Gauchos, horsemen of the plains in the Argentine and other South American republics. They are generally of pure Spanish race, having mingled but little with the aborigines. They are usually tall and graceful; their hair is black and frequently worn long, with full beards and moustaches. Their dress consists of a loose flowing shirt, at times fancifully embroidered; wide drawers, the lower extremities of which are commonly of open work and terminated with a fringe; a quadrangular piece of stuff passed between the legs and bound to the waist, one end in front and the other behind, by means of a belt, so as to fall in folds far below the knees; boots of the skin of a colt's hind legs; a poncho, worn only in wet or cold weather; and finally a small round hat, with a narrow brim. To shield the back of the head and neck from the rays of the sun, the gaucho makes use of a handkerchief fastened to the crown of the hat, falling down behind, and secured by drawing the two lower corners beneath the chin. When not exposed to the sun, the handkerchief lies loosely upon the shoulders, with a sailor's knot in front. To these are added a long knife, the trador, which performs the double office of purse and girdle, and a pair of huge spurs.
The dress of the women, most of whom are remarkably handsome, is composed of a low-cut tightly fitting bodice and short skirt, with a shawl so drawn around the head as barely to leave the face and front hair visible, but completely covering the neck and shoulders. The arms are rarely encumbered by any garment; and the hair is secured by a large comb. When on horseback the women often wear European dresses with body and sleeves, and a handkerchief like that of the men. The gaucho dwellings are rude huts, with walls of alternate layers of willow and mud, the roof being thatched. The furniture is extremely scanty. It usually consists of a wooden bedstead, with a mattress of skin bound to the sides with thongs; two ropes stretched parallel to each other from wall to wall over the bed, serving as a cradle for the children, who are lashed to them; a kettle in which to make the mate or Paraguayan tea, and a few cups with tin pipes through which it is sucked. Around the walls hang the bolas, lasso, and other hunting implements. In hot weather the hut is deserted night and day, as the owners sleep in the open air. Their food is chiefly composed of beef, which they roast in huge pieces.
The gauchos are admirable horsemen, and are expert in the use of the bolas and lasso. (See Bolas, and Lasso.) This dexterity is acquired only by uninterrupted practice almost from infancy, the gaucho passing his life on horseback. Their occupations are breaking in wild horses, watching herds, and marking and slaughtering the animals. They are polite and hospitable, but indolent and vindictive, and addicted to gambling and intemperance. In fighting they endeavor to lash each other's faces; frightful scars are frequent, and the most trifling quarrels often result in loss of life. They are zealous Roman Catholics. As guides across the pampas, they are invaluable. The number of the gauchos as a distinct class is rapidly decreasing.-The gauchos have played a very conspicuous part in the history of the South American struggles, and many of their chiefs, natural rivals of the more enlightened but less energetic and reckless popular leaders in the Atlantic cities, have achieved the highest honors in their respective republics; some of them, like Rosas, exercising their powers with unmitigated rigor.