From www.nmu.edu/www-edgar/language/Martin/Argentina_history.htm, a site that no longer exists
Argentina's history is characterized by a few main features that has affected the treatment of the gauchos and other marginalized groups through time:
Geography. The PAMPAS are vast extensions of flat grassland which separate main areas of population. Like the N. American frontier they are credited with forging a certain kind of national spirit (In N. America: "pioneers" on the frontier were hardy, independent, and brave for instance). In Argentina, the gauchos, who lived from caddle herding or other ranching activity, were independent (no fixed home or family), violent (had their own code of honor which was enforced by their knives) and skilled at survival.
Argentina had always been remote geographically from the center of colonial activity: remember that it wasn't until the late 1700's that the Spaniards established a capital/viceroyalty here from which silver would be shipped overseas. Before that, Argentina was mostly overlooked and did not receive widespread cultural and economic benefits from Spain/Europe.
Extremely divisive politics from Independence on. Even though gauchos helped expel the Spaniards, fighting side by side with liberal intellectuals, Argentina quickly crumbled into a bitter dispute between UNITARIOS and FEDERALES. Unitarios (formed by the liberal "afrancesados" (literally, Frenchified), intellectuals with Enlightenment backgrounds and grand ideals for the entire nation) wanted a united Argentina with a strong central government where the provinces (think of the remote Pampas) would be controlled by the Buenos Aires elite (who, after all, knew what was best for the "uncivilized" or "barbaric" backlands. The Federales wanted more of a Republican structure which would give strong rights to the provinces under individual caudillos who would make and enforce laws more locally. This would allow for continuation of regional powers that existed before the Independence (ie. the strongmen in the provinces wouldn't have to back down to the intellectuals in the city).
Rosas' dictatorship from 1826 - 1854. Enforced the Federal point of view tyrannically. In a bloody extermination of the liberals, disguised under populist rhetoric and the protection of the Church, Rosas enforced his own personal cult during these years. Many intellectuals went into exile; many others were killed. Rosas protected the gaucho figure because his own power came from support from the provinces. He extolled the gauchos as real men, in contrast to the effeminate, Eurocentric, babbling fools of the Unitarios. This set Argentina up for a major backlash when Rosas finally fell (and Sarmiento took over!)
Final Product: A highly politicized and deeply felt war between "civilization" and "barbarism" where all elements of the population are evaluated in terms of their contribution to Argentina's future success:
Indians. More marginalized and hunted in Argentina than in any other nation of Latin America. Surviving tribes (mostly Mapuche) who resisted Argentina's sttling of their lands were killed in military raids (with the military formed of blacks and gauchos, drafted against their wishes).
Gauchos. Now a folkloric hero but back in the mid-19th century, this figure was equated with the outlaw: he didn't believe in property or monogamy or steady wages. Roaming about the plains, working when he wanted to, killing wild cattle for a meal, carousing at dances and getting into drunken knife-fights were his pastimes. Argentines were not quick to forget his connection with Rosas. Sarmiento was somewhat in awe of the gauchos' technical skill and enigmatic rustic survival, BUT he condemned their wanton ways. They were drafted at first and killed in poorly planned military attacks on Indians, and they were later confined by barbed wire (no more roaming), the demise of wild cattle (no more free meals), and other laws aimed at limiting their unique way of life. Martin Fierro redeemed the gaucho rep in the mid 1870's but Hernandez was no Sarmiento: he was closely linked to the gauchos himself.
Blacks. While there were not many in Argentina, they were treated poorly like in other Latin American nations.
Europeans. This was the desired population for Argentina, according to Sarmiento, especially the Nordic types. Eugenically speaking, he wanted to encourage massive migration to settle the plains and to dilute the racially mixed blood the population already had. In accord with the tenets of POSITIVISM, Sarmiento was suspicious of the Mediterranean populations (Italy especially) since they had been shown to be more volatile and criminally prone. Most immigrants in the late 19th century were however Italians.