Tag: American History (page 2 of 3)

Tales from Basques in the United States: Basque Logic

Today in our look at the sketches of individual Basque lives portrayed in the mammoth 2-volume work, Basques in the United States, we take a lighthearted look at Basque logic, as expressed in the following two charming anecdotes adapted from volume 1:


The machines of Basque sheepherding. From the Jon Bilbao Basque Library archive.

The first of these is about Simón Cruz Nachiondo Achaval, born July 16, 1882, in Ispaster, Bizkaia. He arrived in New York City on Feb. 26, 1899. and went to Boise. His reference was Domingo Bengoa in Rye Patch, Nevada. In 1918 he was an independent herder in Moore, Idaho. In 1927, while in Boise, our man was involved in an accident: he was kicked by a horse. Not missing a beat, he went to the insurance company to claim compensation. The answers provided to the insurance agent by our man were deemed worthy of publication in the local press, which assured that “accidents can happen even to the most careful person.” These were the technical explanations: Q: What machine were you working with when you were injured? A: With a horse. Q: What is the power of this machine? A: One horse. Q: Please, describe the nature of the injury. A: I worked behind the said machine when it decided to extend its hind leg toward me in the horizontal direction. (Ogden Standard-Examiner, Nov. 10, 1927; Oregonian, Nov. 13, 1927).



Orange County Sheriff’s deputies dumping illegal alcohol, 1932. Orange County Archives. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The second story concerns Peter Astuy, born in Bermeo, Bizkaia, on Oct. 7, 1902. While he was managing a lounge in Monterey, California in 1932, he was prosecuted for selling liquor to Prohibition agents. However, he claimed that the agents did not pay him, therefore he was freed with no charge! (San Diego Evening Tribune, 1932-03-05).

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: How Basques saved the Paiute cutthroat trout

We continue today with our occasional series on the sometimes offbeat or downright quirky stories in 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.

Basques in the US vol 2

From the Wikipedia description here, the Paiute cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki seleniris) is one of fourteen subspecies of cutthroat trout native only to Silver King Creek, a headwater tributary of the Carson River in the Sierra Nevada, in California. This subspecies is named after the indigenous Northern Paiute peoples. Today, Paiute cutthroat trout are endemic to and protected within the Carson Ranger District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, but they would have disappeared altogether were it not for Basques! Here, then, is theis amazing story adapted from the biography (abridged from the original entry in Basques in the United States, volume 2) of Jose “Joe” Jaunsaras:

He was born in Irurita, in the Baztan Valley of Nafarroa, on Oct. 7, 1893 and emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City on Mar. 21, 1912. He went to Reno to join his brother Martin. In 1920 he was herding sheep in the Smith Valley, Lyon Co., Nevada. In 1930, he was a sheepherder in Simpson. From ca. 1917–22 he also worked for W. S. Conwell of Coleville in the Carson Iceberg area of California, where he and another herder, Jose “Joe” Azcarraga (b. Lekaroz, also in the Baztan Valley of Nafarroa, 1891) are credited for saving the pure strain of the Paiute trout.

It happened near Llewellyn Falls, where a severe downpour had disrupted the creek bed, leaving a bunch of fish dying in a small pool of water. The two Basque herders took a number of them in a bucket and transplanted them higher up in the creek where there was enough water. The trout mixed with other species in the creek. Only the ones transported in the bucket by the two herders proved to be the pure strain. Today, there is a wooden sign by a trail in the Toiyabe National Forest that tells the story of the Paiute Trout. One day California Fish & Game officials paid Jaunsaras a visit. They wanted to fly him back to where the Basques were herding sheep to show them exactly the place where they saved the trout, but when Joe saw the helicopter, he thought it was a big mosquito, and refused to get in!

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 Tragic Case of Txomin Malasechevarria

We at the Center are really proud to have published 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. We intend for this 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. Welcome, then, to an occasional series on some of those lives, with a special focus on more striking or offbeat stories.

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.

Basques in the US vol 1

While we rightly seek to celebrate the success stories, it’s also worth recalling (at least from time to time) the less pleasant or unfortunate side of some of these individual tales, if only to emphasize just how hard it was for some folks to get ahead in their new lives. Here, then, is the tragic biography (abridged from the original entry in Basques in the United States, volume 1) of Domingo “Txomin” Malasechevarria:

At precisely 6 am on Nov. 13, 1952, the doors of the new gas chamber in the State Prison near Carson City, NV, were closed. Inside, tied to a chair was a 58-year-old Basque sheepherder, Domingo Malasechevarria (his last name had been changed to Echeverria). At 6:08 am gas fumes spread throughout the chamber and the culprit passed out immediately. At 6:20 am Doctor Richard Petty pronounced him dead.

Domingo Malasechevarria Yturraran was born on the “Erreka” baserri in Gizaburuaga, Bizkaia, on May 12, 1892, one of 7 brothers and sisters. Following a well-established tradition in the village, Domingo arrived in New York City on Mar. 7, 1912. He was 19 years old. With him traveled a large group of Basques (from Berriatua, Lekeitio, Deba, Amoroto, Markina, and also from Gizaburuaga). Domingo headed for Paradise Valley in Humboldt Co., NV, where two of his brothers, Antonio and José Mari, lived. In 1917 he worked as a sheepherder for Alfonso Pascuale, a major local stockman. According to his draft file he had no objections to being drafted into the US armed forces, and in 1930, according to the US Census, he continued living in Paradise Valley. During those years he also herded sheep in Douglas Co., NV. But things were not going well. His brothers had returned home, and had settled down more or less, while he was fighting loneliness in the Nevada desert. Domingo’s disposition was turning sour. He had become antisocial and a loner.

His ruin began at the famous Martin Hotel in Winnemucca in northern Nevada. One afternoon in Jul. 1947 he got into an argument with another Basque, Claudio Yturriaga. In a fit of madness, Domingo struck his countryman on the head with a garden hose. Later he told the police that he had hit his companion because “he had not passed him the bread.” Malasechevarria was at the time 52 years old and was by all accounts very strong. Yturriaga, meanwhile, born in Ereño, Bizkaia, was 63. He had to be taken to the Humboldt General Hospital and later moved to San Francisco for further specialized treatment. As a consequence of his injuries he ultimately had to give up his job with the Western Pacific Railroad (he had been a sheepherder before). He died of a heart attack a few years later on Nov. 6, 1956 and is buried in Winnemucca. Malasechevarria, meanwhile, was found guilty of assault and condemned to two years in prison. Further, he had to compensate Yturriaga with $5,000 plus he had to pay court costs.

Before his provisional release from jail two years later, he underwent psychiatric evaluation at the Nevada Mental Hospital in Sparks (Reno Evening Gazette, Oct. 10, 1947). Totally broke and with a reputation for violence, none of the stockmen wanted to hire him. Soon he had become a vagrant that wandered around Humboldt Co., living off charity and scrounging handouts from fellow Basques. In Sep. 1951 he was interned in the poor and destitute section of Humboldt Co. General Hospital.

That same month, on Sunday, Sep. 23, he locked himself in the bathroom and refused to come out. In turn, an orderly had the door opened but in doing so, Domingo struck him on the wrist with piece of piping that he had manged to unscrew from the plumbing, and ran away down the hallway. Still running, he entered one of the rooms hitting a patient (Tony Robinson) three or four times. At that moment nurse Elizabeth Catlett showed up and he struck her twice, killing her instantly. Doctor Hartoch, the superintendent of the hospital was the first to arrive on the crime scene. When he arrived Mrs. Catlett and Mr. Robinson were on the floor surrounded by a pool of blood.

Malasechevarria was with them, crouching like an animal. He was looking down at the floor with the bloody iron bar in his hands. He tried to attack the doctor, who defended himself with a chair. Finally, Doctor Hartoch, Peter Pedroli, a businessman from Winnemucca, and Phil Erringer, a hospital nurse, succeeded in restraining him. Police said that the Basque calmed down when he was locked up in a cell, acting as if nothing had happened (Nevada State Journal, Sep. 25, 1951).


Domingo “Txomin” Malasechevarria

On Sep. 25 District Attorney Callahan formally charged Domingo Malasechevarria with the murder of Elisabeth Catlett, 59 years old, and of Thomas Robinson, 86 years old. In the official document of the charges the DA emphasized that during the crime, Echeverria, “a man of great strength, was not mad (criminally insane).” During the preliminary hearing of Oct. 1, the sheepherder explained to the judge the reasons for his behavior: “That morning I was laying in bed when Mrs. Catlet came in and closed the window. I got up and opened it. She returned and closed it. I told her that she had better not close my window again. Later Mrs. Catlett came with her husband [the orderly] to yell at me while I was in the bathroom.” The judge asked him if he had anything else to add. “They didn’t used to give me enough laxatives. They only gave it me once a week. If I asked for more and they used to scold me. I couldn’t sleep and they refused to give me sleeping pills. I asked the doctor four times for sleeping pills and the doctor told Mrs. Catlett to give me a pill to sleep. That night she gave me a sleeping pill that was not a sleeping pill. They didn’t give me a laxative or any medicine for my stomach. They were always after me, attacking me.” On Oct. 17 the Basque sheepherder appeared before the district judge Mervin Brown and he pleaded not guilty. The judge assigned him the lawyer Donald Leighton as the public defender. Domingo was charged only with the murder of Nurse Catlett, and the trial date was set for Nov. 5 (Nevada State Journal, Oct. 18, 1951).

From the very beginning Nieves Dufurrena was the Basque-English translator. She was a native Nevadan, married to a Basque, and her parents were from Ea, Bizkaia (her maiden names were Legarza Erquiaga). She was a well-known woman in Winnemucca, active in the (Catholic) parish and in many social events. A few years later she became the first secretary of the local Basque Club. Nieves was fluent in the Bizkaian dialect and didn’t have any problem communicating with Domingo. The county sheriff, Derbert Moore, was in charge of selecting the jury. Of the 60 men, 13 were Basque, namely: Peter Albisu Jr (McDermitt), Audrey Etchegoyen, Chas Ugalde, Sylvester Urigüen, Pete Etchart Jr. (Winnemucca), Frank Bidart (Leonard Creek), Peter Lecumberry, Frank P. Garteiz, Pete J. Laca (Winnemucca), Fermín Gavica (Paradise Valley), Domingo Arangüena, Frank Bengoechea, and A. P. Garteiz. The last one selected was Domingo Arangüena Bengoa, a Winnemucca barber. His father was from Munitibar and his mother from Ispaster. Moreover, Fermín Gavica was on stand-by.

After the selection of the jury, the trial began. The prosecutor called the witnesses, the most important being Dr. Hartoch, who explained how he was able to contain the Basque until help arrived. T. Critzer, another patient, said he saw the nurse fall down by his feet. Herb Daniels, a Winnemucca policeman, said that he asked the Basque why he had committed the deed. The answer was: “It doesn’t matter. Better that she is dead.” For his part, the defense lawyer claimed “madness” (Nevada State Journal, Nov. 6, 1951). Finally, on Nov. 10, 1951 the jury found Domingo Malasecheverria guilty of the murder of the nurse and sentenced him to die by gas chamber. The death sentence was handed down by the district judge, Mervin Brown, and the execution was to take place in Carson City’s state prison. He similarly decided to deny the possibility of a repeat trial.

According to one report of the trial, “Echevarria looked more calm during the reading of the sentence than at any other time during his arrest. For the first time he appeared in court without an interpreter, even though earlier he had said that he did not understand English.” After Judge Brown imposed the penalty, the Basque sheepherder turned to Leighton, the public defender, and with something that looked like a smile, told him: “Good, this means the gas chamber.” (Nevada State Journal, Nov. 11, 1951; The Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 11, 1951). Leighton did hid his utmost to save the life of the defendant, submitting a clemency petition before the State Pardons Board, and at the same time an appeal to a higher court, which delayed the execution (Nevada State Journal, Jan. 19, 1952; Ogden Standard-Examiner, Jan. 26, 1952). Both petitions were turned down, setting the definite date of execution for Nov. 26. On the eve of the execution, according to the warden, the Basque rejected all the perks of people condemned to death, such as being able to talk to someone or any special wish. He did not have supper, although he did at all times have the company of two Catholic priests who were there until the last moment (Reno Evening Gazette, Nov. 13, 1952; Nevada State Journal, Nov. 14, 1952).

The execution was witnessed by Warden Art. E. Bernard and Doctor Richard A. Perry, as well as five upstanding citizens of the State of Nevada. One Basque was present, John Etchemendy, who at the time managed the Overland Hotel in Gardnerville. The doctor’s execution report is frightening:
NEVADA STATE PENITENTIARY (Carson City, Nevada, Nov. 13, 1952)
The prisoner enters the chamber: 6:00 AM.
He is tied to the chair: 6:02 AM.
Door is closed: 6:04 AM.
HCH gas hits him in the face: 6:08 AM.
Apparently unconscious: 6:08½ AM.
Definitely unconscious: 6:09 AM.
No longer breathing: 6:11 AM.
Heart stops: 6:20 AM.
Ventilator comes on: 6:25 AM.
Body taken out of the chamber and his death is certified: 6:51 AM.

Malasechevarria was the second oldest person to be executed in Nevada to that date. Warden Bernard declared to the press that “the gas chamber worked perfectly” (Nevada State Journal, Nov. 14, 1952).

Basques in the United States author Koldo San Sebastián also discusses this particular case (click here to read his post, in Spanish). For San Sebastián, the word that most summed up life for Basque sheepherders was solitude. Not for nothing, he notes, is the Basque Sheepherder Monument in Reno, a sculpture by Nestor Basterretxea, titled “Solitude/Bakardade,”  and that very loneliness was perhaps the greatest hurdle to surmount for Basque arrivals in the New World. He continues by quoting from a study of Robert Laxalt’s classic Sweet Promised Land by Gorka Aulestia: “feelings of solitude, melancholy, nostalgia, sadness, and notions of effort, struggle, danger, [and] work run through the book. The solitude of the sheepherder who lived, lost (in some cases going crazy), up in the mountains of Nevada.”

February 8, 1911: Discovery of dead Basque sheepmen leads to the “Last Massacre”

On February 8, 1911, the bodies of three Basque sheepmen, Bertrand “Bert” Indiano,* Jean-Baptiste “John B.” Laxague, and Pierre “Pete” Erramouspe (all of Eagleville, California), alongside that of a fourth man, the Englishman Harry Cambron, were discovered on a creekbed in Little High Rock Canyon, in the far northwest of Washoe County, Nevada, near the border with California.

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The four dead men recovered by the first search party sent out from Eagleville. Photo courtesy of the Basque Library, University of Nevada, Reno (part of the Basque Digital Collection)

A search party had been sent to find the four men, who had originally gone looking for suspected cattle rustlers. Their bodies had been stripped of their clothes and personal effects and their horses taken. As the investigation into their deaths proceeded, certain clues emerged pointing to Native American involvement. A small band of Shoshone, mostly family members led by “Shoshone Mike” (Ondongarte or Mike Daggett), had been seen in the area and suspicion fell on them.  It later emerged that some of the group had indeed been responsible for taking the cattle originally and ambushing the original four investigators, around January 19.


The posse of Captain J.P. Donnelly, in May of 1911, which participated in the Battle of Kelley Creek, Nevada. Photo from Nevada State Police, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

One of several posses raised to find the people responsible, led by Captain J.P. Donnelly, stopped in Little High Rock Canyon on February 13, and continued on another 200 miles where, on February 25, they found Shoshone Mike and his family hiding in an area known as Kelley Creek, northeast of Winnemucca, Nevada. A three-hour battle ensued between the two groups and by the end only four of the original twelve Native American family members were still alive: a sixteen-year-old girl (“Snake”) and three young children, who were taken into police custody. On the other side, one of the posse was also mortally wounded.


Sheriff Charles Ferrell, who was in command of the overall investigation, with the surviving members of the family, May 1911. Photo from Nevada State Police, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Snake later told the police that the group had butchered four cows because they were desperately hungry in the harsh winter conditions of the high desert. Realizing they had been spotted (by Bert Indiano) hauling the carcasses off, they had prepared for a fight, and after killing the original four men sent out to find them, they then fled toward the Duck Valley Reservation, right on the state line between Nevada and Idaho, before Donnelly’s posse caught up with them.

These events subsequently entered into Western Folklore as “the Last Massacre,” “the Last Indian Battle,” or the Battle of Kelley Creek. In Nancy Zubiri’s A Travel Guide to Basque America: Families, Feasts, and Festivals, Cedarville local Pete Ytçaina recalls that, “We knew all of them guys in the posse when I was a kid . . . We used to hear some wild stories about all of that.” In particular, the official version of events have been contested in more than one quarter. Ytçaina continues: “There ain’t no cowboys out there when there’s four feet of snow, and that was the way it was that year.”

See Basque-American author Frank Bergon‘s sympathetic fictionalized account of the events in his wonderfully evocative novel, Shoshone Mike.

*In some texts he is called Dominic Bertrand but in Basques in the United States, volume 2, Iparralde and Nafarroa, he is recorded as Bertrand Indiano. Born around 1876 in Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country, he arrived in New York City from Le Havre, France, aboard the ship La Champagne on January 2, 1905. He then went to San Francisco where his brother Dominique Indiano (born ca. 1878), who had arrived in the US in 1902, lived. From there, Bertrand herded sheep in northwestern Nevada and northeastern  California until his death in 1911. See a picture of Indiano’s grave here. Likewise, see a picture of Peter Erramouspe’s grave here.




New Museum Exhibit in Sparks Showcases Basques

February 5: The new temporary exhibit Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques opened in the Sparks Museum and Cultural Center.

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Communal work patterns defined Old World Basque culture

The exhibit tells of the unique origins, language and history of the Basque people, along with their contributions throughout history.  It illustrates the strong cultural connection the Basques in the United States have with their homeland.  Covering every part of the Basque culture from immigration to music and dance, boarding houses to mythology and famous Basques, this exhibit is not one to miss.  Learn about the unique Basque language, unlike any other language in the world, understand the reasons that Basques were so successful in the sheepherding industry, and explore reasons for their perseverance throughout history. Former Governor of Nevada, Paul Laxalt even makes an appearance among the many influential Basques throughout history.

If you live in Northern Nevada, or if you’re planning on visiting the Reno-Sparks area this spring, don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to see one of the best ever exhibits of Basque culture! For more information click here.


The classic image of the New World Basque experience

See a report on the opening of this great new exhibit by KOLO-TV here.


Old World traditions preserved in the New World

The Museum will also include a free Basque Lecture Series this Spring featuring speakers from the Center. On March 26 at 2:00 pm Xabier Irujo will present “The Bombing of Gernika” (more details here) while on April 2 at 2:00 pm Sandra Ott will talk about “Creating a Basque American Identity” (more details here).


Flashback Friday: The Wheelbarrow Basque

On November 27, 1885, Guillermo Isidoro Larregui Ugarte was born in Iruñea, Navarre. In 1900, at the age of fifteen, he emigrated to Buenos Aires, Argentina. He first began working as a merchant sailor. Later on, he moved to Uruguay, where he worked and prospered on a hog farm. Then he went southward to Patagonia and worked for an American Oil Company in the province of Santa Cruz. One day in 1935, Guillermo met another Basque immigrant. The two Basques started yelling at each other over a bet that one could walk northward to Buenos Aires with a wheelbarrow. Without thinking twice and while everybody laughed at him, Guillermo Isidoro Larregui Ugarte grabbed a wheelbarrow and prepared it with the essential things he needed to survive. Thus began his long journey from Santa Cruz to Buenos Aires.  In reality, he wanted to start traveling through and exploring the Latin American landscape. Since he had no other means of travel, he embarked on this curious adventure with a wheelbarrow. His story soon began to appear in newspapers and people from different corners of the country increasingly followed his footsteps. Furthermore, people supported him on every stage of the journey, especially from the Basque immigrant community. After his great feat, Larregui never claimed his winnings from the bet. Later on, Guillermo made a further three more trips with his wheelbarrow. He came to be known as “the Wheelbarrow Basque” or even “the One Wheel Quixote.” On June 9, 1948, Larregui passed away at the age of seventy-nine in Puerto Iguazú, Argentina. 


Guillermo Isidoro Larregui Ugarte holding his wheelbarrow


Front page of an Argentinian newspaper La Nacion of May 25, 1936

Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day.

Interview with CBS author David Romtvedt

David Romtvedt, author of the novel Zelestina Urza in Outer Space, was interviewed by Ander Egiluz Beramendi for our friends at EuskalKultura.com.


In the interview, David explains how, through the figure of the novel’s central protagonist, Zelestina Urza, he wanted to portray not just the multiple textures making up an individual’s life and how we as humans can be so touched by personal interaction with someone else, but also more broadly numerous other threads, some intrinsic to Basque culture and history, others concerning American and in particular Western history, and still others more reflective of the human experience as a whole.

Read the full interview here.

Check out another of David’s books published by the Center and coedited with Dollie Iberlin: Buffalotarrak: An Anthology of the Basques of Buffalo, Wyoming

A Tale of Basque-Americans in World War II

Many Basque-Americans took part in World War II, serving with distinction in the US Armed Forces. This Veterans Day, in honor of these people, we’d like to share a couple of their stories with you.

Captain Frank D. Carranza, the son of Basque immigrants, conceived of the idea of using Basque code talkers during World War II.  Code talkers used their knowledge of lesser-known languages to transmit coded messages in wartime.  Carranza had realized that there were approximately 60 Basque-Americans at a US Marines Corps training center with a good knowledge of both Basque and English. Basque was subsequently used–in conjunction with several Native American languages like Navajo–to throw off the Japanese in the Asian Theater. Famously, on August 1, 1942, Admiral Chester Nimitz was informed about the upcoming Operation Apple to remove the Japanese from the Solomon Islands with the words “Sagarra Eragintza zazpi” (Operation Apple at seven). And the Guadalcanal Campaign (Operation Watchtower), the first major offensive by the Allies on Japan, was announced on August 7, 1942, with the words “”Egon arretaz egunari” (Heed the day).


manuel aldecoa

Lieutenant Manuel Aldecoa

Lieutenant Manuel Aldecoa, the son of Basque immigrants from Mutriku, Gipuzkoa, and Ea, Bizkaia, respectively,  served as a pilot with the US Eighth Air Force, whose mission was to support a future invasion of continental Europe from the United Kingdom by means of strategic bombing operations in Western Europe. On November 25, 1943,  his unit, the 55th Fighter Group (“the Fightin’ Fifty-Fifth”), carried out an operation over the Hazebrouck-Lille region of Northern France, a key strategic area that included the airbase for the Jagdgruppe 26 (Fighter Group 26), one of the elite German flying units. During the operation, Aldecoa became embroiled in direct combat with Johannes Seifert,  a famed Luftwaffe ace and commandant (Gruppenkommandeur) of the Jagdgruppe 26. During the combat, the two planes collided and crashed to the ground near Merville, killing both pilots. On receving the terrible news of his death, Aldecoa’s sister, Maurina, enlisted in the US Secret Services and also served her country with distinction.

Sources and further reading

Xabier García Arguello, “Egon arretaz egunari” (in Basque).

Iratxe Gomez, “The Secret Language.”

Mikel Rodríguez, “Los vascos y la II Guerra Mundial” (in Spanish).

See also (in Spanish)  Memoria de los vascos en la Segunda Guerra Mundial. De la brigada Vasca al Batallón Gernika (Pamplona: Pamiela, 2002), by Mikel Rodríguez, for a full account of the multiple ways in which Basques took part in World War II.

And if you’re interested in this topic, check out the account of Joe Eiguren’s wartime experiences in Kashpar: The Saga of Basque Immigrants to North America, in which the author recounts how, as a GI in World War II, he was “eager to meet the Germans, because it was always so strong in my mind what the Legion Condor [sic] had done in the Basque Country” during the Spanish Civil War.

See, too, War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, a broad exploration of how different kinds of wars impacted on the Basque Country and beyond during this crucial period in the twentieth century.

Flashback Friday: Safe and Sound

On November 6, 1941, Jose Antonio Jose Antonio Agirre Lekube (1904-1960), lehendakari or president of the Basque Country, arrived in Philadelphia and met his friends Manuel Maria Intxausti and Manuel de la Sota. On May 8, 1940, Agirre had departed from Paris (France) to Brussels (Belgium) along with his wife and children to visit relatives living there. Immediately after their arrival, the Agirre family was caught unaware when, on May 10, Adolf Hitler’s forces invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Thereafter, they struggled to escape from Europe to America. Eventually in August Agirre exiled safe and sound to Brazil. On November 4, after receiving a residence permit from the US Government, he arrived in Miami, before passing through Argentina. After his short visit in Philadelphia on November 6, Agirre went to New York and settled there, where he found a large Basque immigrant community. In the city of New York, then, he headed the reorganization of the Basque government-in-exile.

A short film documentary of 1942 about Jose Antonio Agirre and the Basque government-in-exile delegation in the city of New York:

Source: Basque Film Library.

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Portrait of Jose Antonio Agirre. Source: Jon Bilbao Basque Library, UNR

basque government nyc

Members of the Basque government-in-exile in New York. From left, Antonio de Irala, Telesforo Monzon, Santiago Aznar, Manuel de la Sota, Ramon Aldasoro, Jose Antonio Agirre, and Gonzalo Nardiz.

The remarkable story of Agirre’s escape from Europe is told in his own words in Escape via Berlin: Eluding Franco in Hitler’s Europe.

On related topics, see Expelled from the Motherland: The Government of President Jose Antonio Agirre in Exile, 1937-1960, by Xabier Irujo; A Basque Patriot in New York: Jose Luis de la Lombana y Foncea and the Euskadi Delegation in the United States, by Iñaki Anasagasti and Josu Erkoreka; and War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott.

Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day.

The ethnic bonding of Basque immigrant workers in the American West

In my paper for the recent 50th Conference of the Western Literature Association in Reno, under the title “From ‘Black Bascos’ to ‘White’ Subjects: Basque Sheepherders and Racial Narratives in the American West,” I explored how Basque immigrants learned their place in the new country. From experiencing exclusion and discrimination to an assimilation and legitimization process between the interwar and post-WWII periods, Basque ranch workers in the sheep business consciously pursued adaptive strategies that emphasized their identity with the Anglo-population. In this paper (part of my present doctoral dissertation that I will complete next Spring 2016), I analyzed how the increasing importance of race became a crucial element in the transformation and consolidation of the Basque immigrant community in the West.

You can follow my research on Academia and LinkedIn.


A Basque sheepherder. Dangberg Ranch, Douglas County, Nevada. 1940. Source: Library of Congress



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