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Argentine duels: honor and something else at stake

Since the years of Independence, duels tried to settle personal offenses. Over time, they became a status mark.

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Lysander of the Tower in front of Hipólito Yrigoyen. Arthur Frondizi in front of  John William Cooke . Alfredo Palacios and Lucio V. Mansilla duelists and godparents on more than thirty occasions. Arturo Jauretche the last challenger in 1971. Saint Martin drafted a first code of mourning for his grenadiers in the cases of mansillado honor, and was the godfather of Juan Lavalle.  Great protagonists of Argentine history resolved the differences that occurred in politics, mainly, or gossip. Since 1869, 2467 challenges were recorded, of which 852 were fixed by godparents, with the public apologies of some opponent, 156 were settled in courts of honor and 584 were realized, with less than 200 deaths accounted for. There are plenty of lawyers and military professions among the professions. It was an act of men although women also participated according to the indirect testimonies of Belgrano and Güemes, with no records left but rumors.  In short, the Argentine duelists fundamentally delimited a social rank, which Juan B. Justo considered “barbarians”, and which intended to remove them with blood from immigrants “without honor” and the Creollos, the gauchos - although the Creole duel, then malevo, was never to the death, more civilized, and consisted in “marking” only the rival. The national duel was a symbol of belonging. And belonging has its privileges.  

Although there is a distant foredecent in Hernandarias, the first Creole Viceroy of these latitudes, who say he won territory in Santiago del Estero by a duel against an Indian chief, the first checkable records place us in 1814. And in today's Lezama Park. There were Juan Mackenna, hero of Chilean Independence, and Luis Carrera, brother of the former Chilean dictator, and architect of the revolutionary setback in the region. They had already tried to do so in Santiago de Chile and Mendoza without success, even in the last one intervened against San Martín for the friendship that united him with Mackenna “You have offended my family's honor with false assumptions. He will have to retract publicly and for the weapons,” Carrera sends the challenging letter, both at the time in Buenos Aires. And Irishman Mackenna reworked, “The truth I've always said and will hold. Choose the day, place and time and let me know in time to prepare weapons.” One midnight in November, before the eyes of the godparents William Brown and Commander Taylor, two shots were heard, one blew up Carrera's galley, the second the bowels of Mackenna. The horrified Buenos Aires society asked the Directorate for measures and  Gervasio Posadas on December 30, 1814 decreed   the prohibition of mourning,  “establishing the irremissible application of the death penalty to those who challenge themselves to a duel or attend duels as godparents, considering those “as true killers”, although a false and criminal sense of honor strives to apologize them,” he said.  And from that date it was banned and penalized in Argentina . The “Gazeta de Buenos Ayres” the following day commented, “We applaud the firm decision of our rulers that puts us up to the most civilized nations: those who have anatematized this unfortunate custom that takes so many victims annually. Indeed, if the lives of citizens are to be exposed for the good of their homeland, it is not lawful for valuable stocks to be wasted by false dots of honor or petty desires for revenge. Duels, when they do not end in ridiculous mocks, tend to have tragic corollary, not only for the energumene it challenges and for those who accept by furore or commitment, but also for their families, friends and society as a whole. Let us not talk about the beautiful eyes of our mothers, wives, girlfriends and sisters, who may be crying forever for some ill-fated duelist. It is useless to abound in luctuous anecdotes, some of fresh memory, when at this point of civilization, we have tribunals that settle personal grievances without the need of blood revenge whose endless character, reminds us to the times of the Atrides - according to Greek mythology a cursed lineage of murders-” ends the progressive half who also intended to banish any Spanish resabio; grief is one of his legacies.

There, a line of Argentine jurisprudence is inaugurated in this area that declares grief, simply and simply, a crime. However, after the Rosas period, who pursued the duelists applying the legality of the death penalty, and the fall of the chronicle civil wars in 1880, there was a remarkable upturn in duels, particularly in aristocratic circles. Carlos Tejedor presents to Congress a draft that envisaged it as a special crime, minor to homicide and injury, and in a criterion followed in this regard by the benevolent Penal Code of 1887. The 1891 project sponsored by national legislators Rivarola, Matienzo and Piñero directly established impunity, appealing to a broad basis: “... Grieving cannot be a crime because it is not such in opinion, because otherwise everyone who needs, of the offense received, a reparation and reparation is thought by everyone who needs the offense received.oacute; n that society cannot give it. Every law aimed at suppressing grief shall be lacking in all prestige; it will be a law against feelings held by honorable and chivalrous; and  it is not the law indeed that must define to each one what he must understand by honor ...“No initiative that legalizes private revenge flourished by the determined work, almost in solitude, of the Socialists of Justo.

One ruse found by the aristocrats was to settle the minutes of the duels in Cologne. In Uruguay it was declared illegal less than three decades ago, and President Mujica is still remembered longing for “other times” in his sparks with journalists and politicians.Many duels in Buenos Aires were held in a house located between Cuba, Echeverria, Sucre and Arcos streets, which was owned by Dr. Carlos Delcasse. It was called the “Casa del Ángel” by a winged female statue. In the records left by the owner himself there are 384 duels with sword, saber and pistol.

  Carlos Pellegrini,  who was challenged to duel by Alem although he resolved his differences in the court of honor prior to any contest, mentioned at the funeral of Lucio Vicente López, prestigious law professor and grandson of the author of the homeland anthem,   this   “death ripped the country a lament of bitter grief, angry cry of just protest, a confused mixture of sadness and indignation”  López had mourned Colonel Carlos Sarmiento because of accusations he made in the intervention of the province of Buenos Aires concerning a fraudulent purchase by the military of land in Chacabuco - which were indeed spurious. Arrested a few days after López's death, Colonel Sarmiento was released.  Since December 28, 1894 at the current Palermo Racecourse, one of the godparents, Lucio V. Mansilla, left a habit that stained him with blood in 1880, when he killed Pantaleón Gomez, his friend of the newspaper “El Nacional ” La Nación published “La Nación bloody note “a few days later and which stated: “It is absurd to admit that the official is accountable to the private vindicta and not to the law. (...) To allow anyone his representative to be compelled to respond with weapons in his hand and by resolutions adopted by him in compliance with the laws of the Congress and with instructions from the President of the Republic and his ministers, thereby tolerating the uprising of a chief of the army, is complicity”, clarity.

Twenty years on, Justo, Nicolás Repetto and Enrique Dickman would expel from the socialist party deputy Palacios, the first socialist on the continent in 1902, for his fondness of hitting his political adversaries with the glove, “duel is a class custom, constituting, from the a political point of view, an impeachment to the free action of the representatives of the proletariat, which also considers that it obscures the political education of the people and maintains in it a misconception and dangerous of honour, which is why the Socialist Party is of continuous and frank opposition to that proletariat.aacute; ctica,” says the point of the socialists historian Alberto Dalla Vía. Respecting its leaders, and its chivalrous principles, Palacios said before the national chamber, “a dissent in matters of honor separates me from the party to which I gave the best years of my life, and I must go. My honour, ladies and gentlemen, is my dignity that is externalized in the dataset that forms my conduct. And nothing is more subjective than dignity, I must not discuss it (...) Reaffirming, ladies and gentlemen, my deep socialist faith, notwithstanding the  chivalrous prejudice, which I have not been able to rip from my soul, because it comes from race, because I have it in my Creole and Castilian blood ; prejudice which, as a socialist, cannot embarrass me, Lasalle did, did (Jean) Jeaurés; he has it Van der Velde, the wise and austere companion of ours, son of immortal Belgium” A few months later he founded the Argentine Socialist Party.

 Duels for love 

While the majority were for political issues, or male honor, in the chronicles we can find some out of love. In 1907 the poet Belisario Roldán confronted the banker Theodoro de Bary, because the German was opposed to his relationship with Arnolda Brinkmann. Distanced by from Bary, Roldán fought with the businessman, and was wounded at first blood—the duels could stop there, something that was usual, or go to death, as agreed among godparents. Belisario's pen would later conquer the heart of Arnolda, who claim was moved by the poet's verses in the magazine “Caras & Caretas”, “Well you know that standing on my sorrows,/already in the anguish where the passage trembles,/to disguise as dawn that sunset,/dye itiacute; with the blood of my veins”

Another was the case of  Leopoldo Lugones . He had for decades a clandestine romance with  Emilia Santiago Cadelago  and that was the talk of the Buenos Aires high society. Rodolfo Quesada Pacheco mocked at the relationship between an older man and a young woman of twenty, during a social meeting, and Lugones decided to force him to mourn with disrespectful letters. On June 15, 1927, it states, “Reunited Mr. Baron Antonio De Marchi and Dr. Wenceslao Paunero, representing Dr. Rodolfo Quesada Pacheco, and General Enrique Mosconi and Alonso Baldrich - note the important surnames in Argentine history, from one of the founders of the Patriotic League, De Marchi, to the promoter of Yacimientos Petroolíferos Fiscales (YPF), Mosconi - on behalf of Don Leopoldo Lugones, decided that following a letter that Mr Lugones addressed to Dr. Quesada Pacheco, the representatives of both parties agreed to hold a meeting between these knights, choosing as weapon the combat sword at the request of the representatives of Dr. Quesada Pacheco” Lugones was an excellent swordsman and hurt him round by round in the Hall of Arms of the Angel's House until the doctors threw the towel at Quesada Pacheco. Already when Emilia and Leopoldo's relationship was concluded by social pressures, and the rules of the decorum of the pacata porteña society, Lugones wrote one of his many letters to Emilia, making it clear that he had been beaten by her. 

 The last duelist, Arturo Jauretche 

At age 65,  Arturo Jauretche  was still a serious thinker and politician, and he did not hesitate to go to the last consequences. In a column in Jacobo Timerman's newspaper “La Opinión”, Jauretche defended General Oscar Colombo, appointed auditor at YPF, “Is Colombo or is it done? He is aware that he participates in - a process of “denationalization” - and is used”  Colombo, 50, mourns him and the godparents, including Oscar Alende, desperately try to retract Jauretche, who suffered various health problems, and covered by a code of honor that sets the maximum age at 65. Vain attempts lead to a cold morning of June 16, 1971 - a symptomatic date in popular memory since the bombing of the civilian population in Plaza de Mayo in 1955, with more than 300 dead -, in the poultry farm of “La Tacuarita” -expensive nod to nationalism - from San Vicente, to 50 km from the capital. A corridor of 80 meters was chosen between sheds and contest with guns. General Arredondo was appointed the judge of the lance and the duelists left their coverings “as if they were capes” on a long table. Colombo, gray, jauretche, blue. While Arredondo finalized the details of the weapons chosen with the gunsmith, Jauretche coughed. At 8.21, in the chronicle of Horacio Verbitsky, the godparents placed the contenders on their backs. Then they put the guns and take fifteen steps “Are you ready, gentlemen?“was heard between roosters and calandrias. In unison they repeated “We are ready” Alende looked at the distance stroking a lump over the waist, possibly a gun. At 8.22 the judge cried, “fire, 1,2,3” Colombo twisted his waist and made fire on 1. Jauretche stood upright and fired between 1 and 2. They failed. And the two disqualified because the shot was supposed to happen after the count of three. The duelists decided to end the challenge even though none offered apologies. Midmorning of that fall inclement could be heard from Arturo Jauretche, in his beloved café in Esmeralda and Córdoba, recounting the last duel in Argentine history. 

Sources: Hamilton  , M. Duels, fights for honor in Argentine history  .  Buenos Aires: Planeta. 2019; Gayol, S.  Honor and duel in modern Argentina  . Buenos Aires: Century XXI.2008; ,  Blood and Honor: Duels in Argentina atía.pdf 

Publication Date: 25/11/2020

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Fifty years of the last duel in Argentina
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