Juan Moreira (? - April, 1874) is a well-known
figure in the history of Argentina, an outlaw, gaucho and folk-hero,
was indeed one of the more renowned Argentinian rural bandits.
Moreira was born in the administrative area of La
Matanza, in the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The first thirty
years of his life were relatively uneventful, working in rural areas
until he could buy his own ranch, some cattle, and land for farming.
One characteristic that set him apart from others was that he rarely
drank. Moreira devoted his free time to perfecting his skill on the
guitar, which attracted the attention of Vicenta, the daughter of a
local rancher. She fell in love with Moreira and eventually married
him, with the full consent of her father.
Shortly after Moreira married Vicenta, his troubles
began. The Deputy Mayor of the area, known as Don Francisco, had also
fallen in love with La Vicenta, so as a form of vengeance he began
charging Moreira fines for everything he could think of, real or
imaginary. The first thing he did was charge Moreira 500 pesos for
having his wedding celebration without proper authorization.
About that time, Moreira had lent Mr. Sardetti, a
grocery-store owner, the sum of 10,000 pesos to buy merchandise. Fed
up with asking for his money back, Moreira went to the Deputy Mayor,
without any documentation, as was the custom at that time between men
of their word, and reported what had happened in hopes that the Deputy
Mayor would insist that Sardetti pay him back. It is unclear if
Sardetti and Don Francisco were conspiring against Moreira, but
Sardetti denied the story, and Moreira was thrown in jail for 48 hours
for a form of attempted robbery.
The Point of No Return
This situation made Moreira so angry that he swore
that he would stab Sardetti for every single peso he had lost. Moreira
fulfilled his oath when he killed Mr. Sardetti in a knife duel at
Sardetti's grocery store. Returning home after a night of wandering,
he found Don Francisco and four other soldiers waiting to arrest him.
He resisted, and during the fight, Don Francisco and two soldiers were
There began the unhappy part of Moreira's life.
Extremely able in knifefights, Moreira won them all, even against more
than one person. He gained such fame for this that men looked for him
and picked fights with him to gain the glory of defeating him, but he
never lost. He avoided fights whenever he could, and only killed after
repeated provocation and in self-defense. Eventually, he served as a
bodyguard for powerful politicians who promised to clean Moreira's
reputation, but they never did so.
It is said that Moreira never took the saddle off
his horse, just in case he had to make a quick escape. He spent much
of this part of his life wandering through different towns and cities
of the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, including Navarro, Las
Heras, Lobos, Veinticinco de Mayo and the lands of the Indian Cacique
In April, 1874, Casimiro Villamayor, the justice of
the peace in Lobos, was ordered by Mariano Acosta, governor of the
Province of Buenos Aires, to send a posse led by Commander Bosch from
the police department in Buenos Aires to arrest Moreira. They
surrounded the grocery and saloon (pulpería) named La
Estrella where Moreira was holed up. Moreira fought like a wild
animal against the police, and he was at the point of leaping over the
wall which separated him from his horse when he was bayonet in the
left lung by one of the officers, Sergeant Chirino. Moreira managed to
shoot at Chirino, who lost an eye, as well as to injure one other
officer before he died. He was survived by his wife and a child, also
named Juan. He was buried at the Lobos cemetery.
Juan Moreira is one of the most important figures
in the popular history of Argentina. His life was laden with the
violence and injustice which typified the unfair treatment received by
the gauchos, treatment which led to his death. His skull and some
personal belongings can be seen at Juan Domingo Perón Museum. His life
inspired a very popular novel by romantic author Eduardo Gutiérrez,
which in turn inspired at least four biographical films entitled
The most important of these films, Juan Moreira
(1973 film) was directed by Leonardo Favio, starring Rodolfo Bebán as
the title character. The night of his death was fictionalized by Jorge
Luis Borges in a short story, La noche de los dones.