution of vagrants and exhorted his officials to enforce passport and conscription laws with energy.18 From his early days as a rancher, Rosas proclaimed and championed the rights of the propertied. In 1817, he complained that "lazy ne’er-do-wells abound everywhere” and railed against the “multitudes of vagrants” that plagued the partido of Monte where his ranch was located. On one occasion, he narrowly escaped being knifed to death while trying to chase a band of ostrich hunters from his lands. Rosas blamed the backwardness of the pampa on the “throng of idlers, vagrants, and delinquents” that afflicted the countryside. He expended much of his administrative energies on converting those he considered idlers into sedentary, contractual ranch workers or into cavalrymen for his army.19

Capricious application of the law under Rosas made the judicial system even more oppressive to the rural population. Officials often adjusted sentences according to the victim’s age so that he faced military service until age forty-five or fifty. Thus, for the same crime of traveling without a passport, Florencio Almorás, age forty, received a ten-year sentence, and Manuel Aguirre, age thirty-five, faced fifteen years. Additional examples abound.20 In mid-1839, authorities in Ranchos arrested Francisco Solano Rocha for not having a passport or patrón. His employer at Los Cerritos ranch, Juan José Díaz, had given the peón a month’s leave to journey to Tapalqué. Solano Rocha, termed by Díaz a good peón, had already served three years in the military, but lack of proper documents condemned him to further service.21 The description of Bartolo Díaz, a Santiago del Estero native arrested in 1846, is typical of many of the pampa’s “criminals”: twenty-eight years old, single, illiterate, healthy, peón jornalero, of the peón del campo class, dressed in a chiripá of English cloth, no boots, no passport.22 Because of the myriad legal requirements and the government’s heavy demand for troops, even the designation peón del campo became synonymous with criminal.

The fall of the Rosista dictatorship on February 3, 1852, afforded rural society only a brief respite from restrictive legislation. On February 15, the new provincial government repealed the statute requiring internal passports, and rural citizens enjoyed “absolute liberty” of travel for the first time in several decades. Less than six months later, however, victorious General Justo José de Urquiza reinstated the passport requirement for more effective crime control. Urquiza, a prominent rancher and saladerista in his native province of Entre Ríos, shared the viewpoint and values of the same class that had supported Rosas—the terratenientes. Responding to widespread abuses by local officials, in 1853 Urquiza did abolish the previously required fee and use of stamped paper for passports.23

As La Tribuna of Buenos Aires noted on January 11, 1854, Rosas bequeathed the province a “legislative labyrinth” of decrees that remained in force long after his ouster. Legal inertia, the continuity of rural officials, and the sustained power of the ranching elite kept a tangle of restrictions in force even though their legitimacy had rested upon the personal power and prestige of Rosas. La Tribuna urged a substantial revision and codification of provincial laws, a task finally undertaken during the 1860s.

Continued labor shortages generated support among ranchers and their spokesmen for the strict enforcement of vagrancy laws. On July 6, 1854, La Tribuna called for strong measures to force idle but “robust men” out of pampean towns and into the labor-short countryside. The editor incredulously questioned why men would settle for two or four pesos per day as street vendors when the lowest rural peón earned fifteen. Leaving aside the obvious difference in energy and skill required, the irregular, seasonal nature of ranch work meant that the lower but more dependable urban wage perhaps offered a better source of income over time.

Those calling for stringent prosecution of vagrants overlooked the possibility that strict enforcement of the various laws could exacerbate rather than alleviate the rural labor shortage. In November 1853, Juez de Paz José C. Ruiz reported from Federación near the Santa Fe border that countless able-bodied men had fled the county to escape from oppressive laws. Active prosecution of so-called vagrants and undesirables depopulated the countryside, the last thing that a sparsely settled region threatened by Indian raiders needed. Ruiz accurately diagnosed the problem as a head-on clash between the gaucho’s traditional customs, especially the need and desire for free transit, and the government’s determination to control the rural population. Most workers opted for forced migration north to Santa Fe or westward to the uncertain Indian frontier rather than accept the burden of military service. Ruiz proposed, and Minister of War Manuel de Escalada concurred, that only the most serious and violent crimes should be punished with military service.24

In 1856, Mariano Gainza, a prominent rancher, voiced similar thoughts. Offering suggestions for a proposed rural code, Gainza questioned the unduly broad definition given the classification of vagrant. Is a man who owns ten or fifteen horses, who works four or five days per month, and who thus earns 150 to 200 pesos per year to be classified as a vagrant? If so, opined the rancher, then half of the rural adult male population qualified. Gainza foresaw more negative than ameliorative effects in an arbitrary definition of vagrancy that ignored rural customs and economic realities.25

The opinions expressed by Gainza, Escalada, and Ruiz went largely unheeded, and most commentators demanded vigorous enforcement of vagrancy statutes. Rural justices during the 1850s zealously prosecuted and condemned to military service many gauchos for traveling without a passport or National Guard enrollment paper.26 Juan Dillon, justice of the peace for Morón, advocated the strict application of the passport requirement as one of the few means available to aid “our poor rural police in crime control. Although an acknowledged imposition on the honest, the passport conferred a measure of social control on the vast pampa where a well-mounted criminal with spare horses could escape 250 kilometers in half a day. The great distances and isolation of the pampa prevented some crimes from being reported for days. Dillon proposed fines of up to 1,000 pesos in addition to military service for passport infractions.27

The provincial government responded to the sentiments expressed by Dillon and many others with a strengthened vagrancy law of October 31, 1858. Two to four years of military service awaited “those who on work days habituate gambling houses and taverns, those who use knife or firearms in the capital or country towns,” those wounding another person, and those found to be “vagrants and ne’er-do-wells.” Men failing to register for the national guard or detained with out-of-date papers could be sentenced to two years of service. Verbal testimony by a justice sufficed for conviction—no appeals would be heard.28

Realizing the need for a comprehensive rural code on the rapidly changing pampa, the provincial government began soliciting suggestions from prominent ranchers in 1856. Large porteño landowners, including the powerful Ramos Mejía, Lynch, Elia, and Martínez de Hoz families, offered their views. In late 1862, Valentín Alsina began compiling the information gathered, and, in mid-1865, he submitted a proposed code. The resulting legislation, passed in November 1865, proved even more restrictive to the rural population than Alsina’s original rancher-fashioned proposal. The code’s broadly construed vagrancy clause utterly nullified for rural citizens those civil rights granted under the national Constitution of 1853. The Argentine Rural Society, founded in 1866 to promote the interests of large landowners, scrutinized the code in thirty-eight sessions and offered no substantial modifications. The terratenientes had what they wanted and more.29

The Rural Code of 1865, consisting of 319 articles in five sections, covered the major legal questions central to the ranching economy: property and water rights, registration and protection of brands, transit of livestock, duties of rural officials, and rural crime.30 The third section, Articles 222 through 242, delineated the boundaries of the gaucho’s shrinking world. The code demanded written work contracts which stipulated wages and terms for all rural workers except day laborers (Articles 224-225). Workers had Sundays free except during busy harvest and shearing seasons but were required to work beyond contractual agreements when unexpected conditions arose (Articles 226, 229). Under Article 232, a peón wishing to work ouside his county of residence had to secure a permit from the justice specifying the place and duration of employment. Justices arbitrated all worker-rancher disputes with no appeal. A rancher could fire a “disobedient, lazy, or vice-ridden peón,” but could be held responsible if his orders resulted in crimes or injuries committed by his employees (Articles 237-239). The code also severely curtailed the gaucho’s hunting activities, an important source of additional income. Unlawful hunting could result in a 500-peso fine or forced labor on public works (Articles 259-266).

Predictably, vagrants were to receive harsh punishment. Section four specified penalties ranging up to three years of military service or one year of labor on public works for vagrancy (Article 292). Article 289 stated that “all those lacking a permanent residence or known means of support, who prejudice the public good because of bad conduct and habitual vices, shall be declared vagrants.” This sweeping classification, subject to interpretation by local justices, marked the culmination of two centuries of Argentine vagrancy legislation. The hand-and-glove relationship between prominent ranchers and local officials assured enforcement on the landowners’ terms.

In functional terms, the Rural Code served to tie laborers to given geographical regions by means of the vagrancy articles, written work contract, and the still required internal passport. In curtailing worker mobility, it functioned much as the colonial labor systems of encomienda and yanaconaje in controlling Indians in New Spain and Peru.31 The flexible vagrancy classification also gave rural officials an efficient means of filling draft quotas. In July 1869, Menchor Hanabal [sic], justice of Carmen de Areco, arrested Pedro Nolasco Rodríguez on suspicion of horse theft. The accused, lacking both the national guard papeleta and the passport, was sentenced to military service under Article 289 of the Rural Code.32 Regardless of the type of criminal sought by rural police, they could almost always “create” a vagrant and send him off to fill the county’s conscription quota.

On January 18, 1873, the province abolished the internal passport and granted residents freedom of transit between partidos. The action drew varied responses. El Monitor de la Campaña of Exaltación de la Cruz opposed abolition of the passport because it would supposedly increase livestock thefts by permitting criminals to move unchallenged about the province. La Voz de Saladillo countered that passports had never deterred rustlers in the past but had meant “slavery for the gaucho.”33 Rural Society President José María Jurado deemed the document an absolute necessity in controlling rural crime. While readily admitting that national guard service had proved injurious to family stability and to work habits, Jurado insisted upon retention of the passport and military service penalty. Urban rights and standards of criminality could not be applied to the pampa because of the semi-migratory nature of the rural population and the great mobility of the mounted criminal.34

In the absence of the passport requirement after 1873, the elastic vagrancy article of the Rural Code and the unchecked authority of rural officials grew in importance. For example, records from the southern partido of Tandil in 1880 abound with cases of transients who received three years of military service under Article 289.35 As modern ranching methods, notably fencing, further reduced rural labor needs, many workers found employment only briefly if at all. With wild livestock and game no longer plentiful on the pampa, ranch workers faced few legal options to sustain themselves.

A vagrant conscripted into the military often quickly became a deserter, a second large class of criminals on the pampa. Massive flights from conscripting officials and high desertion rates made it abundantly clear that gauchos felt little compulsion to serve the province or the nation militarily. While the wealthy could hire substitutes and urban workers enjoyed draft exemptions, rural workers faced only two alternatives—extended service or evasion. Intimately tied to the Draconian vagrancy laws, forced military service remained the most common form of punishment for vagrants and other criminals throughout the century.36

To combat desertion, the government offered rewards in 1815, 1827, and 1855 to persons turning in deserters. Alternating carrot and stick, laws provided amnesty to deserters in December 1813, September 1815, and September 1821, and the death penalty in March 1813 and November 1854.37 In most cases, however, captured deserters faced the lash and more long years of service. Early in the 1825-1828 war with Brazil, Sir Francis Bond Head, a keen British observer, encountered some 300 recruits in San Luis province—ill-fed and clothed in tattered ponchos— awaiting shipment in chains to Buenos Aires. The previous night they had assaulted their guards in an unsuccessful escape attempt. French visitor Alcides d’Orbigny cited cruel corporal punishments as the cause of high Argentine desertion rates. William Miller, a British officer, attributed most robberies and murders on the pampa to army deserters.38

The many civil conflicts and foreign wars during the Rosas era raised troop demands to an even higher level. Deserters and draft evaders ranged the countryside, especially in remote partidos such as Pila and Lobería. Often unable to work for lack of proper documentation and for fear of apprehension, deserters and vagrants resorted to rustling and theft for survival. At times, however, the great scarcity of rural peones worked to the deserter’s advantage. A fifty-peso bounty for deserters notwithstanding, Paulino Gómez, a deserter, worked on various ranches for five months in 1845 before being captured in Lobería.39 Rosas issued repeated circulars exhorting rural officials to capture and return deserters to his Santos Lugares headquarters for punishment and further service. The task proved formidable, however, as hundreds of gauchos deserted from his forces in Tandil alone during 1851.40 Nonetheless, those who were caught could expect little clemency. In late 1847, officials in Chivilcoy arrested Feliciano Pereyra, a nine-year-old lad who played the fife in the army. Convicted of desertion, the youth received an additional eight years of service as punishment, and his captor collected a fifty-peso reward. The authorities did spare the hoy the two or three hundred lashes customarily accorded deserters.41 Another young offender proved less fortunate. In 1846, Colonel John A. King, an adventurer from the United States serving in the Argentine army, reported that a twelve-year-old boy had been shot “by Rosas’ order” as a spy.42

After Rosas’ fall, gauchos continued to form the main body of Argentine troops. Many deserted because they had been impressed unjustly at the outset. Others tired of miserable provisions, late or non-existent pay, and ill treatment. John S. Pendleton, charge d’affaires for the United States, described the sorry plight of the common soldier in 1852. Caudillos, noted the diplomat, exhibited “total indifference to the comfort and the rights of their soldiers.” A meager wage “that is very rarely paid” and scanty rations held little attraction for most troops.43 Thomas W. Hinchliff, visiting the pampa in the late 1850s, readily grasped the untenable position of the gaucho-soldier. “The poor devils may well be excused” for deserting, he noted, “when we remember that they have everything to lose and nothing to gain among the miseries of civil war.” Hinchliff empathized with the soldier’s frequent and logical response to military service—to mount his best horse and flee across the plains.44

Minor infractions of military etiquette called forth violent punishment. Robert Crawford, an Englishman surveying railroad routes across the pampa in the early 1870s, observed the common practice of “staking out.” The victim, face down, was lashed at the ankles and wrists with wet rawhide thongs. As the leather dried, the limbs were stretched in a manner that, according to Crawford, “must have been exceedingly uncomfortable.” Provincial Governor Carlos D’Amico acknowledged the widespread use of the cepo or stocks throughout the countryside.45 On July 23, 1886, El Eco de Tandil reported that the police commissioner of Navarro had placed a fifteen-year-old boy in the stocks to extract testimony against the lad’s father.

Deserters frequently lived in frontier areas, banding together for mutual protection and survival. Others joined with Indian raiders in attacking pampean ranches. Richard A. Seymour, who settled on the frontier in southern Santa Fe province in the 1860s, lost his horses to an Indian band accompanied by a gaucho interpreter. In another foray, gauchos interceded to save the lives of a native peón and a boy but acquiesced to the murder of three Englishmen—harsh evidence of gaucho xenophobia. Seymour’s contemporary and British consul in Rosario, Thomas J. Hutchinson, estimated that the “gaucho element” comprised half of all Indian raiding parties.46 In late 1872, Francisco Borges reported to Minister of War Martín de Gainza that a band of “fifteen or twenty Indians or Christians” believed to be gauchos were stealing horses in the county of Rojas.47

In addition to deserters, other criminals including murderers ranged along the Indian frontier beyond the reach of white civilization and law. Pampean ranch workers considered the facón to be an integral part of their equipment. The knife permitted a man to feed himself, to work, and, in Juan Bautista Alberdi’s phrase, “to carry the government with him.” To the gaucho, being without a knife was as unthinkable as being without a horse, and he continued to favor the weapon even after Remington rifles and other firearms appeared on the pampa. According to the gaucho proverb, “he who has no knife does not eat.” Not surprisingly, the knife played a central role in most pampean murders.48

The pulpería, a country store and tavern, served as the arena for many rural murders. The volatile mixture of liquor, gambling, and ready knives often proved fatal. As Scottish traveler Alexander Caldcleugh noted in 1819, “numberless are the crosses about the doors of the pulperias.”49 In 1823, Robert Proctor, an English mining engineer, remarked upon the gauchos’ custom of sticking their knives into the pulpería counter when gambling as a sign of good will. Sufficiently provoked, however, patrons quickly grabbed their weapons, wrapped ponchos about one arm as shields, and commenced dueling. Rosas prohibited the use of knives in towns or in pulperías in 1830, but the decree went unheeded.50

A gaucho who killed another even in a fair fight became in the eyes of the law a matrero, a murderer, an outlaw. To the people of the countryside, however, he was the victim of a desgracia or misfortune, not a criminal. Knife fighters usually attempted only to mark or scar an opponent, not to kill him. The gaucho who killed a man in a duel became the most storied of rural criminals. He passed into the literary and popular imagination in the personages of Juan Moreira and Martín Fierro. Figures like Moreira and Fierro, murderers to the state, became folk heroes and champions against oppressive authority to the people. Like the social bandit described by Eric J. Hobsbawm, the matrero stood as a man to be aided, supported, and even admired.51

As in the American West with its legendary gunslingers, the frequency of murders on the pampa may have been distorted and sensationalized. Police records show many deaths from knife wounds, especially in the popular rural taverns, but Arthur Shaw recalled seeing only one fatal stabbing in a decade of rural experience.52 By the twentieth century, firearms played a more significant role in rural violence. Of 3, 735 woundings in 1909 in Buenos Aires province, knives accounted for forty percent and firearms eighteen percent. Of 443 murders, however, forty-eight percent resulted from firearms and forty-four percent from knifings.53

Less renowned than the matreros but more significant in reality were cuatreros or rustlers. Like the crimes of vagrancy and desertion, livestock theft stemmed more from economic necessity created by latifundia and rapid changes in ranching than from premeditated criminality on the part of the gaucho. The established customs of the colonial and early national periods conflicted sharply with newer concepts of private property inherent in Argentina’s booming export capitalism. Earlier, when hides alone held commercial value, stray or branded cattle could be slaughtered for meat as long as the hide was staked out and delivered to the owner. Property boundaries, vague and flexible on the unfenced pampa, rendered null the concept of trespass. With a lasso and a tropilla of extra mounts, a gaucho could acquire all the wealth he needed in cattle—the pampean grass belonged to everyone. A philosophical anarchist, the gaucho maintained his custom of free grazing on the open range and of appropriating unmarked animals even after terratenientes had gained title to most of the better lands. The gaucho’s rustling then became an act of rebellion against authority and against a new pampa of foreigners and foreign ideas. Denied the opportunity to earn a living wage as ranch hands, some gauchos returned to the labor of their colonial predecessors—dealing in illicit hides.54

As selective breeding increased the value per head of livestock, ranchers became more concerned about animal thefts. In mid-1871, Deogracias García, justice of the peace for Saladillo, relayed grievances from ranchers about the “considerable number” of cattle killed illicitly for their hides. García reported to provincial Police Chief Enrique O’Gorman that the hides found a ready market in the town of Saladillo despite the absence of proper papers or guías.55 José María Jurado expressed the Rural Society’s concern over the illegal slaughter of animals in 1873. Although the roots of the practice extended well back into colonial times, Jurado attributed blame to Rosas who had permitted animals to be killed for consumption as long as the hides were delivered to the owner. The Rural Society met in extraordinary session in September 1873 to formulate plans for countering the rustling epidemic. Society President Eduardo Olivera termed rustling a more important problem than the bloody massacre of seventeen foreigners by gauchos in Tandil the previous year because far more people were affected adversely.56

In addition to the solitary poacher, felling an occasional beef for sustenance, bands of rustlers operated in many areas of the pampa. An 1878 circular from the Minister of Government solicited information about organized gangs of thieves suspected of numerous crimes throughout the countryside. The circular encouraged rural officials to detain and to question unknown or suspicious persons entering their counties.57 In 1880, the Revista de Ganadería, a rural journal, railed against the thefts, assaults, and crimes in the countryside that had grown to alarming proportions. Marauding gangs attempted to perpetuate the traditional, free-spirited life of the past, but by the 1880s most found that the old pastimes of ostrich hunting and living on “free air and fat meat had been largely curtailed on the modern, fenced pampa.58

Rustlers could not operate alone; they required market outlets for the illicit hides and wool gathered. Ostensibly reputable merchants, ranchers, and officials often facilitated the disposal of illegally procured fruits of the country. Marion Mulhall, wife of newspaper publisher Michael G. Mulhall, recounted a delightful anecdote of rustling that also well illustrates gaucho humor. The justice of the peace in Azul, so the story goes, offered to purchase hides, no questions asked, from a gaucho called “El Cuervo.” The gaucho was to throw the hides over the wall surrounding the justice’s house, and he would receive payment accordingly. After several nights, one of the justice’s peones discovered his employer’s own brand on the hides. When confronted by the justice, enraged at buying his own hides, the contrite gaucho asked in cunning innocence, “Master! whose cattle did you want me to kill unless your own?”59

On a more factual level, in 1873 several members of the Rural Society candidly admitted the participation of wealthy ranchers in illicit hide traffic. The society also suspected collusion between some local justices and rustlers and asked that rural police forces be made completely independent from the justices.60 On September 10, 1882, El Eco de Tandil reported the apprehension of five men who were in possession of a large quantity of stolen hides and wool. One confessed, implicating the others, but he also connected several “persons of influence and position” to the ring. In 1900, several ranchers with considerable holdings figured among a group arrested in Córdoba, further evidence of the complicity of many people of authority. Newspapers in La Plata and in Dolores charged that police at best tolerated and at worst cooperated with rustlers.61 In 1909, La Patria of Dolores cogently summarized the problem of livestock thefts: the rustler would not exist were he not well protected” by his padrino, the buyer behind the operation. Thus the highest and humblest elements of rural society cooperated in rustling cattle and sheep. Typically, however, the corrupt official or contrabanding rancher escaped prosecution while the hapless peón suffered the full weight of the law.62

Livestock thefts showed no appreciable decline until the approach of the 1910 centennial celebration. A Buenos Aires newspaper reported that provincial animal thefts finally dipped to fewer than 600 during the month of May, an average of less than 6 animals lost per county. The paper attributed the decline to increased vigilance by rural police.63 The actual incidence of animal losses is difficult to evaluate. In a 1910 report, Diógenes Muñiz and other provincial police officers estimated the total numbers of animals stolen in the province from 1880 to 1909 to have been about 44, 000 cattle, 73, 000 horses, and 286, 000 sheep.64 For the three decades thefts averaged only about 1, 500 cattle, 2, 500 horses, and 10, 000 sheep lost per annum. These figures pale in significance when compared with the millions of animals killed by disease, drought, flood, frosts, and other natural disasters. Although it gained notoriety and drew sharp criticism, rustling actually ranked low among the problems faced by the pampean rancher.

Commentators offered varied interpretations of the motives for rustling. Some provincial newspapers attributed the “continual robberies” in the countryside to habit, not necessity, because thieves frequently took only hides and left the meat. A San Nicolás paper blamed lack of rural police protection and demanded an increase in the partido’s forces. The paper insisted that each partido needed at least fifty rural police and soldiers to deter thieves.65El Progreso de Quilmes also backed the expansion of rural security forces to protect the rancher and his property.66 Toward the end of the century, Antonio G. Gil, of the provincial Agrarian League, also criticized the government for providing only two policemen per 27, 000 hectares in rural areas, about 2, 700 total for the province.67

Other observers looked to the character of the rural population rather than to weak enforcement in explaining rural criminality. Eduardo Rosales, commenting upon livestock thefts in 1901, blamed what he termed the cult of laziness. The Argentine paisano or rural native, according to the policeman, preferred stealing to working. Naturally lazy, indifferent to misery, homeless, addicted to long siestas, and living far from civilization, paisanos developed into barbarous idlers and thieves. Children, growing up in the bleak solitude of the great primitive plain, inherited the same roguish character from their shiftless fathers.68 Other racial interpretations of Argentine socioeconomic problems abound. Such facile explanations, grounded in then popular strains of Spencerian and positivist thought, fall woefully short of illuminating the nature of rural criminality.

In the 1870s, José Hernández penned the most eloquent and poetic analysis of Argentine rural social problems in his two-part epic, Martín Fierro. Using the gaucho’s own earthy imagery, rustic dialect, and wry humor, Hernández identified the structural bases of rural criminality. Most rural criminal categories represented behaviors deemed by the landed elite inimical to their interests. Lack of education, economic opportunity, and access to landownership coupled with arbitrary, inequitably enforced laws made criminals of honest ranch workers. Martín Fierro served as an archetype for the “created criminal and bespoke the gaucho’s plight:

And listen to the story told by a gaucho who’s hunted by the law; who’s been a father and husband hard-working and willing—and in spite of that, people take him to be a criminal.69

In prose writings, on the floor of the provincial legislature, and in a life of sometimes violent political activism, Hernández fought on behalf of the gaucho, a persecuted social class. The poet recognized the nexus between rural criminality and social class: on the pampa, “being a gaucho … curse it, being a gaucho is a crime.”70

This anomaly was increasingly noted by rural observers. El Eco de Tandil remarked upon the unhappy irony of punishing forced vagrants for living in conditions created by provincial judicial and economic structures. The unlimited powers of local authorities and the potent threat of frontier militia service forced the unfortunate gaucho to live outside the law. Administrative machinery operated as a vagrant factory legally making vagrants out of honest ranch workers. The Tandil daily exhorted provincial leaders to organize agricultural and livestock-raising colonies for rural natives on the frontier and to provide public education for the rural population.71

In an editorial at the turn of the century, El Pueblo of Azul presented a similar vision of rural society. Pampean crime resulted from the exclusion of a vast proportion of the rural population from access to permanent employment. “Our gaucho is not a thief by profession or nature,” asserted the editor, but rather by necessity. El Pueblo advocated filling provincial schools rather than its jails to help raise paisanos from their miserable state as the “Bohemians of our countryside.”72

But legal and economic structures, born during the colonial period and matured under the Rosista rancher dictatorship, persisted immune to reformers’ actions and words. Successive governments responded not with schools, jobs, and land, but with conscription and vagrancy laws, the stocks and lash, and the autocratic justice of the peace. The juez de paz, personification of arbitrary, repressive authority, best embodies the Argentine response to the social roots of nineteenth-century crime. Justices, especially in frontier areas, exercised broad administrative, economic, police, military, and judicial functions. Administrative changes, such as the formation of municipalities after 1854 and the appointment of separate police commissioners after 1857, did little to reduce the justices’ fiat powers in rural society. Rosas and subsequent provincial governors often placed influential ranchers in this post and lesser ranchers in the lower alcalde positions, thereby giving the landed interests direct control. Not until 1884 did the justice’s functions devolve to strictly judicial matters, but even then wider if more subtle political and electoral influence remained.73

Contemporaries criticized the local justices and other officials as harshly as they did the criminal element of rural society. In 1832 Francis Baylies, a diplomat from the United States, described Argentine politicians and officials in unflattering terms and compared the nation unfavorably with a tribe of Indians. A year later, Charles Darwin found the police and justices to be “quite inefficient.” Because of endemic political corruption, especially bribery, Darwin forecast with considerable prescience that “before many years, they will be trembling under the iron hand of some Dictator.” The naturalist did not suspect that the dictator would be a man he met on the southern pampa fighting Indians, Juan Manuel de Rosas. Toward the end of the Rosista dictatorship, Xavier Marmier, a French visitor, described rural civilian and military officials as “men more fearsome than outlaw gauchos and who cause more harm without having to flee from justice, because they themselves represent the legal authority and justice.”74

Following Rosas’ fall, the unmuzzled press unleashed a vituperative chorus of criticism directed against rural officials. La Tribuna condemned justices as absolute governors whose arbitrary conduct demanded rectification. The Buenos Aires daily suggested the clarification and codification of the diffuse, inordinate powers exercised by rural justices.75 The English-language Buenos Aires Standard, published by the Mulhall brothers, aired complaints of official abuses in Ranchos in 1865 and branded local officials as a “class most disreputable” and one of the “principal causes of all the crime committed in the camps” (countryside, from campo).76 Still later, the companion English daily, the Buenos Aires Herald, denounced the entire rural legal system by which the gaucho, an “unfortunate victim,” was “deprived of everything he holds dear.”77

Written complaints against rural officials reached such a volume that in 1867 the Ministry of Government refused to continue receiving them. An 1869 circular from the provincial government cautioned officials to remit only convicted vagrants for military service. Justices had repeatedly sent men who had not been judged by a jury and who had committed no crime. José Ortubia, held for several months in 1872 on suspicion alone, put the matter succinctly: For the poor, like me, constitutional guarantees are dead letters.”78

The barrage of condemnation heaped upon the justices spurred some ineffectual calls for reform. The 25 de Mayo Club, composed of provincial reformers including Leandro Além, Dardo Rocha, Carlos D’Amico, and Rafael Hernández, urged limiting the powers of the justices. Their manifesto of January 1870 recommended the popular election of justices and the reduction of their powers to strictly judicial matters.79

Part of the justices’ immunity to reform stemmed from their considerable political roles. Throughout the century they acted as rural electoral agents who insured victory for official candidates with fraud and force when necessary. Argentine President Domingo F. Sarmiento informed a friend in an 1857 letter that “gauchos who resist voting for government candidates were jailed, put in the stocks,” or shipped off to the frontier for military service.80 Several years later, the Buenos Aires Standard described a rural election with justices “driving” gauchos “with little bits of colored paper in their hands” to the polls.81 The colored ballots helped officials monitor the voting. In 1874, the threat of conscription was reportedly being used against opponents of Adolfo Alsina in his bid for governor.82 An electoral appeal by supporters of Colonel Benito Machado in 1886 bespoke the realities of pampean politics: “To our countrymen: To our rural friends, to the men of poncho and chiripá, eternal victims of the bosses….”83

Despite the considerable political infighting between factions seeking control of the provincial and national political machinery, the class interests represented did not change. Regardless of political banner or slogan, politicians and local officials protected the interests of the landed and often came from the ranks of the ranching elite. Victimized economically and politically, the gaucho found recourse only outside the political system and outside the law.

A simple dichotomous view of good officials, defending widely shared social values, and bad outlaws, tearing at the social fabric, clearly fails to capture the complexities and contradictions of pampean society. Like social bandits in other cultures, the gaucho often lived a life of forced marginalization. Policy-makers made no attempt to integrate ranch workers into modern rural society on other than repressive terms, and the gaucho’s deep-seated independence and individualism kept him from submitting willingly. In the peasant phrase quoted by Hobsbawm, gauchos were among those “men who make themselves respected” by resisting oppression.84

As social criminals, that is, criminals created by changing definitions of legality and changing social conditions, gauchos represented a rebellious, potentially revolutionary class to the ruling elite. In their own eyes, however, gauchos simply attempted to maintain a way of life to which they remained deeply committed—a normal, natural existence in harmony with the pampa and its vast livestock abundance.85

The so-called criminality of the pampa also provides evidence of the illegitimacy of the Argentine judicial-political system. The government and its laws went largely ignored by much of the rural population; the government lacked legitimacy in the countryside. Through corruption, abuses, and arbitrariness, the government forfeited its right to rule in the eyes of many who chose instead to live according to their own customs.

Unfortunately, for the gaucho and for Argentine society in general, the Europeanized provincial and national leadership chose to base its vision of the nation’s destiny solely upon the immigrant and to ignore the needs and potential of the paisano. The so-called rural criminal did not freely choose his miserable, persecuted existence. It was thrust upon him by shortsighted policies and laws that sacrificed national interests to those of the porteño landed elite. This marks the tragedy of the gaucho and the roots of the larger, continuing malaise of the Argentine polity and society.86


Austin T. Turk, Criminality and Legal Order (Chicago, 1969), pp. 25, 31-32.


William J. Chambliss, “Functional and Conflict Theories of Crime: The Heritage of Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx” in Chambliss and Milton Mankoff, eds., Whose Law? What Order? A Conflict Approach to Criminology (New York, 1976), pp. 4, 7-9; see also Donald J. Black, The Behavior of Law (New York, 1976).


Turk, Criminality, pp. xii-xiii; Johan Thorsten Sellin, Culture Conflict and Crime: A Report of the Subcommittee on Delinquency of the Committee on Personality and Culture (New York, 1938), p. 66; Rolf Dahrendorf, “Out of Utopia: Toward a Reconstruction of Sociological Analysis,“ American Journal of Sociology, 64 (Sept. 1958), 115-127; Richard Quinney, “Crime Control in Capitalist Society: A Critical Philosophy of Legal Order” in Ian P. Taylor, Paul Walton, and Jock Young, eds., Critical Criminology (London, 1975), p. 192.


Turk, Criminality, pp. 9-10; Quinney, The Social Reality of Crime (Boston, 1970), pp. 15-16, 21.


Edward P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act (New York, 1975), pp. 197, 262; Douglas Hay, “Property, Authority and the Criminal Law” in Hay, Peter Linebaugh, John G. Rule, E. P. Thompson, and Cal Winslow, Albion’s Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England (New York, 1975), p. 19.


Sellin, Culture Conflict and Crime, p. 22.


Stanley Diamond, “The Rule of Law Versus the Order of Custom,” Social Research. 38 (Spring 1971), 47-48; Madaline Wallis Nichols, The Gaucho: Cattle Hunter, Cavalryman, Ideal of Romance (New York, 1968), pp. 8-10, 22-35; Ricardo E. Rodríguez Molas, Historia social del gaucho (Buenos Aires, 1968), pp. 60-69.


On rural labor and debt peonage, see Arnold J. Bauer, Rural Workers in Spanish America: Problems of Peonage and Oppression,” HAHR, 59 (Feb. 1979), 34-63; Brian Loveman, “Critique of Arnold J. Bauer’s ‘Rural Workers in Spanish America: Problems of Peonage and Oppression’,” and Bauer’s “Reply,” HAHR, 59 (Aug. 1979), 478-485; 486-489.


Chambliss, “A Sociological Analysis of the Law of Vagrancy,” Social Problems, 12 (Summer 1964), 67-77.


Rodríguez Molas, “Realidad social del gaucho rioplatense, 1653-1852,” Universidad, 55 (Jan. 1963), 105-106; Gastón Gori, Vagos y mal entretenidos: Aporte al tema hernandiano (Santa Fe, 1965), pp. 10-12; I. A. A. Thompson, “A Map of Crime in Sixteenth-Century Spain,” Economic History Review, 21 (Aug. 1968), 249; Norman F. Martin, Los vagabundos en la Nueva España, siglo XVI (México, 1957), pp. xiii-xxi, 167.


Rodríguez Molas, “Realidad social,” pp. 117-118 and Historia social del gaucho pp. 115-116,171.


Rodríguez Molas, “Realidad social,” pp. 117-118 and Historia social del gaucho pp. 114-115, Carlos M. Storni, “Acerca de la ‘papeleta’ y los juzgados de paz de la campaña bonaerense," Revista del Instituto de Historia del Derecho “Ricardo Levene”, 20 (1969), 153; Juan A. García, La ciudad indiana (Buenos Aires, 1972), pp. 182-183.


Storni, “Acerca de la ‘papeleta’,” pp. 154-155.


Rodríguez Molas, Realidad social, p. 129. In some documents the term “papeleta” refers to a working paper, but it generally means a military enrollment form for the army or national guard.


Benito Díaz, Juzgados de paz de la campaña de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, 1821-1854 (La Plata, 1959), pp. 104-105, 202-203; Buenos Aires Province, Registro oficial (Buenos Aires, 1822), pp. 69, 170, 277 (hereafter cited as Registro oficial followed by year); (1823), pp. 63, 77 and (1824), p. 81.


Registro oficial (1822), p. 69.


Díaz, Juzgados de paz, p. 24; Gori, Vagos, pp. 25, 37; José León Pagano, Criminalidad argentina (Buenos Aires, 1964), pp. 119-124.


See for example the passport issued to Ramón Leat, Oct. 20, 1849, Policía 1849, Archivo General de la Nación, Buenos Aires, Sala X, 26-8-3 (hereafter cited as AGN, X); report by the Juez de Paz of Las Flores Dec. 31, 1851, AGN, X, 21-2-4. Rosas’ decree of Oct. 6, 1831, required both a passport and an enrollment paper.


Alfredo J. Montoya, Historia de los saladeros argentinos (Buenos Aires, 1970), pp. 45–46, 57, 60; Rodríguez Molas, Historia social del gaucho, pp. 229-234


Clasificaciones, 1851, AGN, X, 43-2-7. The same legajo holds numerous other cases of sentences adjusted to age.


Letter from Díaz to Rosas, July 28, 1839, AGN, X, 25-6-6.


Clasificación de Bartolo Díaz, Apr. 1, 1846, AGN, X, 21-1-1.


Registro oficial (1852), pp. 10-11, 181-182; (1853), pp. 73-74; on Urquiza’s economic activities, Saladero “Once de Septiembre,” 1859-1860, AGN, Sala VII, Sección Mercantil, vols. 360-368; and Manuel Macchi, Urquiza, el saladerista (Buenos Aires, 1971).


Ruiz to Minister of Government Yreneo Portela, Nov. 12, 1853, AGN, X, 18-9-1.


Comisión de Hacendados del Estado de Buenos Aires, Antecedentes y fundamentos del proyecto de Código Rural (Buenos Aires, 1864), p. 201.


Letters from Juez de Paz of Matanza, July 9, 1855; Oct. 18, 1855, AGN X 19-3-6.


Comisión de Hacendados, Antecedentes, p. 189.


Chamber of Deputies, Diario de sesiones (Buenos Aires, 1858), “Proyectos” pp. 22-23.


Marcos Estrada, “Antecedentes para la historia del desarrollo agrícola y ganadero argentino,” Anales de la Sociedad Rural Argentina, 98 (Sept. 1964), 52 (hereafter cited as ASRA), Storni, “Las disposiciones de los códigos rurales en materia laboral y sus raíces históricas,” Revista de Historia del Derecho, 7 (1973), 193-195; María Teresa Villafañe Casal, Antecedentes del Código Rural de la Provincia de Buenos Aires (La Plata, 1961), p. 6.


The Rural Code is reprinted in Ernesto R. Hernández, Recopilación de leyes agrarias vinculadas a la ganadería: Período comprendido entre los años 1856 a 1952 (La Plata, 1952), pp. 8–45.


Storni, “Acerca de la ‘papeleta’,” pp. 158-159; Luis A. Despontín, El derecho del trabajo, su evolución en América: Orígenes, colonia, independencia, organización (Buenos Aires, 1947), p. 356.


Legal brief, July 31, 1869, AGN, X, 34-8-3, book 423, doc. 118.


La Voz de Saladillo, Jan. 26, 1873, p. 1; Feb. 23, 1873, p. 1; see also Mar. 9, Mar. 16, 1873; El Centinela del Norte (San Nicolás), Mar. 19, 1873, pp. 2-3.


ASRA, 13 (June 1879), 210-211; Jurado, “La estancia en Buenos Aires,” ASRA 9: 2 (1875), 37.


Legal briefs, Archivo Histórico de la Municipalidad de Tandil (hereafter cited as AHMT), 1880.


Storni, “Acerca de la ‘papeleta’,” p. 161.


Alberto A. Durañona, Indice general de leyes, decretos y resoluciones desde el año 1810 a 1920, 2 vols. (La Plata, 1922-1924), I, 211.


Francis Bond Head, Rough Notes Taken during Some Rapid Journeys across the Pampas and among the Andes (London, 1826), p. 300; Alcides d’Orbigny, Viaje a la América meridional realizado de 1826 a 1833, 2 vols. (Buenos Aires, 1945), II, 520-521; William Miller, Memoirs of General Miller in the Service of the Republic of Peru, ed. by John Miller, 2 vols. (London, 1829), I, 153.


Legal brief, AGN, X, 21-2-4.


Osvaldo L. Fontana, Tandil en la historia: Antecedentes completos de Tandil histórico, 1823-1883 (Tandil, 1947); Legal briefs, AHMT, Policía 1851.


Legal briefs, AGN, X, 21-1-1.


John A. King, Twenty-four Years in the Argentine Republic (London, 1846), p. 325.


Pendleton to Daniel Webster, Sept. 23, 1852, in William Manning, ed., Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States: Inter-American Affairs, 1831-1860, 12 vols. (Washington, D. C., 1932), I, 534.


Thomas W. Hinchliff, South American Sketches, or a Visit to Rio Janeiro [sic], the Organ Mountains, La Plata and the Paranà (London, 1863), pp. 89, 195.


Robert Crawford, Across the Pampas and the Andes (London, 1884), pp. 115-116; Carlos D’Amico, Siete años en el gobierno de la Provincia de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires, 1895), p. 99.


Richard A. Seymour, Pioneering in the Pampas, or the First Four Years of a Settler’s Experience in the La Plata Camps (London, 1869), pp. 52-53, 74-75, 150; Thomas J. Hutchinson, The Parana; with Incidents of the Paraguayan War, and South American Recollections, from 1861 to 1868 (London, 1868), pp. 216-217.


Borges to Gainza, Junín, Nov. 3, 1872, AGN, Documentos del Museo Histórico Nacional, leg. 43, doc. 6340.


Ezequiel Martínez Estrada, X-Ray of the Pampa (Austin, 1971), pp. 52-53; d’Orbigny, Viaje, II, 497-498.


Alexander Caldcleugh, Travels in South America during the Years 1819-1820-1821; Containing an Account of the Present State of Brazil, Buenos Ayres, and Chile, 2 vols. (London, 1825), I, 179-180.


Robert Proctor, Narrative of a Journey across the Cordillera of the Andes, and of a Residence in Lima, and Other Parts of Peru, in the Years 1823 and 1824 (London, 1825), p. 16; report by Juez de Paz of Las Flores, Dec. 31, 1851, AGN, X, 21-2-4, doc. 4.


Eric J. Hobsbawm, Bandits (Harmondsworth, Eng., 1969), p. 17; see José Hernández, Martín Fierro (Buenos Aires, 1872); La vuelta de Martín Fierro (Buenos Aires, 1879); and Eduardo Gutiérrez, Juan Moreira (Buénos Aires, 1880).


Arthur E. Shaw, Forty Years in the Argentine Republic (London, 1907), p. 225; AHMT, Policía, 1852 and 1862; Juez de Crimen, 1872, Archivo Histórico de la Provincia de Buenos Aires “Ricardo Levene,” La Plata (hereafter cited as AHPBA), 38-4-313.


Diógenes Muñiz, Luis Ricardo Fors, and Agustín B. Gamblier, eds., La policía de la Provincia de Buenos Aires: Su historia, su organización, sus servicios (La Plata, 1910), p. 421.


Silvio R. Duncan Baretta and John Markoff, “Civilization and Barbarism: Cattle Frontiers in Latin America,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 20 (Oct. 1978), 606; Federico Oberti, “La propiedad privada y el gaucho,” Historia, 3 (Apr. 1958), 140; Pagano, Criminalidad argentina, pp. 15-28, 81-87; Rodríguez Molas, Historia social del gaucho, pp. 48-52, 487-504; Horacio C. E. Giberti, Historia económica de la ganadería argentina (Buenos Aires, 1970), pp. 172-190.


García to O’Gorman, July 18, 1871, AGN, X, 34-11-5, book 475.


ASRA, 7 (Sept. 30, 1873), 289-290, 307-313; see also 257-259, 335-343, 353-362.


Juez de Paz de Ensenada, 1875, AHPBA, 9-4-19, 684.


Revista de Ganadería, 2 (May 5, 1880), 275; see also 2 (Oct. 28, 1880), 382; Fernando O. Assunção, El gaucho (Montevideo, 1963), p. 182; Rodríguez Molas, Historia social del gaucho, pp. 465-467.


Marion Mulhall, Between the Amazon and the Andes, or Ten Years of a Lady’s Travels in the Pampas, Gran Chaco, Paraguay and Matto Grosso (London, 1881), pp. 26-27.


ASRA, 7 (Sept. 30, 1873), 307-313; 16 (Aug. 1882), 182.


La Patria (Dolores), Mar. 1, 1900, p. 2; Mar. 18, 1900, p. 2.


Ibid., Apr. 14, 1909, p. 1; Chambliss, “Functional and Conflict Theories,” p. 7.


El Municipio, June 20, 1909.


Muñiz, Fors, Gamblier, eds., La policía, following p. 98.


El Centinela del Norte, Mar. 26, 1873.


Mar. 15, 1874.


Boletín de la Liga Agraria de la Provincia de Buenos Aires 2: 15 (1898) 323-325; 3: 12 (1899), 375-376.


Revista de Policía, 2 (Dec. 1901), 183-189; Pagano, Criminalidad argentina, pp. 257-272.


Hernández, Martín Fierro, trans, by C. E. Ward (Albany, 1967), p. 11.


Ibid., p. 101; see Hernández, Instrucción del estanciero (Buenos Aires, 1882), and Antonio Pages Larraya, Prosas del Martín Fierro (Buenos Aires, 1952).


El Eco de Tandil, Oct. 8, 1882.


Jan. 28, 1900.


Registro oficial (1854), 107-111; (1857), 71-72; (1884), 874; Díaz, Juzgados de paz, pp. 23, 95, 146; Carlos Tejedor, Manual de jueces de paz (Buenos Aires, 1861).


Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence, p. 135; Charles Darwin, Journal and Remarks, 1832-1836 (London, 1839), pp. 198-199; Xavier Marmier, Buenos Aires y Montevideo en 1850 (Montevideo, 1967), p. 61.


La Tribuna, Feb. 15, 1855.


Jan. 18, 1865.


Oct. 25, 1876.


Juez de Crimen, 1872, AHPBA, 38-4-314; Gori, Vagos, pp. 62-63.


Fernando Enrique Barba, Los autonomistas del 70: Auge y frustración de un movimiento provinciano con vocación nacional, Buenos Aires entre 1868 y 1878 (Buenos Aires, 1976), pp. 15-16, 60-61; Ataúlfo Pérez Aznar, “La política tradicional y la Argentina moderna,” Revista de la Universidad (Nacional de la Plata), 20-21 (Jan. 1966-July 1967) 213-214.


Díaz, Juzgados de paz, pp. 163-178; María Inés Cardenas de Monner Sans, Martín Fierro y la conciencia nacional (Buenos Aires, 1977), p. 13.


Mar. 5, 1863.


El Amigo del Pueblo (Carmen de las Flores), Mar. 19, 1874.


El Eco de Tandil, June 16, 1886, p. 1 (emphasis added).


Hobsbawm, Bandits, pp. 33, 35-36.


Marcos Herrera, “Martín Fierro y la ley penal,” Universidad, 86 (Jan. 1977), 97-98; Hay, “Property, Authority,” pp. 13-14.


On the long-term negative consequences, see Carl Solberg, “Rural Unrest and Agrarian Policy in Argentina, 1912-1930, Journal of Inter-American Studies and World Affairs, 13 (Jan. 1971), 18-52; “Farm Workers and the Myth of Export-led Development in Argentina,” The Americas, 31 (Oct. 1974), 121-138. For a distinctly different view of conditions on the nineteenth-century pampa, see Jonathan C. Brown, A Socioeconomic History of Argentina, 1776-1860 (Cambridge, 1979), especially pp. 146-173.

Author notes


The author is Assistant Professor of History at North Carolina State University. He thanks the SSRC, American Council of Learned Societies, and the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Abroad Program for financial support.