The word gaucho is believed to have stemmed from the Indian word for orphan, and the term is accurate, for they were solitary figures, at first ruled by no one. They had few possessions apart from a horse, saddle, poncho and knife, but they did have distinctive garb which is still seen on country ranches or during the Uruguayan equivalent of rodeos and other ceremonial occasions. Bombachas are the roomy, pleated pants worn inside calf-high boots. A sash and leather belt was worn around the waist, into the back of which was always tucked a facon, a knife used for eating, skinning, castrating and fighting. A gaucho wore a kerchief around his neck, and over his shoulder a thick poncho, which was used as a blanket at night or a shield during a knife-fight.


Gauchos did develop a sort of crude philosophy of life that exalted simplicity. As one early British traveler put it, "The use of a fork is avoided, because a knife and fork require a plate, which needs to be put on a table. This requirement creates another: a table involves the necessity of a chair, and thus the consequences of a fork involve a complete revolution in the household."