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Ángel Vicente Peñaloza
Ángel Vicente Peñaloza.jpg
Born 1796
Sierra de los Llanos, La Rioja Province (Argentina)
Died November 12, 1863
Olta, La Rioja Province
Nationality Argentine

Ángel Vicente "Chacho" Peñaloza (1796 – 1863) was a military officer and provincial leader prominent in both the history of La Rioja Province and the Argentine Civil Wars that preceded national unity.

Life and timesEdit

Early life and military experienceEdit

Peñaloza was born in Sierra de los Llanos, a rural community in southern La Rioja Province. Raised in privileged circumstances, he was educated by a priest. The priest, an uncle of the young Peñaloza's, nicknamed him Chacho (a diminutive form of muchacho, or "guy"). He enrolled in the provincial militia, and fought under the command of Captain Juan Facundo Quiroga, reaching the rank of Captain by 1826.

That year, he fought in the Battle of La Ciudadela against Tucumán Province Governor Gregorio Aráoz de La Madrid. Aráoz was severely wounded and defeated, and Peñaloza's own wounds, as well as his role in the battle, earned him the rank of commanding Captain of the Militia. He fought in this capacity in the battles of Rincón de Valladares (1827), La Tablada (1829), and Oncativo (1830). His defeats in the latter two, however, enabled the formation of the Unitarian League by José María Paz, against which the La Rioja forces were little match.

Military leader of La RiojaEdit

Peñaloza returned to La Rioja, and helped oust Aráoz de La Madrid's proxy, Governor Domingo Villafañe, in 1831. Following Quiroga's 1836 assassination, Peñaloza secured an alliance with San Juan Province Governor Martín Yanzón, and though their attempted invasion of La Rioja failed, the victor, Tomás Brizuela, pardoned Peñaloza upon his election as governor in May 1837. Peñaloza joined Brizuela, who was named commanding military officer in 1840 for the newly formed Northern Coalition. The group, an alliance of fellow Federalists opposed to the paramount Governor of Buenos Aires Province, Juan Manuel de Rosas, chose poorly in their alliances, supporting Juan Lavalle's failed revolt against Rosas, as well as their former foe, Aráoz de La Madrid, in a failed battle against a Rosas ally in Mendoza Province. Following these 1841 defeats, Peñaloza fled to Chile.

He returned in 1842 to join his erstwhile ally from San Juan, Martín Yanzón. They were ultimately routed by San Juan Governor Nazario Benavídez, however, and Peñaloza again fled to Chile. He returned in 1845, overthrew the Governor of La Rioja, formed an alliance with Benavídez, and installed Manuel Vicente Bustos as Governor of La Rioja in 1848. Bustos named him commander of his home district, Los Llanos, and by 1854, Peñaloza had regained his rank as commander of the La Rioja militia. Rosas had, by then, been defeated at the 1852 Battle of Caseros, and Peñaloza offered the new President of the Argentine Confederation, General Justo José de Urquiza, his support. Peñaloza became the effective ruler of La Rioja, becoming a caudillo, or strongman, in his province. He earned respect for his accessibility, diligence, and gaucho persona.

Rebellion against the Unitarian governmentEdit

The 1858 assassination of Nazario Benavídez, San Juan's Federalist governor, by Liberals allied to Buenos Aires centralists inflamed tensions between the Confederation and the State of Buenos Aires, and President Urquiza commissioned Peñaloza to seize control of San Juan, which the latter would administer on a receivership basis. The breakdown of the peace obtained at the Pact of San José de Flores in 1859 prompted Peñaloza to seek an alliance with Tucumán governor Celedonio Gutiérrez. The invasion of Bartolomé Mitre's Unitarian Party forces led to their retreat during 1861 and 1862, culminating in a siege on the city of San Luis by Peñaloza's decimated troops. Peñaloza was deceived in the subsequent Treaty of La Banderita, receiving dead troops in exchange for prisoners of war.

Resolute in his losing struggle, Peñaloza wrote to Mitre (by then President of Argentina) in March 1863, to explain that:

These governors-turned-executioners of the provinces banish and kill without trial respectable citizens whose only crime was to have belonged to the Federal Party. All men who have nothing more to lose than their existence, would sooner sacrifice themselves in battle.

Peñaloza won victories in La Rioja and entered the city of Córdoba on June 14, 1863. His refusal to fight within city limits led to his defeat on June 28, at Pajas Blancas. During the subsequent retreat, he was routed again in Los Gigantes, San Juan Province, by Colonel Pablo Irrazábal.

Peñaloza retreated to La Rioja, and manage to depose a military junta installed during his absence. Confronted again by Irrazábal at Olta, he was defeated and on November 12, surrendered, relinquishing a facón that remained as his only weapon. Irrazábal, however, killed Peñaloza with a tacuara spear, and his body was then riddled with gunfire. His severed head was displayed on a pike at Olta, and his wife, Victoria Romero, was forced into servitude, sweeping the streets of San Juan in chains.


Peñaloza represented barbarism to Domingo Sarmiento and a threat to national unity to Bartolomé Mitre. His supporters in the hinterland provinces, however, highlighted his role as a bulwark against what they saw as Buenos Aires hegemony over national affairs. Both celebrated and notorious in life, Peñaloza was commemorated by writer José Hernández, who wrote Vida del Chacho within weeks of Peñaloza's death, and by poet Olegario Víctor Andrade. His dagger was put on display at the La Rioja Historical Museum.


  • Luna, Félix. Los caudillos. Buenos Aires: Editorial Peña Lillo, 1971.
  • Historical Dictionary of Argentina. London: Scarecrow Press, 1978.
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