Southeastern Oregon countryside near Downey Canyon where these tragic events took place.
Today’s story in our weekly look into the lives of ordinary Basques who came to the US is adapted from vol. 1 of Basques in the United States and concerns the sad story of (Raimundo) Domingo Aldecoa Egaña.
Born in the Kurtziaga neighborhood of Ispaster, Bizkaia, ca. 1884, he arrived in New York City on Apr. 21, 1903 and went to Oregon, where his uncle Juan Acarregui lived. Domingo Aldecoa became a sheep camp tender and a partner in a third of a large herd in Jordan Valley. He gradually built up his own herd of 2,100 sheep that every year during lambing season he would take to Downey Canyon, OR.
In the spring of 1910 another sheepman named Blanchett decided to take his herd to lamb to the same canyon, arriving there before Aldecoa. On Apr. 1 Aldecoa started to move his herd toward the canyon. Two herders were guiding it, one of them his younger brother. Obviously he did not seem to know that Blanchett had arrived with his sheep ahead of him. On April 3 Aldecoa arrived and with the other herders and began setting up camp. Charles Wear, one of Blanchett’s herders came up to the Basque camp and, aiming his gun at Aldecoa, ordered him to abandon the site. Domingo agreed, even though he had been coming with his herd to the same spot for many years.
Around 4pm that same day the two Basque herders moving Domingo’s sheep arrived at a hill overlooking the canyon. Blanchett and Wear saw them and started moving their herd toward the Basque herders. When the two herds were about 200 yards from each other, the Basques started to move their animals away so they would not mix. Wear and Blanchett advanced toward the Basque herders, who tried to explain to them that they were going to the camp Domingo was preparing. Then Wear pulled his revolver out and began insulting and attacking them. The Basques moved the sheep about 2 miles away and young Aldecoa went looking for his brother. Meanwhile, Wear went to the Basque camp and pulled the tents down, scattering their provisions and clothes. Young Aldecoa went to the ranch and told his brother all that had happened. Domingo then went to Jordan Valley and the following morning went back to the camp, intending to pick up the things and take them over to Jordan Creek.
At this time the two herds were about 1,000 feet apart from each other. Young, one of Blanchett’s herders who had spent the night with the herd (and who would turn into the prosecutor’s principal witness), reported that Wear came to their camp and told him go eat dinner. Wear was armed with a rifle and a revolver. About 1,000 feet away he saw Domingo picking things up. Wear entered the Basque camp and Young heard some shots. Young said he then saw Domingo running away and Wear chasing him. Domingo had a gun in his hand and was bleeding and came to Blanchett’s camp seeking Young’s help. But Wear caught up with him and shot him dead in cold blood. Charles Wear was sentenced to life imprisonment (Idaho Statesman, May 7, 1910).
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.
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