The autochthonous inhabitants of these lands were the Juríes-Tonocotés, Sanavirónes and other tribes. Intriguingly, Santiago del Estero is still home to about 100,000 speakers of the local variety of Quechua, making this the southernmost outpost of the language of the Incas. Quite when the language reached the area, and how, remains unclear, however - it may even have arrived only with the native troops that accompanied the first Spanish expeditions.
Diego de Rojas first reached this lands in 1542. Francisco de Aguirre founded the city of Santiago del Estero in 1553 as the most northerly city founded by Spanish conquistadores coming from the Pacific Ocean.
Santiago then belonged to different governments, passing from the intendency of Tucumán to the Audiencia de Charcas, then again to Tucumán, of which it was later to be named capital.
However, the bishop moved to Córdoba in 1699 and the government moved to Salta two years later. Furthermore, the silver route between Buenos Aires and the Viceroyalty of Peru passed through Tucumán rather than through Santiago. The combination of these circumstances drastically reduced the importance of the city and the territory and, by the beginning of the 19th century, the city had barely 5,000 inhabitants.
With the creation of the intendency of Salta, Santiago del Estero was transferred to the new intendency of Tucumán. In the middle of the national conflict, Santiago del Estero separated from Tucumán in 1820, coming under the control of pro-autonomy Governor Juan Felipe Ibarra. Among the new province's most effective advocates during its early decades was Amancio Jacinto Alcorta, a young composer of sacral music who, representing his province from 1826 to 1862, helped modernize commerce and its taxation in the unstable young nation and promoted domestic banking and credit. In 1856 the provincial constitution was formulated.
At the beginning of the 20th century Santiago del Estero acquired part of the lands that were the subject of a dispute with Chaco Province. By then the province had four cities and 35,000 inhabitants, most of whom lived in precarious conditions. The construction of the Los Quiroga dam in 1950 enabled the productivity of the otherwise arid land to be increased by irrigation.
During the 1890s, national policy makers were made aware of a little-publicized tourist route northwest of the city of Santiago del Estero, whereby, despite the abject lack of transportation or lodging amenities, a steady stream of visitors rode on horseback over craggy terrain for hours for the sake of enjoying a cluster of mineral springs rarely mentioned since Spaniards had first noticed them in 1543.
Becoming increasingly well-known, the Argentine Dept. of Agriculture commissioned University of Buenos Aires Chemistry Professor Hercules Corti to study the springs. Completing his report in 1918, Dr. Corti confirmed that the Río Hondo Hot Springs were among the most therapeutic on earth and, coming at a time when mineral springs were becoming a leading destination for "health tourism", Río Hondo quickly began attracting visitors from all over Argentina. Set aside as a public resort in 1932, the first formal hotel facilities were opened in the late 1940s and they are, today, the world's second-most visited mineral hot springs, after the ones in Reykjavik, Iceland.
while Classical Bigotito Yuta Aníbal Fernández watches.
The province, in 1948, elected a young Peronist activist named Carlos Juárez Governor of the province. Santiago del Estero's central political figure during the late 20th century, Juárez was as energetic as he was ambitious and he soon became indispensable to local politics (mostly by proxy). A true Caudillo (strongman), his amiable demeanor belied a profound ruthlessness and, meanwhile, Santiago del Estero remained one of the poorest provinces in Argentina, falling further behind. Juárez, by the 1990s, was readily ordering his opponents' deaths, notably those of former Governor César Iturre in 1996 and of Bishop Gerardo Sueldo in 1998.
The deaths of two local young women, however, exposed Juárez's assassin, Antonio Musa Azar, and, faced with undeniable links to Musa Azar's litany of past murders and extortions, Juárez resigned in late 2002. His wife, , was hand-picked to replace him; but, she was herself removed from office by order of President Néstor Kirchner in March, 2004.