Category: Basque sheep

The Comforts of Home: A Basque Sheep Camp

The Basque Library has set up a new exhibit at the Sparks Museum and Cultural Center.

From June 20 to August 10, 2017, The Comforts of Home: A Basque Sheep Camp showcases Dominique Laxalt’s sheep camp from Marlette Lake. Dominique purchased over a hundred acres of grazing lands high in the Sierras in the early part of the twentieth century, two thousand feet above the eastern shores of Lake Tahoe. Dominique herded sheep in the mountains above Carson City, Nevada, for decades, operating out of his base camp at Marlette. He took his sons with him and this made an indelible impression especially on Robert Laxalt, who later wrote of those experiences in Sweet Promised Land.

The materials from the camp were boxed up and in storage for decades. Upon the closing of the offices they were stored in, these items were found and donated to the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies and the Jon Bilbao Basque Library.

Preparing a camp for themselves, the sheepherder had to be a jack-of-all-trades. Setting up the tent, hunting and fishing for food, cooking, and keeping track of supplies were the domestic side of their time outside tending the flock. All they had to survive on for many weeks at a time were the supplies they carried with them. Pack mules or horses carried the building blocks of creature comforts. As time went on, they would be resupplied by the ranch managers or owners. Early on this would be with other pack animals, then wagons, and finally trucks. Improvised fishing poles from branches, pot racks from belts, and improvised gadgets were all pressed into service. Not just double duty, many of the materials they carried had to be multifunctional.

Alone for weeks at a time, Basque sheepherders sometimes only had their horses, dogs, and sheep to talk and took to leaving tree carvings to express themselves. Aspen trees scarred up beautifully to leave a lingering glimpse into their thoughts. Women, animals, home, their names, and dates, all feature as themes in the carvings. This art emerged from solitude is wonderfully showcased by the Mountain Picasso: Basque Arborglyphs of the Great Basin exhibit, also at the Sparks Museum. Sponsored by the Nevada Arts Commission and the Nevada Historical Society, this exhibit is curated by Jean and Phillip Earl, a couple that has been collecting tree carvings for 50 years.

On June 30,  the museum is holding a reception for the Basque exhibits on display. You are all invited to enjoy refreshments from 4 to 6 p.m.

Post by Shannon Sisco and Iñaki Arrieta Baro.

“The Time of the Lambing and Shearing” – A New Exhibit at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center in Boise

If you’re near Boise this week, check out the opening of what promises to be a fascinating new exhibit, “The Time of Lambing and Shearing,” at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center. The opening and reception take place on Thursday, February 23, at 6:00 pm.

The exhibit is based on the work of photojournalist Jan Boles, who in 1976 photographed the last lambing and shearing operations at the J.D. Aldecoa and Son, Inc ranch for a feature for the Idaho Free Press. Just recently, we posted a response to a reader’s query about native Basque breeds of sheep (see the post here) and it got us to thinking that there is a potentially a major narrative to be written about the role of sheep and sheepherding in forging the American West.  Lambing and shearing are two key cultural as well as practical events in the calendar of any sheepherding culture, bringing communities together. In the Basque case, such times would have represented a great example of auzolan. According to Wikipedia, the sheep-shearing feast is the setting for Act IV of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. And sixteenth-century English poet and farmer Thomas Tusser even created  a verse for the occasion:

Wife make us a dinner, spare flesh neither corne,
Make wafers and cakes, for our sheepe must be shorne,
At sheep shearing neighbors none other thing craue,
but good cheer and welcome, like neighbors to haue

Even if you can’t  make it to the opening tomorrow, this promises to be well worth a visit. We’re sure the exhibit will be yet another wonderful addition by the Basque Museum & Cultural Center to a greater understanding of the importance and contribution of Basques to this more general story.

It goes without saying that the seminal Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World, by William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao is  must read for anyone interested in the importance of the sheep industry to the Basque experience in the United States. For the Old World experience, check out Sandra Ott’s superb ethnography, The Circle of Mountains: A Basque Shepherding Community.

Iker Saitua – Life after a Ph.D. in Basque Studies

Iker Saitua received his Ph.D. in Basque Studies here at the CBS last spring, so we’ve decided to catch up with him and see where life takes you after doctoral studies. His dissertation, “Sagebrush Laborers: Basque Immigrants in Nevada’s Sheep Industry, International Dimensions, and the Making of an Agricultural Workforce, 1880-1954,” explores the ways in which the Basque labor force in Nevada evolved from an object of discrimination into a stereotyped prized sheepherder. It then turns to the immigration policies that allowed Basques to continue supplying the labor force, even after the 1924 Immigration Act, through an analysis of U.S.-Spanish relations during the beginning of the Cold War. Impressive indeed and worth reading every bit! But for now, let’s turn to Dr. Saitua…

  1. What have you been up to since graduation?

Keeping busy. After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno in May 2016, I returned to the Basque Country. Having returned home, I presented my dissertation at the University of the Basque Country, getting a second Ph.D. that received summa cum laude honors in History. While looking for an academic position, I am currently finishing a Master’s Degree in Education at the International University of La Rioja. Concurrently, I am revising my dissertation into a book manuscript. During this time, I have also attended various courses and workshops, including the training course for “Teaching of the Basque Language Abroad,” jointly organized by the University of the Basque Country and the Etxepare Basque Institute. I have also acted as an assessor for the interdisciplinary scholarly journal Sancho el Sabio. Revista de cultura e investigación vasca, among other things.

  1. Have you published any articles?

Yes. My article “Becoming Herders: Basque Immigration, Labor, and Settlement in Nevada, 1880-1910” has been recently published in the journal Montana: The Magazine of Western History (Vol. 66, No. 4, Winter 2016). Please see the following link: https://mhs.mt.gov/pubs/magazine/Current-Issue). Also, I am pleased to announce that the Montana Talking Book Library (a regional library of the National Library Service for the blind and physically handicapped) is recording this article for its collection. Besides this, some of my latest articles on Basque immigration in the American West will be published soon in various peer-reviewed journals. Coming soon!

  1. Do you have any new research interests?

Lately, I have become increasingly interested in the pedagogy of teaching history and social sciences. Besides that, I continue with my research in western, labor, social, legal, and environmental history of the Basques and sheep grazing in the Far West.

  1. What do you do to keep busy?

I keep busy writing history articles, researching, and reading new publications on the North American West.

  1. What do you miss the most from the U.S.?

Lots of things. I miss my colleagues and friends there. I miss those midday coffee breaks with other grad students. I miss those family gatherings too. And of course, Reno, Nevada, and the Great Basin! I miss the West and its wide open spaces.

  1. What is it that you were most excited to return to once back in the Basque Country?

Family and friends. Glad to be back home among them.


As you can see, Iker doesn’t seem to have taken a chance to take a breath post-Ph.D! I must say I look forward to reading his upcoming work and wish him the best. He may miss the West, but I’m sure the West misses him too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

500 Posts! What a pleasure to reach this milestone of sharing!

Yesterday witnessed the 500th post on the Center’s blog! And we think it entirely appropriate that we mark the occasion with a post looking toward the future of Basque Studies, with a roundup of what our young scholars here at the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies have been doing and hope to do in the future. Particularly exciting for us is the eclectic nature of our graduate students, who hail from all over the world. With such talented and committed young people, Basque Studies has a bright future!

Just like reaching the summit at Anboto, our CBS blog has reached a milestone, but we will continue to climb beyond

In honor of our milestone, today we are looking back, first at the posts that have most engaged you, our readers, over the past couple of years:

 

1. Our most read post, by a fairly long way, is the tragic case of Basque sheepherder Txomin Malasechevarria. This is a cautionary tale about just how hard it was for some people to cope with the extreme solitude of life in the mountains, the psychological effects of this loneliness, and the devastating effects this could have on not just their own lives but also those around them. There are no “winners” in this immigrant story. Check out the post here.

 

2. Next, we have a happier tale that celebrates the key role played by women in maintaining the foundations of Basque communities, through their work in Basque boardinghouses, part of the Basque immigrant experience in the United States.  Check out the post here.

 

3. Then we come to what was, for us at the time, a bit of a surprise, pleasant though it was! It’s a post reporting where the Basque Country ranks in the latest Human Development Index (HDI) league tables. The HDI is a United Nations statistical rating based on life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators that are used to measure human development. In short, it’s a means of measuring the health of a nation. Check out the post here.

 

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4.Coming in at number four is a post that continues to rise steadily in the rankings. It’s our post on the classic Basque song “Txoria txori” (The bird is a bird), a pivotal work in the Basque songbook that touches on quintessential themes in Basque culture, sung by folk, rock, and pop singers alike as well as sports fans and even reworked into an orchestral piece. Check out the post here.

5. Last in our top 5 is a post on the remarkable life and work of Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, the woman sheepherder who was winning races, age 92, at the Third Age Olympics and died a centenarian. Check out the post here.

And then, of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention some of our personal favorites over the years!

  • One of our favorite pieces of writing was this “post within a post,” if you will, dated June 8, 2015, a review of one our most cherished books, My Mama Marie by Joan Errea, which in its focus on the introduction to the work goes beyond mere review to actually engage with and write about the landscape that serves as the backdrop to the book. Check out the post here.
  • Who doesn’t like chocolate? We certainly do! And we like it so much, we wrote a post about it! Check out our rambling thoughts on Basque chocolate, culture, and history in this post, dating from November 2, 2015.

  • One of our most transcendent posts, dated February 12, 2016, concerns what came to be known as the infamous 1911 “Last Massacre” in Western Folklore. This was a major incident in the history of the American West in which Basques featured prominently and serves as proof, if needed, of how the Basque immigrant experience is an essential part of the fabric of this history. Check out the post here.

  • In another post that takes landscape as its primary focus, dated February 24, 2016, we explore how another Basque Country was “imagined” thousands of miles away from home in the remote Nevada mountains. For a great piece of original writing on the Basque experience in the American West check out the post here.

  • We’re especially proud at the Center to try whenever possible to emphasize the role of women in Basque culture and history. This post from March 8, 2016, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, served as a roundup of some of the many posts we had published in this regard.  Keep checking in with the blog because this year we will be doing special posts throughout the month of March to celebrate women’s history month.

  • A relatively recent post, dated December 12, 2016, and one that is dear to our hearts emerged out of a reader’s inquiry about native Basque sheep and pig breeds. It got us thinking so much that we wrote a post about it. Check it out here.

Thanks so much for reading and here’s to another 500 and more. It is all because of you, dear readers, so eskerrik asko once again for engaging with us and for sharing our love of Basqueness!

A rumination on Basque animal breeds

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Basque Latxa sheep. Photo by Iñaki LLM, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

We received an interesting question recently asking if there were any native Basque breeds of sheep and pigs in the US, and that got us thinking at the Center. It strikes me that, in the great Basque-American narrative of the sheepherders who developed the American West, very little, to my knowledge at least, has ever been written about the animals themselves: in other words, what breeds were favored, and why.

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A red-headed Latxa ram. Photo by Markel Olano, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

So I turned first, and most obviously, to Amerikanuak by Bill Douglass and Jon Bilbao, the magnum opus of Basque-Americana. They reveal (p. 219) that, in the  1850s, “the degenerate quality of California sheep strains (the result of years of neglect during and after the secularization of the missions) supported the notion that California was not sheep country.” And although “California sheep were famed for their fecundity,” by the late 1850s, “sheep flocks were improved through importation of Australian stock and merino rams from Europe and the eastern United States. Once the breeds began to improve, it became obvious that in normal years sheep thrived in the California climate.”

It seems, then, that Merino sheep became an important part of the stock in the American West. As regards the Merino breed, though, this is not native to the Basque Country. Merinos most likely originated in North Africa before being introduced into the Iberian Peninsula in the 14th century, thereafter becoming the principal breed of Spain’s central meseta and, in time, being exported throughout Europe and beyond, including to Australia and the Americas.

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Churra ewes and lambs in the Spanish province of Segovia. Photo by Fernando García, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But could that original stock mentioned in Amerikanuak, which had so “degenerated” by the 1850s, have descended from the original Churra/Churro sheep introduced alongside Spanish imperial expansion?  Like the Merino, the Churra were associated with the dry central plains of Iberia, but in regard to the original question, they were and still are also herded in the Cuadrilla de Añana (Añanako kuadrilla in Basque), a district in southwestern Araba. We do know that these sheep were first imported into North America, via the aforementioned colonial expansion, in the 16th century. And that, through trade, they subsequently became an important part of the Navajo economy and culture. By the 20th century, however, Churra sheep felt out of favor–one presumes due to the preference for Merinos–and they all but died out in the US, except for recent efforts on the part of the Navajo to preserve the breed.

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Black-headed Manex sheep in Mendibe/Mendive, Lower Navarre. Photo by Harrieta171, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Otherwise, when it comes to other Basque breeds of sheep, I have been able to find no evidence of a US presence. The traditional sheepherding areas of the Far West, of course, are found in a landscape that lends itself more to Churra or Merino varieties, whereas the classic Basque sheep tend to be more mountain-dwelling breeds accustomed to wet, mild oceanic climates. These classic breeds include the Latxa/Lacha in Hegoalde or the Southern Basque Country and the Manex/Manech in Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country, both of which have black-headed and red-headed varieties. A slightly smaller relation of these breeds is the red-headed Sasi/Xaxi sheep (also known as “little” Manex or just “redhead”), which is able to survive in even harsher climes than its more well-known relatives.

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A Basco-béarnaise. Photo by Roland Darré, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If these are the so-called classic Basque breeds, there are others, which for want of a better expression we could term “borderland” breeds. These include the aforementioned Churra, which really originated much farther south than the Basque Country, but also the Basco-béarnaise in Iparralde and its relative, the Karrantza/Carranza breed (also found in black- and red-headed varieties), in Hegoalde.

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The Basque pig. Photo by Eponimm, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When it comes to all things porcine, there is a Basque breed par excellence, the Basque pig. In fact, in a previous post, we discussed how this breed had achieved the lofty AOC status in France. In researching for this post, I also came across a great article on the Baztan pig from Navarre, which unfortunately seems to have become extinct through crossbreeding with other varieties. For more detailed information on programs to preserve the Basque pig, download an article by M. Gómez Fernández on the breed here.

It goes without saying that if anyone out there does have more information on whether any Basque stock is being bred in the US, we’d love to hear from you.

And be sure to check out tomorrow’s post, on the Bilbao Mendi Film Festival, which will include among other things some beautiful images from a new documentary charting an attempt to recreate sheep transhumance in the Basque Country.

Note: Be sure to check out, too, the list of Basque breeds and cultivars here at Wikipedia. On a personal note, while my own outlook is admittedly quite ovine, our Basque Books Editor is a bovine enthusiast through and through. Not wanting to recreate the clashes between sheepherders and cattlemen of yesteryear, we coincide in a mutual admiration for goats; and I’d remind him that I did post on the native Basque cow, the Betizu, in a previous post here, as well as on Basque cattlemen here. I’m sure he remembers!

Note: Your Basque Books Editor does remember, of course, but he has spent way too much time on a horse behind a herd of fly ridden, stubborn, and dusty cattle to call himself a bovine “enthusiast”! Goats on the other hand …