Category: US history (page 1 of 3)

Nevada Independent reports on Basque culture in the Silver State

On the occasion of Attorney General and CBS Advisory Board Member Adam Laxalt’s annual Basque Fry, the Nevada Independent recently reported on the Basque presence in the state and included some great personal recollections on the part of state senator Pete Goicoechea, part of which we quote below:

His grandfather, also named Pete Goicoechea, worked on a fishing boat on a seaside town on the Bay of Biscay until he immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century.

When his grandfather landed at Ellis Island, they pinned a tag on his coat that said “Elko, Nevada” and put him on a train, Goicoechea said. He couldn’t speak a word of English, couldn’t read or write but could figure out anything in his head. (“If you were talking about a nickel, he’d cheat you out of three cents,” Goicoechea said.)

“It was a hard life for them. A lot of them spent the first year before they had enough money in a tent with their sheep,” Goicoechea said. “There was no (Bureau of Land Management), no regulation at all. There’d be a group of them, the Goicoechea brothers and their families, they lived with those sheep from somewhere south of Duckwater close to Tonopah for winter and the Idaho border for summer.”

His grandfather ran moonshine for a period in Gold Creek during Prohibition, finally settling down and buying a ranch in 1937 and switching to cattle. “Sheep may be a little more delicate, but they have a personality,” Goicoechea said. “If you can run sheep, you can take care of a bunch of cows.”

Check out, too, Goicoechea’s observations about the emblematic Picon Punch!

See the full report here.

Immigrant tales like those mentioned above form the essence of the Center’s ambitious collection, Basques in the United States,  by Koldo San Sebastián, with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-
Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta.

May 1850: The “French (or Basque) Revolution” in Murphys, California

This week’s Flashback Friday post is a little different, referring to events that took place throughout the month of May 1850 in what was known at the time as “Murphys Camp,” one of the sites of the original California Gold Rush. Today this is Murphys in Calaveras County, CA. In Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World (pp.208-9), William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao recount the story of how, in this settlement at the heart of the Gold Rush, there was what was described at the time as a mini “French” (we should really say Basque) Revolution!

Historic view of Murphys Main Street, from the visitmurphys.com

Douglass and Bilbao observe that Basques from Iparralde formed a sizable part of population of Murphys, and one that was capable of collective action. They quote the German traveler Friedrich Gerstäcker, who visited the camp in May 1850 and reported on what he termed the French Revolution:

An immense number of French, a large part of them Basques, had likewise arrived in Murphys, and a great many French stores sprang up along with those of the Americans. . . . There were also Germans, Spaniards and Englishmen in Murphys, but the French outnumbered them by far, and in any case made up three-fourths of the entire population of this little mining town.

The Basques became incensed when,

a law was passed by the California legislature that a tax of twenty dollars per month would be levied on all foreign gold miners in the mines of California, and in case they did not want to pay that, or were not in a position to pay it, they should leave the mines at once. If, in spite of this, they were thereafter to be found at another mine also engaged in gold mining, this would then be considered a crime against the state and punished as such.

… Especially the French complained and argued profusely; declared the law infamous, and decided not pay a  penny. Among the Germans were some Alsatians who especially agreed with them, and the Basques brought forth rifles and shotguns, declaring that it would be best to place themselves in armed readiness from the very beginning, so as to win the respect of the Americans.

[The tents] surged with Frenchmen, and especially Basques . . . and [there were] mixed outbursts of anger, such as: Wicked!, Help!, Down with the Americans!

A rumor later spread that two Frenchmen and a German had been imprisoned at Sonora over the tax, and an armed mob marched on the camp , only to find out that it was not true. They disbanded, although not before almost hanging the rumormonger, and California’s “French” or “Basque” Revolution came to an end!

 

The First Basque Thanksgiving

Acknowledging, slightly tongue-in-cheek, our “six degrees of separation” complex when it comes to all things Basque, today we’d like to share a story about the first feast of Thanksgiving by Europeans in what would eventually be the US, which, in the words of Steve Bass, “occurred on April 20, 1598 in the area of present day El Paso, Texas. The feast was led by the Basque Juan de Oñate during his expedition north from San Gerónimo, Mexico to colonize New Mexico.”

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Statue of Juan de Oñate, Oñate Monument Center, Alcalde, NM. Picture by Advanced Source productions, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Surrounded by Basque relatives and friends, Oñate’s expedition set off in January 1598 and, after a grueling three-month journey at the point of which the colonizers were fast running out of food and water rations, they came across the Rio Grande, which offered abundant fresh water and game to replenish them. Hence, their first Thanksgiving feast.

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Texas Historical Marker for Don Juan De Oñate and El Paso Del Rio Norte. Photo by Pi3.124, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In Amerikanuak (p.78), William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao also observe that:

Unlike previous efforts, which were comprised largely of soldiers and missionaries, the Oñate force included colonists and livestiock. In this fashion Oñate introduced the first sheep flocks into what would later become territory of the United States (a fitting early forerunner of massive Basque involvement in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century development of the sheep industry of the American West).

Oñate’s expedition forged ahead, reaching the southern area of present-day Kansas, before returning, ultimately, to his home province of Nueva Vizcaya in present-day Mexico.

For a full description of this story, see Steve Bass, “Basques hold the First Thanksgiving in America ” Astero, at http://www.nabasque.org/Astero/thanksgiving.htm

Have a great Thanksgiving from everyone at the Center!

Eat with Hemingway

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Ernest Hemingway (seated left) in 1925 with the persons depicted in the novel The Sun Also Rises. The individuals depicted include Hemingway, Harold Loeb, Lady Duff Twysden; and Hadley Richardson, Ogden Stewart and Pat Guthrie. Original caption is “Ernest Hemingway with Lady Duff Twysden, Hadley Hemingway, Lonnie Schutte and three unidentified people at a cafe in Pamplona, Spain, during the Fiesta of San Fermin in July 1925.” Ernest Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, Boston, MA. In Public Domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ernest Hemingway’s classic The Sun Also Rises, a work infused with references to the Basque Country and Basque culture, was first published on October 22, 1926. To celebrate this 90th anniversary, a new book has just been presented that celebrates Hemingway’s well-known love of all things gastronomic. The trilingual Comer con/Eat with/Manger avec Hemingway, by Javier Muñoz, traces Hemingway’s steps as portrayed in the autobiographical The Sun Also Rises. It serves as a tourist guide to the places Hemingway visited and includes 128 recipes of the local cuisine he tasted by 52 chefs from the Basque Country, Aragón, and La Rioja. Check out a brief report on the book presentation (in Spanish) below:

To find out more about the book click here:  http://eatwithhemingway.com/

Lafayette, Hero of the American War of Independence, and the Basque Connection

As I’m sure you all know, Lafayette–or to give him his full name, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834)–was the famed French aristocrat who fought in the American War of Independence and was a close friend of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson.  During the war he served with distinction at the Battle of Brandywine (1777), the Battle of Rhode Island (1778), and, later during a second journey, played a significant role in the Siege of Yorktown (1781). Today, cities, streets,  and squares–even a mountain–across the US are named in his honor. But did you know there is a Basque connection to Lafayette’s exploits?

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A firm believer in the cause of American independence, he volunteered to cross the Atlantic to fight for the revolutionaries there while still a young man. Lacking official support, though, he himself raised the necessary funds to acquire a sailing ship, the Victoire, to transport him and his men across the ocean. This initial trip was complicated due to the delicate diplomatic position of France during the war and Lafayette carried out much of the preparations clandestinely. While the Victoire was fitted out and prepared for the journey in Bordeaux, official opposition to Lafayette’s expedition meant that he himself could not depart with the ship when it left Bordeaux and would have to seek another port of departure. Traveling overland, disguised as a courier, he reunited with the ship and his men in the Basque  Port of Pasaia, Gipuzkoa, from where he set sail for America on April 26, 1777, six days after it had left the Port of Pauillac, Bordeaux. It is even rumored that several Basque corsairs were among the crew accompanying him on the voyage.

An additional note of interest: As Douglass and Bilbao observe in Amerikanuak (p. 59n), the last of the great Basque corsairs, Étienne Pellot (1765-1856), a legendary figure we discussed in a previous post, “received his first taste of combat as a cabin-boy on the Marquise de Lafayette, a ship of four hundred tons and thirty cannons, which was outfitted in Bayonne by the ‘ladies of the Court’ to fight against England during the American Revolution.”

A tale about “Tales from Basques in the United States

Over the past few months we have been featuring selected stories the monumental 2-volume work, Basques in the United States 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. On the dual occasion of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, celebrating Basque culture in all its forms, and the impending publication of an additional volume of Basques in the United States, we’d like to take some time out to recap some of the amazing stories we’ve come across these past few months.

Basques in the US vol 1

 

As we mentioned at the outset, we always intended for this groundbreaking work to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we wanted 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. In that regard, we’d first and foremost like to thank each and every one of you there who have commented on the posts, either on the blog itself or via our facebook page.

Basques in the US vol 2

What’s been really interesting to see, we think, is the extraordinary variety of individual life stories we’ve been able to share; so for every tale of immigrant success, as in the cases of Jean Etchebarren and Santiago Arrillaga, there have been more sobering accounts, as for example in the stories of Txomin Malasechevarria or Domingo Aldecoa. We have been treated to uplifting stories, like that of the woman sheepherder Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, and other tales of resilience and drive, as in those of the women of the Basque boardinghouses. We’ve met Basque moonshiners, bootleggers, and outright scammers; but whatever they put their hand to, Basques certainly earned a reputation for hard work, as recalled in the truly extraordinary case of Antonio Malasechevarria. And if all that were not enough, Basques were even responsible for saving the Paiute cutthroat trout!

So here’s to all those Basques that in their own way contributed to what is the life story of the United States itself. We’re going to be scaling down on the frequency of these posts for a while, just until we can adapt some of the tales from the forthcoming volume 3 of the work. But you can be sure there are plenty more surprises in store from this new batch of anecdotes!

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. We’d encourage you to share your own family stories with us, by clicking here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.

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.

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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.

 

Tales from Basques in the United States: A mysterious death and a contested will

This week’s story, adapted from vol. 2 of Basques in the United States, takes us to Roswell, New Mexico, in the 1930s and the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Jean “John” Falxa.

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Born in Banka, Lower Navarre, in 1858, Jean Falxa came to the US in 1882. By the turn of the century, he was working as a successful sheepman in Lower Peñasco, NM. Then one day in June 1930, the body of the by now elderly recluse was found at his home, north of Roswell, NM, by Jessie Manel who used to visit the old man on frequent occasions. Given the reclusive nature of old Falxa, rumors obviously began to circulate about his death. Yet according to the local newspaper, the body “when found was lying under a large cottonwood tree near the Falxa home, face down. Officers who investigated the case today said that without question then old man had gone to sleep in the shade under the tree and had failed to awaken.” What’s more, “the officers declared that the theory of murder in connection with this case had no foundation in fact” and “tales of chickens missing from the farm and a general untidy condition indicating a struggle” were denied (Roswell Daily Record, 6/27/1930).

BUS cover

Falxa certainly left a considerable fortune: $25,000 in cash, bonds, and property, the inheritance of which would ultimately take a long time to resolve. He had two nephews in town: Pierre “Pete” Louissena and Gratian Iriart, and, it would seem, two different wills. In one, dated Jan. 1, 1899, everything was left to his sister, Marie, who still lived in Banka. She was represented by Louissena (who had hired a major law firm). The second will was dated Jan. 1, 1930, and in it, excepting for a small quantity set aside for his family members, everything else was left to Jessie Manel of Rosewell, the woman who had discovered the body. The latter will arrived in the mail while the court was examining the case. It had been witnessed by two Mexican nationals, but they could not be located by the authorities. This led Judge J. Frazier Lake to declare the first covenant valid, while the one presented by Miss Manel was rejected as false.

In the meantime, newspaper reports now acknowledged that, “Falxa had been dead for several days” prior to being found and that “the house showed that it had been ransacked” so that “there were circumstances indicating foul play but nothing was ever done about the matter” (Roswell Daily Record, 2/5/1931). To complicate matters, the final decision over the will also was subject to agreements between France and the US because Jean Falxa was a French citizen when he made the 1899 will, but he had been a US citizen since 1905 and was still so when he died.

The long process was not yet over. In May 1932, the Probate Court of Chaves Co., NM ran advertisements inserted by the administrator Pete Louissena, who had asked to terminate his duties and deliver the estate to the family. In the May 1932 advertisements the county requested the attendance of any person having any alternative claim on the decision on or before July 5 that same year. This date would appear to have passed without any such counter claim being presented.

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.

Our newest edition to the CBS: Time to pass the torch

For the last year and a half, I have been the “newbie” PhD student at the Center for Basque Studies. Well, the time has come to pass the torch along, to someone who has lived in the Basque Country for quite a while. On behalf of the Center for Basque Studies, I would like to welcome our newest edition, Edurne Arostegui. In her own words:

“After six years living abroad in the Basque Country, I will return to the United States at the beginning of August. My plan is to spend the first couple of weeks planning my move to Reno while spending time with my parents in my home town, St. Helena, CA. I was very lucky to have received a travel stipend last year to spend a month at UNR, where I not only researched but got to know the professors, students, and staff. The library was truly wonderful, with everything you could imagine at hand. This experience encouraged me to apply for the PhD assistantship in order to focus on my studies.

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I’m currently a PhD student at the University of the Basque Country but must work full-time, making it difficult for me to dedicate myself to my dissertation. After writing my master’s thesis on Basque stereotypes in Western literature, particularly the novels of Harry Sinclair Drago, I realized that I wanted to expand on the topic by broadening my scope to the creation of Basque-American identity. My research aims to understand how Basques were perceived by American communities in the West and the stereotypes and imagery associated with them. Once Basque-American identity was established, these same stereotypes were transformed to create positive markers of identity as well as providing a sense of belonging. Overall, my research will trace the experience of Basque migrants to the United States and the creation of an identity that differs from that of the homeland while maintaining links to its past.”

Congratulations, Edurne!  We can’t wait to have you in Reno!

 

Tales from Basques in the United States: If you ever needed reminding that Basques had a reputation for working hard…

Today’s story in our series of tales from Basques in the United States is adapted from vol. 1 and concerns the amazing feat of record-breaking Antonio Malasechevarria, brother of the more tragic “Txomin” covered in a previous post.

Jan eta lo, potolo (“The Devil makes work for idle hands,” literally: “Just eating and sleeping makes you fat”)

 Lan onak, uzta ona (“Good work, good harvest”)

Gus Bundy.

Long, lonely days on remote mountains were the norm for newly arrived Basque sheepherders. Photo courtesy of Gus Bundy, from the Basque Archive.

Born Apr. 22, 1890 in Gizaburuaga, Bizkaia, he arrived in New York City in 1910 and went straight to Winnemucca, NV, to meet up with his brother, Juan, who was working in Paradise Valley. He became a sheepherder and, after stints in Humboldt Co., NV, he ended up working for Jay H. Dobbins in southern Idaho and Oregon. In 1918 the media reported that he had broken a record that was difficult to match: He had worked a straight 38 months and 5 days or 3 years, 2 months, and 5 days, without taking a single day off! What’s more, he didn’t receive a single penny for any of this mammoth work shift until it was over, and he went into a town only when passing through. In the end, he received a check for $2,018. Antonio was one of the five “Bascos” contracted by Dobbins in the spring of 1915. Another compatriot, José Arriaga, had also worked 2 years straight without rest (Oregonian, Jul. 7, 1918).

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.

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