Category: Basques in California (page 1 of 3)

A rumination on Basque animal breeds

640px-artaldea_bidean_behera

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.

640px-aharia_latxa_0001

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.

640px-churra_ewes_and_lambs_in_segovia

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.

640px-mendive_manech

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.

640px-basco-bearnaise_face

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.

640px-porc_basque_sda2010

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 …

 

Basque bread, and some beloved neighbors, featured in the John Deere Furrow

iphoto_2015_07200

Abel making his delicious french fries for camp visitors.

iphoto_2015_07160

The famous bread oven.

Making bread at their Russell Valley, California, summer camp was quite the project for Abel and Judy Mendeguia. Abel, from Lesaka, was a sheepman for many years from northern Nevada to the Central Valley of California, and the couple’s summer camp was a hive of activity, especially on the days that Abel would bake bread using 50 lbs of flour for the sheepherder camps spread across the range. A story that is reported on in “For the Love of Bread: Part 1: Basque immigrants brought a taste of home with them to the American West” by Laura Read in a recent issue of John Deere’s The Furrow. I don’t want to ruin the story for you, but a key part of it is Abel sticking his arm into the bread oven to gauge its temperature. I’m sure anyone who knows Abel can imagine this quite well!

The Mendeguias have been Reno residents for many years since retiring from the sheep business and they are some of the best neighbors anyone could ask for. Abel has volunteered many many years to helping out Reno 4-H sheep project children and they generally invite visiting USAC scholars from the Basque Country and elsewhere to the Russell Camp for a taste of Western life (and some of Abel’s famous fresh cut and made-on-the-spot french fries). His wife, Judy, was from the East and met Abel at a sheep camp on a visit to the West, and then became his lifetime partner.

Abel has an entry, along with thousands of other Basques who came to the US, in Basques in the United States, vol. 1, Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa.

Never a dull moment at the Mendeguias’ summer camp!

UNR Arboretum “Tree Talk” Series: Basque Aspen Art of the Sierra Nevada

Have you ever come across mysterious carvings on aspen trees while taking a hike or walk? You might be surprised to learn that these arboglyphs were made by Basque sheepherders during their long and lonely periods grazing sheep in the Sierra Nevada region. They carved their names and images with whatever tools they had at hand, leaving behind their mark on the American West.

profile_man_with_hat

Next Tuesday, October 25, Jean Moore Earl will be giving a talk on the conservation effort she and her husband Phillip embarked upon to document these works of self-expression. They have preserved over 130 carvings through wax-on-muslin rubbings made from the images themselves. Many of the carvings are now lost due to the short life of aspens and fires, but the Earl’s work has helped to not only document this art but also give it meaning by trying to understand the Basque sheepherding world and experience.

1967_vizcaya_1250_borrego

Jean and Phillip Earl are co-authors of Basque Aspen Art of the Sierra Nevada (2011), a beautiful book that reproduces their rubbings alongside a discussion of the carvings. Definitely worth checking out: http://basquebooks.myshopify.com/products/basque-aspen-art-of-the-sierra-nevada

deer_head2

Photo credits: Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe:

http://www.basque.unr.edu/arts/trees/default.htm

 

“Basque Aspen Art of the Sierra Nevada”

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

7:00 pm

Mackay Science, room 321UNR Campus

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-5-58-20-pm

If you’d like to know more about UNR’s Arboretum, visit: https://www.unr.edu/arboretum/news

CBS students presenting at the Galena Creek Visitor Center: Don’t miss out!

Join CBS students Amaia Iraizoz, Kerri Lesh and Edurne Arostegui at the Galena Creek Visitor Center (http://www.galenacreekvisitorcenter.org/) this Sunday, October 16, from 10-11AM,  as they present on various aspects of Basque migration, return and diaspora. The event is open to the public and will give attendees the chance to not only learn more about the Basques, but also get an inside look into three of the Center’s graduate students’ research.

basque-logo

Arostegui will kick off the presentation, talking about Basque migration in general, but focusing on the Basque experience in the West and how they got there. Iraizoz will then speak about certain cases of return migration to the Aezkoa Valley, in Navarre. Lesh brings the presentation to the present, discussing aspects of cultural maintenance in the diaspora through Basque gastronomy. All three bring their expertise on these subjects, as they are pursuing them for the doctoral dissertations.

For more information, please visit: https://allevents.in/reno/the-history-and-culture-of-basque-sheepherders-in-the-great-basin/303664853352059

Arbasoen Ildotik: 6th Grade Students from Baigorri visit Far West to learn about Basque settlement there

arbasoenildotiksf850

A group of 6th grade students from Baigorri in Lower Navarre are on the trip of a lifetime to the American Far West in a quest to understand what it meant for Basques to uproot and make new lives for themselves across the Atlantic. Titled “Arbasoen ildotik” (On the trail of our ancestors), the expedition is made up of the following students who all attend the Donostei school in Baigorri: Laina Aizpurua, Alaia Arangoits, Maialen Innara, Enaut Gorostiague, Ana Gouffrant, Iñaki Hualde, Morgan Labat, Mathias Lallemand, Leatitia Oronos, Pauline Perez, Céline Séméréna, and Viktoria Toro. Accompanying them are four teachers: Amaia Castorene, Danielle Hirigaray, Xantxo Lekumberry, and Christine Paulerena. During their stay they will visit several locations in California and Nevada, where they will study first-hand the Basque emigrant/immigrant experience in the US.

For more information, see their Facebook page here.

And to get in contact with them send an email to slobasque@aol.com

There is a comprehensive list of Basques who emigrated from Lower Navarre to the United States in the Center’s Basques in the United States, volume 2, Iparralde and Nafarroa, with principal research by Koldo San Sebastián, with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more.

Basques in the US vol 2

 

 

 

September 26, 1565: Basque-run ship completes historic voyage

On September 26, 1565, a Basque-run ship, the San Pedro, docked in the vicinity of California’s Cape Mendocino after having sailed 11,160 miles cross the Pacific Ocean without a landfall—the longest continuous oceanic voyage to that date in the age of European exploration. This remarkable crossing is yet another in a long line of significant Basque maritime exploits – all described in fascinating detail by Bill Douglass in Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean (pp. 118-22).

Urdaneta_marinela_txikia

Andrés de Urdaneta (1498-1568). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As part of an initial plan to bring the Philippines within Spain’s orbit on the orders of King Philip II, a Basque-dominated expedition, led by two Gipuzkoans, Andrés de Urdaneta from Ordizia and  Miguel López de Legazpi from Zumarraga, reached Samar in February 1565. Thereafter, a permanent settlement was established in Cebu, which in the words of Douglass, was “the initial outpost of Spanish hegemony in the islands and one that would endure for more than three and a half centuries.”

Miguel_López_de_Legazpi,_en_La_Hormiga_de_Oro

Miguel López de Legazpi (c. 1502-1572). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As well as establishing an imperial outpost there, however, Legazpi was also charged with finding the elusive easterly return route from the Philippines to Nueva España (present-day Mexico). The Portuguese held the monopoly over the westward sea lane between Asia and Europe, making it impossible to establish trade with the Philippines, let alone a settled Spanish colonial presence there, without violating the Treaty of Zaragoza; hence the importance of discovering this easterly route. Douglass continues:

Urdaneta’s previous experience in the Moluccas had sensitized him to the seasonal shift in the region’s prevailing winds. Furthermore, his relationship with Gerónimo de Sanesteban in Mexico City doubtless gave Urdaneta detailed knowledge of the Villalobos expedition’s two failed attempts to return to Nueva España from the Moluccas via a southern route. On June 1, 1565, Urdaneta left the Philippines in the San Pedro, which was under the command of Legazpi’s young (sixteen-year-old) grandson, Felipe de Salcedo. It seems likely that Urdaneta was the actual commander. Other Basques on the vessel included Friar Andrés de Aguirre; the boatswain, Francisco de Astigarribia; the ship’s mate, Martín de Ibarra (all Bizkaians); and the scribe, Asensio de Aguirre. About one-third of the crew were Gipuzkoans.

Once in the northern latitudes, the San Pedro picked up the summer months’ prevailing northeasterlies and reached the American mainland on September 26 that same year.

585px-Andres_Urdaneta_Tornaviaje

“Urdaneta’s Route” across the Pacific. Image by Jrockley, United States Army. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Basques have a reasonable claim, then, to yet another significant maritime historical record, besides being in charge of both the first (Elkano) and second (Urdaneta) global circumnavigations.

 

Tales from Basques in the United States: Gregorio de Ajuria’s Role in Nineteenth-Century Mexican History

Today’s story from our series of snapshot biographies of immigrant Basques in the US is taken from vol. 1 of Basques in the United States. It would be misleading to call this a minor anecdote in the history of Basque immigration in the US; we think this more approximates a significant slice of US and Mexican political and economic history in the nineteenth century, in which our Basque immigrant to the US took a center-stage role.

BUS_01_20151125

Rafaela Cota de Temple, Gregorio de Ajuria, and Jonathan Temple, c. 1855

Born in Bilbao in 1818, Gregorio (Francisco Lorenzo) de Ajuria Arria emigrated first to Mexico in 1838 and then later to California in 1845, living initially in Monterey and later in LA, where he set up as a successful merchant. It was there, too, that he met and married California-born Francisca Borja de Jesus Temple in the City of Angels in 1848. This alone could have served as the basis for our story today, with de Ajuria becoming a key figure in the early development of LA, but we’re going to focus on another side of his own fascinating story.

Francisca was the daughter of Jonathan Temple (1796-1866), the first member of the Temple and Workman families to live in LA and after whom present-day Temple Street in the city is named. He had left his native Reading, MA, sometime in the first half of the 1820s and relocated to Hawaii, which had, in 1819, been opened up to American missionaries and merchants from Massachusetts. Temple’s stay in the Islands as a merchant was brief, however, and in 1827 he moved to California, arriving in San Diego that summer. The following year he became the second American or European (after Joseph Chapman) to settle in LA and opened the pueblo’s first store. Temple’s success in LA was rapid and he became the owner of a significant section of the pueblo that would later become downtown LA and what is now the site of City Hall. He also owned the 27,000-acre Rancho Los Cerritos, encompassing most of Long Beach and surrounding areas, and amassed other significant landholdings. Intriguingly, however, through his contact with de Ajuria, Temple would also lease the national mint of the Republic of Mexico, which he obtained in 1856. The story melds with a larger one of the seemingly annual parade of revolutionary movements and political and military strife that engulfed Mexico in that period; and interestingly for our purposes here, it directly involves Temple’s son-in-law, Gregorio de Ajuria.

Temple and his wife, Rafaela Cota, a Santa Barbara native, had one child, Francisca (b. 1831), who, as noted, married Gregorio, an up-and-coming merchant with many contacts in Mexico, in 1848. While the couple remained in LA, living with the Temples through at least the 1850 census (actually taken in early 1851), the de Ajurias moved to Mexico City and then relocated to NYC and Paris several times over the years. They had five children and de Ajuria’s personal wealth, estimated be $10,000 in the 1860 census, was not insignificant.

Indeed, it was his financial position that brought him into contact with Ignacio Comonfort, a military officer and politician from Puebla, Mexico, who had designs on the presidency of the Republic of Mexico. Comonfort was a military commander in the state of Guerrero in the 1830s who was elected to the Mexican Congress in 1842 and 1846, though both times the body was dissolved by the federal government. After fighting against the US in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Comonfort was elected as a senator and appointed the customs administrator for Acapulco. In 1854, he joined the Revolution of Ayutla, an attempt by Juan Álvarez to unseat Gen. Antonio de Santa Anna as president of Mexico. Comonfort traveled to SF and then NYC seeking funds for the revolution and had little luck until he landed in the latter and met with de Ajuria.

De Ajuria was not only a friend of Álvarez but his mercantile company had an office in Acapulco when Comonfort was the city’s administrator (incidentally, Jonathan Temple also held significant land interests between Acapulco and Mazatlán, perhaps due to the assistance of his son-in-law). For a loan of 60,000 pesos, which came in the form of cash and weapons, de Ajuria was promised 250,000 pesos in return if the revolution was a success. With the cache of weapons that Comonfort obtained, thanks to de Ajuria, the revolt moved forward and Santa Anna resigned his office in early Aug. 1855. Álvarez then assumed the presidency of Mexico and Comonfort became the Minister of War, though within months Álvarez resigned and Comonfort took his place as the leader of the country.

Upon assuming power, Comonfort issued a manifesto the Mexican nation noting that, among the debts that had been contracted in service to the revolution, the first repayment was to be sent to D. Gregorio de Ajuria, who had provided funds for the revolutionary movement in the South. While it is true that this business had been significantly beneficial to the lender, Comonfort noted, it was important to underscore the fact that, without the assistance he provided, it would have been impossible to sustain the revolution, which was in immediate danger of losing capital. Comonfort, however, went on to state that while he was on principle opposed to leasing the country’s mint, the government lacked the funds to manage it itself, and had succumbed in this case, as in some others, to the law of imperative necessity.

The “imperative necessity” was arranging for Jonathan Temple to assume the lease by a cash payment, said to have been $500,000, an enormous sum for the era, especially from a small-town merchant. There was a precedent, however, because from 1847 on the Mexico City mint had been leased to foreigners. as a result, in addition to the advance payment, de Ajuria (and, perhaps, Temple) made loans of almost $270,000 in 1856 to the government. Temple’s lease of the mint was on a 10- year contract and was managed initially by Alejandro Bellangé, another supporter of the Alvarez-Comonfort coup, and then by José Mendizabal. Ultimately, Comonfort was unseated in yet another revolt in early 1858 and fled to the US (he did, though, return to Mexico as a general in the fight against the French invasion and died in the fall of 1863).

Meanwhile, de Ajuria also became an exile in Paris, where he died in 1864. Although the French Empire in Mexico sought to annul the lease, Temple was able to override this by more loans to the new government. After Jonathan Temple died in the spring 1866, an
extension was signed with his daughter and de Ajuria’s widow, Francisca, as the leaseholder. The Mexican government rescinded the contract a couple of years later, but chronic financial shortages led it to reverse its policy after Francisca Temple de Ajuria came up, in 1871, with a substantial loan of $130,000 to the government. For two decades, the lease stood, presumably on 10-year agreements, but Mexican president Porfirio Diaz finally stepped in and demanded the return of the mint to the government.

In 1892–93, Antonio de Ajuria, Franciscoaand Gregorio’s son and Jonathan Temple’s grandson, acted as the agent on behalf of his mother, then living in Paris, and worked out an indemnity of some $75,000. With this, the mint reverted to Mexican government ownership in Feb. 1893 after almost forty years in the hands of the Ajuria Family. Francisca passed away in Paris in 1893.

We intend for Basques in the United States to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we’d like it to be a true forum for sharing stories and anecdotes about the thousands of Basque women and men who forged new lives for themselves in the US.

If you’d like to share your own family stories with us, please click here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.

 

June 19, 1960: Microphone power outage leads to creation of San Francisco Basque Club

gardeners_1024x1024

It’s one of those anecdotes that makes one wonder whether truth really is stranger than fiction, and the lack of any clarification over or proof of what actually happened only adds to its mystique, but for those of you out there who didn’t know how the San Francisco Basque Club got started in the first place, let Pedro J. Oiarzabal, in his Gardeners of Identity: Basques in the San Francisco Bay Area,  pick up the story:

Two Basque homeland bertsolariak or verse improvisers, “Xalbador” and Mattin, accompanied by Charles Iriart, came to the U.S. in June of 1960 for a month to perform at the annual picnics of the Basque communities of La Puente, Reno, and Bakersfield as well as at the picnic of the San Francisco French association, Les Jardiniers, whose membership was also made up of a considerable amount of Basques. Les Jardiniers’ picnic took place at Saratoga Wild Wood Park (today’s Saratoga Springs) on June 19th and was attended by approximately 2,500 people. To the dismay of both performers and Basques attending the Les Jardiniers’ event, power to their microphone was cut off—intentionally according to some and unintentionally according to others.

The reaction of some young Basques was to establish their own organization under the leadership of Claude Berhouet, owner of Hotel de France, in order to protect and promote the culture of their homeland in San Francisco. Michel Marticorena, one of the first members of the club, and Claude sat next to each other in school during World War II in France, during the German occupation, and recalls that “Mr. Berhouet was a very generous and helpful person back at that time as he was in San Francisco.”

Paul Castech and Jean Acheritogaray were present at the meeting that ignited the creation of the Basque Club: “Claude said, ‘Why don’t we organize a Basque club?” Castech, born in 1938 in Ortzaize, came to the U.S. in 1956, and became one of the founding directors of the Basque Club. The Basque Club of California was born in June 1960.

Whatever the case, whether intentionally or not, this just all goes to show how much history can turn on a seemingly inconsequential event. Check out the history of the San Francisco Basque Club here.

Tales from Basques in the United States: Santiago Arrillaga, an atypical Basque immigrant

In this week’s tale from Basques in the United States, adapted from vol. 1, we meet the fascinating Santiago Arrillaga Ansola, a precociously talented young musician who arrived in the US almost by chance, as part of a concert tour, fell in love, and ultimately settled in the San Francisco Bay Area where he earned great renown as a pianist and composer, especially of religious pieces of great beauty, and became a key figure in both the religious and musical life of the area.

arrillaga

Santiago Arrillaga Ansola (1847-1915), a key figure in the musical history of the Bay Area.

Born in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, in 1847, he was related to the textile industry leader Antonio Elosegui, a well-known producer of the Basque beret, whose company is still prominent today. In his home town, he learned music theory with Antonio Buenechea, director of the local Municipal Band. Then, when the natural disposition of the child for music became obvious, his parents sent him to the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid, the principal college of music in Spain, where his teacher of counterpoint was Hilarión Eslava from Navarre, author of the “Solfeo de los Solfeos” method of instruction. In Madrid, he scored the highest marks in harmony, piano, and composition, graduating with honors and being awarded the institution’s gold medal. He then went to the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris to pursue his training with the teachers François Bazin and Antoine François Marmontel (following the tradition of Chopin).

He arrived in the US in 1874, having been chosen to accompany at the piano the opera singer Carlotta Patti during her tour of the country. On this tour, he met and married the Californian Clementina Savin, settling in San Francisco, where they were parents to Vincent (b. 1880), Elena (1881), Frank (1883), Leo (1886), Graciala (1888), and Cecilia (1898).

In San Francisco he served as organist at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as at other French and Spanish Catholic churches in the city, for forty years. There, too, he also taught music, founding the famed Arrillaga Musical College, and he even established an orchestra. In 1880, he prepared Hilarion Eslava’s “Mass in E-flat,” regarded as a major event in California at the time. He composed several masses and motets as well as secular and folk music: jotas, habaneras, waltzes, pasodobles, hymns, and a Basque zortziko (1912) entitled “Nere mendi maiteak” with the subtitle “Dear Mountain of My Province.”

Santiago Arrillaga died at home in Oakland, his adopted city, in 1915. He was succeeded in running the Arrillaga Musical College by his eldest son Vincent. Five of his six children were musicians: Vicente; Elena, who married Luis Alegria, son of Fermín, the mayor of Tolosa; Elena, with superior degrees in music, was organist at the Sacred Heart Church in Oakland and ran a Music Academy in this industrial city; Leo Arrillaga, pianist and organist; Graziela Arrillaga, concert pianist; and Cecilia Arrillaga, who also gave piano concerts. Today, María Luisa Alegria Arrillaga offers piano recitals throughout the US and Susan Sarti Arrillaga is a piano teacher and concert artist. Both are Santiago’s granddaughters.

We intend for Basques in the United States to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we’d like it to be a true forum for sharing stories and anecdotes about the thousands of Basque women and men who forged new lives for themselves in the US.

If you’d like to share your own family stories with us, please click here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.

May 15, 1849: Basque pioneers Juan Miguel Aguirre and Maria Martina Labayen arrive in US

NAF_Bortziri_01

The Hotel Vasco (or “Aguirre Hotel”) in San Francisco, built by Juan Miguel Aguirre and Maria Martina Labayen in 1866.

On May 15, 1849 two of the most influential early Basque immigrants to the US arrived in San Francisco: Juan Miguel Aguirre (b. Etxalar, Navarre, in 1813) and Maria Martina Labayen (b. Areso, Navarre, 1816). Juan Miguel had fought on the losing Carlist side in the First Carlist War (1833-39). In 1845 he emigrated to Montevideo, Uruguay, where he established a successful hide and tallow business.

On hearing of the discovery of gold in California, they headed there in 1849, but instead of Juan Miguel seeking his fortune in the mines like most other forty-niners, the couple stayed in San Francisco. He made a living there by supplying much needed water to the ever-expanding city, transporting this valuable commodity by burro from a spring at the Presidio and peddling it, door-to-door for a dollar a bucket, to businesses and residents in old downtown San Francisco. As the business expanded, he employed fellow Basques to help him meet the growing demand. Today the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, in charge of the city’s water supply system, acknowledges Aguirre as one of the first entrepreneurs to recognize the importance of supplying fresh water to residents in the city.

640px-San_francisco_1855

“San Francisco.” Engraving from The United States Illustrated by Charles A. Dana (New York, 1855). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The couple then used the profits of this business to invest in real estate, buying a lot at the intersection of what is now Grant Avenue and Ashburton Place, on which they built a fronton. Then, in 1866, they built one of the city’s first Basque hotels at 1312 Powell St., just off Broadway, a modest two-storey wooden building. And they also helped establish Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Church on Broadway, which served as a point of reference for many Basques.  By the 1870s, the Aguirre, as it was known popularly, had also become a kind of employment agency for newly arrived Basques in San Francisco, as the following contemporary description of the establishment (quoted in Jeri Echeverria’s wonderful Home Away from Home, p. 69) demonstrates: “There was a Basque hotel in the center of town, where California rancheros in need of help were sure to find quiet gentle men from the Pyrenees.”

Interestingly, the Basque forty-niners formed a specific group within this growing Basque community in the Bay Area, regarded and revered as the veterans or pioneers of their compatriots. And a dinner in their honor was held in 1893, at which both Juan Miguel and Maria Martina were present, and at which several bottles of champagne were consumed according to the local Basque-language newspaper California’ko Eskual-Herria.

Juan Miguel died in 1897, but Maria Martina and their three children continued to run the hotel. By the turn of the century, the Aguirre had become the premier meeting point (and “marriage mill”!) for Basques living in San Francisco, Alameda, Sonoma, and San Jose counties. It was even a vacation destination for other Basques visiting from further afield in the West. This all came to an end, though, when it burned down in the San Francisco fires of 1906.

Juan Miguel Aguirre and Maria Martina Labayen can rightly be credited as key figures in establishing the Basque community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

Further Reading

Douglass, William A., and Jon Bilbao, Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World.

Echeverria, Jeronima. Home Away from Home: A History of Basque Boardinghouses.

Oiarzabal, Pedro J. Gardeners of Identity: Basques in the San Francisco Bay Area.

San Sebastián, Koldo, with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more. Basques in the United States, vol. 2.

Zubiri, Nancy. A Travel Guide to Basque America: Families, Feasts, and Festivals.

Older posts