Tag: American History (page 1 of 3)

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/

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: The importance of Basque women in the world of boardinghouses

Although the sheepherder is often regarded as the iconic personification of Basque immigrants in the West, it is worth remembering that the Basque boardinghouse–perhaps the quintessential institution serving as the foundation of Basque social networks–would have been nothing without the many women who made the long trip across the Atlantic, sometimes (as we can see below) at a very young age, to work in this key institution and set an example of what hard work, effort, and dedication really meant. As Monique Laxalt recalls of her own grandmother, who ran a Basque boardinghouse in Carson City, NV, in the wonderfully evocative The Deep Blue Memory: “for eighteen hours a day, she cooked, cleaned, and washed.”

Today, then, in our continuing series of stories from Basques in the United States, this time adapted from volume 1, we celebrate two Basque women who forged new lives for themselves in the US by starting out in the tough, and sometimes uncompromising, world of the Basque boardinghouse.

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Anastasia Arriandiaga Gamecho Arteaga.

Anastasia “Ana” Arriandiaga Gamecho Arteaga was born in 1892 in Elantxobe, Bizkaia. She arrived in New York in 1907 and went to Boise where her sister Escolastica (b. ca 1890) lived. Ana was 14 when her parents sent her to Boise to serve as a maid in Benito Arego’s boardinghouse. They had reached an agreement with Arego (b. 1872), who was also from Elantxobe, whereby she would be paid $5 a month to meet the expenses of the trip ($150) that he had covered. The working conditions were harsh and furthermore, as Ana told her sister, she was treated badly. As a result, the girl’s brother-in-law, José or “Joe” Alastra (b. 1871, and who owned the Howell Spring Valley Ranch), met with Arego to try and reach an agreement that would allow Ana to quit the job, but Arego refused and the case ended up in court. The young woman feared that such a scandal would harm her parents, but in the end the court ruled that she should be allowed to leave her work, after the amount owed Arego was paid in full (Idaho Statesman, Nov. 1908). On Dec. 24, 1909 she married Marcelino Aldecoa (born in Natxitua, Ea, Biz. in 1886) in Boise, and they had 5 children: Luis, Fermín, Domingo, Alfonso, and Carmen who were all born in Boise.

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Luciana Celestina Aboitiz Goitia (Lucy Garatea).

Our second story concerns Luciana Celestina “Lucy” Aboitiz Goitia. Born in Lekeitio, Bizkaia, in 1905, she arrived in New York in 1920 and traveled with an uncle, Ignacio Barandica (b. 1892 in Muxika, Biz.), and a cousin, Visitación Arriaga, to Boise, ID. Their reference was another uncle, Francisco Aguirre “Zapatero” (b. 1878 in Segura, Gipuzkoa), who was married to Gabina Goitia (b. 1890, in Lekeitio), her mother’s sister, who managed the Star Hotel in Boise. For a while she worked in her uncle and aunt’s hotel as a maid. She did everything: cleaning, laundry, ironing, as well as taking care of her little cousins. Her work paid for her room and board and the passage.

This was part of a deeply rooted practice in the Basque Country, the so-called morroiak (live-in menial workers). Large families saved themselves having to feed their sons and daughters by sending them to the homes of relatives or neighbors, through the custom of tripa truke (food for work). And this practice was transferred to the US. Sometimes, the sheepherders who lodged in the boardinghouse also asked her to wash and take care of their clothes while they were in the mountains with the sheep. That was the only money earned that she was able to keep for herself. She had only 2 free hours a week, on Sundays. That’s when she would get together with Felisa Gamecho Achabal. Young Basque men invited her to the movies, to dinner at some Chinese restaurant, or to dance at the Anduiza Boardinghouse.

In Feb. 1922, Felisa and Lucy, along with Julia Lizundia (from Mendata, Biz., who later married Cipriano Barroetabeña, b. 1899, from Markina-Xemein, Biz.) and Maria Uberuaga (b. 1883, Lekeitio) participated in a festival organized by the Americanization School of Boise. They danced the jota and the porrulsalda accompanied by Julián Ecenarro (b. 1897, in Abadiño, Biz.) on guitar and Miss Lizundia on the pandero or Basque tambourine (Idaho Statesman, Feb. 19, 1922). One day, one of the young men, Esteban Garatea (b. 1895) from Nabarniz, invited her to the movies and Lucy no longer wanted to date anyone else.

They married Feb. 3, 1923, and for their honeymoon, they went to Nampa, ID in a taxi cab, spending the night at the famous Dewey Hotel. Esteban bought Lucy her wedding gown, shoes, and, what’s more, he had to pay her uncle the expenses of her trip and her room and board for the last 2 and a half years … as if Luciana had done no work! Ultimately, this sort of “buy-out clause” came to an end at some point by ruling of the state courts. The newlyweds settled down in Barber, CA, where Esteban had a job in a sawmill. They had 4 children, and life was good to them. In Aug. 1935, along with other families, they moved to Emmett, ID., but in Nov. that same year Esteban died from a work-related accident.

In 1940, together with Cipri Barroetabeña and Julia Lizundia (with whom she maintained an old friendship), Jon Bilbao (b. 1914, Cayey, Puerto Rico), the subdelegate of the Basque government-in-exile in Idaho and future co-founder of the Basque Studies Program at UNR, and José Villanueva (b. 1895, Greater Bilbao) and his wife María Teresa López (b. 1905, also from Lekeitio), formed the first group of Basque dancers in Idaho, in Emmett. Lucy had danced with the Lekeitio batzoki dance group in her youth and she was a good dantzari (dancer) as she showed whenever she had an opportunity. She lived in Emmett until 1948, when she moved to Burns, OR, after she bought the Plaza Hotel. She ran this ostatu (boardinghouse) there for 17 years, when she sold it to Bernardo and Maite Andueza in 1965 and returned to Boise. In Aug. 2009, she went to live in a residence. In 2010 she was a centenarian, thus becoming the amuma (grandmother) of Idaho. She died Nov. 15 of that year.

If you’re interested in these stories and you haven’t already done so, check out Jeri Echeverria’s delightful Home Away from Home: A History of Basque Boardinghouses. See, too, Robert Laxalt’s classic The Basque Hotel.

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.

 

Gregorio Salegui, the St. Francis ice-cream maker

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The St. Francis Hotel kitchen. Gregorio is the second from the left.

We have had an amazing response to our series of stories from the 2-volume work, Basques in the United States, with principal research by Koldo San Sebastián, and with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more. We’d like to thank everyone who’s gotten in touch with us and remind anyone out there with a story to tell from their own family history to visit the special site we’ve set up (details below at the end of the post).

This week, just to show you that there are many, many more such stories to tell, we’re delighted to introduce a guest post, written by Koldo San Sebastián himself, featuring a someone who didn’t make it into the first edition of this monumental work, but will certainly feature in future editions. So many thanks to Koldo for sharing this with us, and let this be an inspiration to those of you out there with your own family stories to tell!

St Francis

The emblematic St. Francis Hotel on Union Square, San Francisco. Opened in 1904, it immediately gained a reputation as one of the most fashionable places to stay in the city.

The St. Francis on Union Square in San Francisco is one of the most famous hotels in the world, because of both its history and its guests, and, of course, its cuisine.  Its guests once included the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Cecil B. DeMille, Sinclair Lewis, and Isadora Duncan, as well as US presidents who stayed there while visiting the city. The St. Francis gained a global reputation for its cuisine thanks to its legendary French chef, Victor Hirtzler, whose extravagant recipes were published in The Hotel St. Francis Cookbook (1919). The deserts and ice creams on the St. Francis menu were equally famous and included fruit salad in iced water as well as nectarine, peach, banana, pineapple, vanilla, and coffee ice cream, together with “fancy ice cream,” “orange souffle glace,” “biscuit glace,” and many more. And into this world of opulence and ice cream, in which he left an important mark, came a burly carpenter from Deba, Gipuzkoa, Gregorio Salegui, after a long odyssey full of contrasts.

Gregorio was born in Itziar on February 14, 1889. He was the fifth of the six children of Francisco Salegui and Francisca Urain, both from Itziar. Another two sisters had died shortly after being born. As custom dictated, he was expected to help out at home and, while still a child, he was sent to nearby Mendaro to study carpentry. However, he didn’t take to the trade and, on the point of being called up for the Spanish military draft, he decided–like many other Basques–to “head for the Americas and make his fortune.”

As a matter of fact, Gregorio Salegui’s American adventure began in an ice-cream parlor in Manhattan, having arrived in New York in 1909. He had crossed the Atlantic with José Uruazabal and his family. Uruazabal was from Usurbil, Gipuzkoa, and owned a fruit shop on 7th Avenue. Gregorio moved in for a while into the Uruazabal home, lodging there with a number of cooks, waiters, and other hotel employees in the neighborhood. One of these was the landlord’s brother, Frank Uruazabal, who was an ice-cream maker, and Gregorio soon found employment as a waiter in the ice cream parlor where Frank worked.

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The river steamer and its crew.

In the meantime, his sister Concepción, who was married to a friend of his from Mendaro, Eufemio Lizarzaburu, had arrived in the US. Eufemio worked aboard a river steamer on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, known for possessing the greatest flow of any North American river draining into the Pacific. And in 1911, Gregorio left his job in the ice-cream parlor to head west and settled in Portland, Oregon, with his family there. Through his brother-in-law he got a job aboard the Beaver, a ship owned by the Clatskanie Transportation Company. And thereafter he worked as a deckhand, kitchen assistant, and cook for five years, before trying his luck in California.

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The lively Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica.

In 1917 he was working at the celebrated Symmes Café in Ocean Park, Santa Monica, CA, which, what’s more, also included a renowned ice-cream parlor. There at the Symmes he improved his ice-cream making skills, but this was interrupted when he was called up to serve the US during World War I.

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Gregorio in uniform, 1918.

In 1918 he joined the 2nd Light Infantry Regiment as a cook, although a few months later he was discharged on medical grounds. While in boot camp he began the naturalization procedure to become a US citizen.

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Gregorio in later life.

In 1920, having married Berta Clark from Kansas, he was working as a cook in San Diego. He was later employed as a cook at the Clifford Hotel before getting a job in the kitchen at the St. Francis. In 1928, he married again, this time to French-born Marie Therése Mesplou with whom he had three children: Jean François, Eugene, and Genevieve. He died in San Francisco on March 31, 1957.

We intend for this work 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: The Basque Scammer

Today in our series of stories from Basques in the United States, adapted from volume 1, we meet Esteban “Steve” Astigarraga, the Basque scammer; “a fellow,” as Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe notes in his translator’s introduction to the same volume, who “had the police busy from the Mexican border to Canada.”

Basques in the US vol 1

Astigarraga was born in Abadiño, Bizkaia, on Aug. 3, 1886, and arrived in New York City on Nov. 1, 1909. He went initially to Rock Springs, CA, and in 1920 was working as a sheepherder in Price, Carbon Co., UT. By 1930, however, he was living in  Domingo Muguira’s ostatu (hotel) on Aliso Street, Los Angeles: a remnant of the city’s once thriving “Basque town” at the intersection of Alameda and Aliso Streets (once a major route into and out of downtown LA, Aliso Street morphed into the 101 Freeway in the 1950s; see some old pictures of this historic LA district and a report on its Basque community here). Interestingly, at this time “Steve” still appears to have been working as a sheepherder, while resident in LA, and soon after, some time in the early 30s, he married an Italian named Lucille.

In Dec. 1936 the California press reported on a mysterious 50-year-old “Basque-Italian” who had been arrested in Colusa and who police suspected to be a clever forger. During the arrest, the authorities found  “equipment of a peculiar nature” in his De Soto sedan, namely the necessary equipment for counterfeiting. The “thing” must have been important because leading experts in the field, both the state police and the FBI, arrived quickly on the scene (Woodland Daily Democrat, Dec. 12, 1936). And when the LA County Sheriff’s Office learned that the Basque had been detained in Colusa, he asked that Steve not be released until the sheriff arrived.

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A 500 dollar bill (1928 & 1934 series). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Under the headline “Man Held in Extortion Plot,”  the Colusa correspondent for the Woodland Daily Democrat reported that Astigarraga was suspected of a “clever impersonation and extortion scheme” by which, “posing as a Federal officer … he is said to have preyed upon fellow Basque sheepherders and illiterate Italians, some of whom he threatened with death if they did not give him liberally of their earnings,” with a trail of victims from the border of Mexico to Canada. Police officers remarked on his unique extortion method: “he tells victims he can make them rich. He gives them a crisp new $20 bill, saying that any bank will cash it. The victim is so surprised when the bank accepts the bill, that he becomes interested in Astigarraga’s scheme and parts with his money when Astigarraga displays his money-making equipment, saying ‘there is more where that came from’.” Then he would show them the counterfeiting machine (which, apparently, he never actually used) and asked them to hand over a large sum so that he could manufacture and then deliver them a huge amount of bills. Police officers found a 50-page notebook in his possession filled with the names and addresses of who they suspected to be his victims (Woodland Daily Democrat, Dec. 15, 1936).

Then his victims began to show up. In the book there were more than 375 names, mostly Basques and other foreigners who worked throughout the West, but primarily in Fresno Co. One of the first to show up was Pedro “Pete” Recondo, a Dixon, CA sheepherder whom Astigarraga had bilked for $5,000 (his entire life savings deposited in a San Francisco bank) in 1935. Recondo hadn’t reported Astigarraga at the time, it seems, because that would have implicated him as well in the (non-existent) money-making scam. Ultimately, though, the FBI had to withdraw from the case because they had found no counterfeit money in Astigarraga’s possession. What’s more, because Astigarraga did not speak English, or even Spanish, very well, and continued maintaining his innocence, the police had to wait for an interpreter from Fresno who spoke Basque. Meanwhile, the LA police gave way to their Fresno colleagues because that was where the scammer’s activities were mostly concentrated (Woodland Daily Democrat, Dec. 16, 1936). Fresno officers then arrived with a Basque interpreter (a hotel owner) and another of the victims, a Polish sheepherder who had lost his $1,300 bonus money. The Pole could not identify Astigarraga, but he did recognize the machine! (Woodland Daily Democrat, Dec. 17, 1936).

Eventually, on the instructions of the FBI, Astigarraga was returned to LA (where he lived with his wife Lucille) to be delivered to the City Police, who were the first to claim him. We know little of what happened thereafter but he died in LA on Jul. 2, 1962.

From the Backlist: Hollywood and I and Mad City

In a literary world that tends to define Basque literature very much by place–most Basque authors come from the Basque Country, live and work there, and typically center their stories on events in that particular corner of the world–Javi Cillero stands out as a completely distinct voice. His own personal experience of detachment, displacement even, from the Basque Country, and especially that of living for many years in the United States, infuses his work to such an extent that it might almost be more accurate to describe him as an American author; or at least as a keen and informed observer of popular American culture, an outsider whose external gaze tells us a great deal about life on the inside.

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In Hollywood and I and Mad City, two works first first published in Basque and collected here in one volume, we are treated to a sharp, quirky, and eclectic blend of short stories that ooze with Americana and emblematic sites of memory in the American West: from Alcatraz and Chinatown to Virginia City, Pyramid Lake, and the Nevada desert. This is a world of dive bars and Mack trucks, casino lights, bank robbers, private detectives, and mobsters; but also of Basque and Native Americans, sheepherders and cowboys, and even college professors and students.

Check out the following excerpt from the book:

The Silver Legacy hotel-casino tower stood tall and proud in the middle of downtown Reno. There was a giant dome on the back of the building, something like a space station. Inside there was a fake starry sky, and under the sky there was a large mine wheel. Hundreds of lasers started twinkling in that sky, accompanied by music by Tchaikovsky.

Near the huge mine wheel there was a wide open area. There were souvenir shops, restaurants open twenty-four hours a day, and slot machines on either side of something like an avenue. And, unexpectedly, the Silver Legacy bar next to a row of slot machines.

As usual, it was full of people. Waiters were going here and there carrying pints of reds, porters, and lagers. The musicians were taking a break, and the people in the bar’s voices easily drowned out the television’s weak sound.

A Czech girl and the Spanish teacher were sitting in one corner. They were silent, each of them looking at their own glasses of beer. The Czech girl poured a little more for the Spanish teacher. He thanked her with a hand gesture.

Here we are, like two Hitchcock characters. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in that old movie Notorious. “Officer Devlin? I’ve got a job for you.” OK, I know, I know: too many movie references for a single night. What can I do about it? Hollywood made me, to paraphrase Graham Greene. Hollywood’s influence is so big in our education that when two friends get together now they could easily be acting out a scene from a movie. We don’t mean to. It’s our only reference. In fact, it’s wiped out family, school, and church references. Young people only pay attention to the images and roles they adopt from screens. And people who aren’t so young, too. It’s impossible to count all the men who wander around like poor wretches from Woody Allen movies without knowing what they’re doing.

The Spanish teacher had gold-framed glasses. They slipped down his nose as he spoke. He had to put them back in their place with his index finger time and again. The Czech girl took that gesture to be an invitation to say something.

“Thanks for helping me present my project. I didn’t think the university press was going to be so interested in heterodox Basque women.”

“We work with all types of subjects. In fact, we’re about to bring out a book by a Japanese writer about Ozu’s movies. It would be good for you to publish the book in Reno. When it comes down to it, the States is the only place where work like that is done. The editor’s told me the book looks very good; it’s very appropriate. And here I am, ready to lend a hand. You know, Officer Devlin’s hand . . . Hey, why don’t you stay a few more days? You’ll be able to make good use of your stay if you come to the Basque Library.”

A big man who’d come to listen to a country group came up to them to take a chair. He picked it up by its wooden back with confidence, master in his own land. The Spanish teacher looked at him with contempt when he turned away.

“And I’ll show you around. Lake Tahoe, for instance. It’s where they shot The Godfather. You know, Al Pacino: ‘My father taught me a lot of things in this room. He taught me to keep my friends close and my enemies even closer.’ I’ve got my Toyota here in the casino lot.”

“Do you have classes tomorrow?”

“I only teach Spanish classes once a week. Hefty nineteenth-century novels, Galdós and Clarín. I spend most of my time in the casinos. I’m putting together a book about Old West mythology. I don’t think America’s final frontier is the Pacific; it’s the Nevada casinos. It’s here that men and slot machines come face to face. Like in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral . . .”

Anyone interested in contemporary urban Western storytelling, with particular reference to Reno, Northern Nevada, and California, will enjoy this book. This is classic Americana with a Basque twist!

Shop for the book here.

Tales from Basques in the United States: Basques, Bets, Ball, and a Few Cadillacs, Life in the Fast Lane with Jean “John” Etchebarren

Today’s story in our ongoing series of tales from Basques in the United Statesadapted from volume 2, revolves around the charismatic figure of Jean “John” Etchebarren. Interestingly, he got involved in just about all the activities we would associate Basques with historically in the Western United States: the sheep and hotel industries, some retail interests, banking and insurance, and even gaming. To cap it all, as a young man he was even a champion handball player and a major figure in the lively gambling world that surrounded the sport. So saddle up and welcome to the story of one of the great go-getting Basque-American entrepreneurs and adventurers!

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Jean “John” Etchebarren

Born Mar. 12, 1880 in Baigorri, Lower Navarre, he arrived in New York City on May 3, 1898 and went initially to San Jose, California. Soon after, he moved to Nevada where he worked as a sheepherder. He later opened a hotel in the mining town of Golconda, Humboldt Co. and in Feb. 1910, after selling his hotel there, he took ownership of the Commercial Hotel in Reno. A year later, in partnership with Jack Marymont, he opened a clothing store on Center St., Reno. And in 1915 he rebuilt the largest hotel in town to add a new dining room and bedrooms (Reno Evening Gazette, Jun. 16, 1915).

Etchebarren expanded his business and by 1917 was president of the Stockgrowers & Ranchers Bank of Reno. One of its vice presidents, Martin Pradera, was also a Basque sheepman. A year later, he was president of an insurance company, the Nevada State Life Insurance Co., based in Reno (which he ran until 1924). By 1918 Etchebarren was also an important sheepman in Reno, and a prominent member of the Nevada Woolgrowers’ Association, in which he held various positions. In 1931, in partnership with Felix Turrillas, he rented the Laughton’s in Hot Springs, south of Reno, requesting a gaming license and becoming one of the first hotel casinos in the city (Nevada legalized gaming on Mar. 19, 1931).

 

Laughton Hot Springs

Laughton Hot Springs on the Victory Highway, US 40, 5 miles west of Reno, ca. 1933. From the Special Collections Department, University of Nevada, Reno Library.

Throughout his life, in whatever free time he could muster, he also distinguished himself as an excellent sportsman, especially as a handball player, shooter, and bowler. He also loved cars to the point that Sol Silen used to say that Etchebarren sold his Cadillac every year to buy the latest model. His love of cars (and speed) brought him some trouble with the law for exceeding speed limits, and for the same reason, he suffered several serious accidents as well.

(Enmarcado en negro).

Pilota or Basque handball in the Old Country. From the Jon Bilbao Basque Library archive.

Back in 1907, on the occasion of the opening of the Saval Hotel in Elko, Nevada, Gabino “Guy” Saval (Ispaster, Bizkaia, 1883 – Lovelock, NV, 1940) and Michael Saval organized a pilota (handball) game between Andrés “Andrew” Ripa, champion of California and an employee of the Commercial Hotel in Reno (which Etchebarren would later own), and Etchebarren (then still living in Golconda), the champion of Nevada. The winner would receive $1,000. George Etchart (born in Ospitalepea, Zuberoa), the owner of the Commercial Hotel and Ripa’s boss, reputedly wagered up to $5,000 on the “Californian” winning, but even so, the betting generally went 5-1 in favor of the guy from Baigorri (Nevada State Journal, Nov. 11, 1907).

The game was played to 50 points and Etchebarren gradually proved his superiority in the serve. Still, until the 43rd point, the game was very even but in the end Etchebarren won. That event brought Basques to Elko from Nevada, California, Idaho, and Utah, and was followed by a “grand ball and supper.” According to the local media, a lot of money changed hands that day and “an immense crowd was in attendance” (Nevada State Journal, Nov. 16, 1907). This was not, however, Etchebarren’s only major game. In 1915, another game was played, this time doubles, with Etchebarren partnering John Jauregui against the two best pilotariak (handball players) from San Francisco.

He married Demetria Arburua (b. Etxalar, Nafarroa, ca. 1886), who came to the US in 1905, and they had two sons: John (1908) and Peter (1909).

We intend for this work 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: Two Lessons Learned in the New World

Today in our survey of stories adapted from Basques in the United States, we look at a couple of invaluable lessons learned by Basques newly arrived in the US.

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Gold prospector. Pen and ink illustration by Tony Oliver, Denver, CO, based on original photograph. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

First of all, there’s the story of (Juan) Pablo Aramburu, born July 23, 1902 in Aulesti, Bizkaia, who arrived in the US in 1920. He worked as a sheepherder in Emmett, Idaho for Andy Little. One day while keeping watch on his herd near Idaho City, he saw a group of people prospecting on his boss’s property. He informed Old Little; “There are some men prospecting on your land; you want me to kick them out?” The boss calmed him: “When they find something, then we kick them out!”

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Eusebio Asla

Nest up is the tale of Eusebio Asla, born on Feb. 26, 1928 in Arrieta, Bizkaia. After an eventful early life, which included a stint in the Spanish navy (during which time he once served General Dwight D. Eisenhower dinner), he came to the US in 1952 to visit his uncle Doroteo and brother Jess, who lived in Mountain Home, Idaho. He traveled by ship to New Orleans and rode a Greyhound Bus with a little piece of paper indicating his destination, Mountain Home. He loved telling the story of his arrival at Mountain Home bus station, where he hailed a cab to take him to the Basque boardinghouse in town. After loading his suitcase and getting into the car, the cab driver did a u-turn in the road, stopped abruptly on the other side of the street, and announced “we’re here.” The $5 charge to cross the street was a “welcome to the US” moment!

We intend for this work 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: Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, the Woman Sheepherder

Welcome to another post about the (sometimes extraordinary) lives of ordinary Basques who came to the United States in search of a new and hopefully better life. These are all stories adapted from our 2-volume work, Basques in the United States, with principal research by Koldo San Sebastián, and with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more.

Today we’re going to recall the remarkable life of Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, who we honor as a pioneering woman sheepherder (adapted from vol. 1 of Basques in the United States).

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Juanita Mendiola Gabiola. A true pioneer.

Born Jun. 24 1901 on the Ziortza-Beitze baserri (farmstead) in Ziortza-Bolibar, Bizkaia, as a child Juanita Mendiola Gabiola went to live on the Karrietorre baserri in Markina. She married Cipriano Barrutia (b. 1891) of the Patrokua baserri in Xemein, Bizkaia–who had first emigrated to the US in 1911–in 1921 and that same year they traveled across the Atlantic to start their new life together. They arrived in Mountain Home, Idaho and she worked alongside her husband, for the Gandiaga Sheep Company, in the desert and the mountains herding sheep and cooking. Although the majority of sheepherders’ wives stayed in town while their menfolk were up in the mountains, Juanita wanted to accompany her partner and husband. Her first month in Idaho she spent on horseback, trailing sheep, and spending nights in a sleeping bag under the stars. Her first home was a sheepherder’s tent, and this lifestyle lasted six years. Indeed, the couple’s successful partnership meant that in 1927 Cipriano was able to launch his own business, the Yuba Sheep Company.

Gus Bundy.

Women were no strangers to life in the sheep camps. Photo by Gus Bundy. Photo from Jon Bilbao Basque Library Archive.

Juanita adjusted well to the new and very different lifestyle in the desert, where she gave birth to their 5 children (although 2 died at birth). Ralph was born in 1929, John in 1931, and Richard or “Dick” in 1935. When the 3 children came of school age, they rented a house in Mountain Home and she stayed in town with them. The couple established a ranch, where they spent summers and a lot of the year with the sheep, and Juanita acquired US citizenship in 1938. When it came to life outside work, she used to visit the Bengoechea Hotel in Mountain Home to socialize with other Basque women. Cipriano died in 1966 and Juanita continued on, active as always, and competing in several contests for seniors. At age 92 she participated in the Third Age Olympic Games in Boise, Idaho and won several races. In 2001 she was still living alone on her ranch, caring for animals, and was very interested in politics and the Church. She died a centenarian on Oct. 1, 2001.

We intend for this work 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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