gaucho (gouˈchō) [key], cowboy of the Argentine and Uruguayan pampas (grasslands). The typical gaucho, a familiar figure in the 18th and 19th cent., was a daring, skillful horseman and plainsman. As fighters, revolutionary soldiers, and campaigners in frequent internal struggles, they played a significant role in national life. They were an especially strong political force in the early years of the Argentine republic. Gaucho support of the federalists was instrumental in overthrowing the government of Juan Martín de Pueyrredón and in bringing to power such caudillos as Juan Facundo Quiroga and Juan Manuel de Rosas. The immigration of large numbers of European farmers to the Pampa in the late 19th cent. marked the beginning of the gaucho's gradual disappearance. The payador, a wandering minstrel of the plain, was a type of gaucho. An extensive gaucho literature was developed in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil. Most notable are the epic poems Martín Fierro (1872) and La Vuelta de Martín Fierro (1879), by Argentine José Hernández, and the novel Don Segundo Sombra (1926), by Argentine Ricardo Güiraldes. Rural inhabitants of the state of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil are also called gaúchos.
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