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Holiday in Salta and all Argentina for General Guemes

Gauchos de Guemes

On this day, June 17th, we are celebrating a national holiday in honour of General Martín Miguel de Güemes for the first time. People from the province of Salta feel very proud of their hero finally achieving the national exposure he deserved since a long time ago. However, many people from around the country and even foreigners may wonder who this Güemes was, since the Independence Hero hardly ever appears on primary school homework, bills or even quiz shows.

It is somehow hard to believe that this iconic ‘superhero’ from Salta is not well known, with his long beard, red poncho, riding his horse, commanding his red ‘infernales’; the army from hell. Together with the red, horse mounted soldier, Güemes was able to protect the northern frontier against all odds. With almost no support from the national government and a serious lack of personnel and resources, they were able to stop the royal armies trying to take back the lands the Spanish Crown had lost years earlier. He developed the so called ‘Guerra Gaucha’, a series of small scale attacks that was continuously bothering the enemy instead of going straight to big battles. This is how General Pezuela described it on a letter to the viceroy of Perú:

‘His plan is not to engage in big battles anywhere but rather make our movements and camps uncomfortable. I observe that he commands his gauchos to wait in the impenetrable woods along with 300 gunmen who often dare to attack our well trained armies, kidnap whoever leaves the camp premises or even make it to Salta, always obstructing our early movements and communication with the capital. To put it in a few words, they play a slow but effective and annoying war on us.’

Güemes was born in 1785 inside a wealthy family from Salta. His father was Spanish and treasurer of the Royal Crown. He started his army duties at age 14 and was sent to Buenos Aires in 1805, where he fought during the English Invasions of 1806. After the 1810 May Revolution (when Argentina decided to start emancipating from Spain) he was a key element during the Suipacha battle. He recovered the lands of Tarija (nowadays, Bolivia) and fought for the Northern Army under the orders of two of the most important national heroes: Belgrano and San Martín.

Güemes returned to his hometown in 1815 where he organised the population and improved the army while the Cabildo elected him as the first Governor of Salta (back in the day, this included Jujuy and a part of Bolivia and Chile). After the independence was officialized in 1816, Güemes was able to stop the final royal army attacks recovering several important positions in the Salta and Jujuy territory even though the national government practically ignored him.

In 1821, he was deadly wounded in the back by locally supported Spanish troops when Salta was occupied. He continued in command up to the end and was rewarded by its men with victory after a few days.

Each year, on the night before another anniversary of his death, hundreds of gauchos gather on the Güemes monument (at the base of San Bernardo hill, in Salta) to honour this national hero. Hopefully, with this new national holiday, he will receive the long overdue recognition of all the population.