Tag: Basque sheepherders (page 2 of 2)

Tales from Basques in the United States: Isidro Madarieta, some “royal scale” bootlegging, and collective Basque gambling fever

Isidro Madarieta Erquiaga was born on Apr. 4, 1883, in Ispaster, Bizkaia. He arrived in New York City on Mar. 4, 1901 and went to Boise. He started working as a sheepherder and, in partnership with Antonio Ocamica (b. 1887 in Ispaster, d. 1975), became a sheep owner.


Isidro Madarieta and his wife, Isidora Osa.

In the 1910s he went on to manage a Basque hotel on Main Street, Boise. In Jul. 1916 he was detained, along with Vicente Bilbao and R. B. Howard, accused of bootlegging liquor on a “royal scale.” They were ambushed near Orchard, ID with almost 1900 quarts of whiskey (Idaho Statesman, Sep. 1, 1916). In Dec. 1922 the sheriff searched his hotel and found drinks in the kitchen and bottles of scotch hidden under the snow on the roof of the building. He was very popular in the Basque community.

In the summer of 1917 he bet against Elías Gabica of Nampa in a horse race. Not being sure of victory, he had 2 racehorses brought in from Aguascalientes in Mexico. Madarieta won, due to the fact that, among other things, Gabica, seeing all the money in play, lost his nerve and at the last moment changed the jockey.

This was not the only race. In Oct. of that same year Madarieta was back competing, this time against Tomás Muruaga of Nampa. For the occasion he hired a horse named Little Fanny. Muruaga did the same with a horse by the name of Jupiter. The betting started 90 to 100 for Muruaga but it ended 1000 to 900 in Madarieta’s favor. In the Basque communities of Boise and Nampa there emerged what amounted to collective betting fever, so much so that the locals drained the banks, which were left without any bills, according to the local press.


There were many Basque women among those who bet, hoping to buy a silk dress. In the end, Little Fanny won. One reporter emphasized that a certain Basque lady with her son in her arms was screaming herself hoarse “Gora Boise!” (Long live Boise!) (Idaho Statesman, Oct. 1917).

In 1930 Isidro was living in Boise (9th St., and before that he lived in Idaho St.). In Boise he married Isidora Osa (born in Ibarrangelua) on Jun. 25, 1910 and they had 5 children: Juana “Susy,” Luis, Regina, Margarita, and Ángel. In 1927 he applied for US citizenship. He died in Boise Jun. 25, 1946.

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.

Reno Exhibit Focuses on Basque arborglyph, reception this Friday, June 10


Sheepherders took many subjects, including, of course, women who were very scarce in summer pastures!

Basque aspen art, or arborglyphs, are the subject of an exciting new exhibit at Reno’s Ranch San Rafael Regional Park, “Mountain Picassos: Basque Arborglyphs of the Great Basin.” The exhibit is on display from now through August 1, 2016 daily from 8a-6p. Join us Friday June 10, 2016 at 6pm for a reception to meet Jean and Phillip Earl.

“Mountain Picassos” are an array of Basque tree carvings, or “arborglyphs,” which have long been of interest to historians, Basque scholars, foresters, and hikers. These carvings have been extensively documented in Nevada and California with photographs and through cultural asset mapping by, among others, good friend of the Center Joxe Mallea, who has written a classic on the subject Speaking through the Aspens, published by the University of Nevada Press.

For more than half a century, Jean and Phillip Earl of Reno used clues from old maps, letters, and books to hunt for and document “Mountain Picassos,” distinctive figures carved into aspen trees found in the high country meadows of the Great Basin. These figures, along with names, dates, and sayings, were carved by Basque sheepherders in the early to mid-20th century. Jean Earl evolved a unique method of preserving the carvings using canvas and artists’ wax to create rubbings, two-dimensional representations of the carvings that are works of art themselves, eventually assembling over 130 wax-on-muslin rubbings made directly from the carvings. The Earl’s have also published a book on the subject with beautiful prints, Basque Aspen Art of the Sierra Nevada.

Mountain Picassos explores the unexpected intersection of art, culture, and nature. This exhibit comprises 26 of these rubbings—along with text panels, contextual photographs, and streaming video. It provides a rare opportunity to see some of the intimate personal images inscribed by Basque sheepherders in the aspen groves of the Great Basin during the first half of the 20th century.


Tales from Basques in the United States: A Wild West story


Southeastern Oregon countryside near Downey Canyon where these tragic events took place.

Today’s story in our weekly look into the lives of ordinary Basques who came to the US is adapted from vol. 1 of Basques in the United States and concerns the sad story of (Raimundo) Domingo Aldecoa Egaña.

BUS cover

Born in the Kurtziaga neighborhood of Ispaster, Bizkaia, ca. 1884, he arrived in New York City on Apr. 21, 1903 and went to Oregon, where his uncle Juan Acarregui lived. Domingo Aldecoa became a sheep camp tender and a partner in a third of a large herd in Jordan Valley. He gradually built up his own herd of 2,100 sheep that every year during lambing season he would take to Downey Canyon, OR.

In the spring of 1910 another sheepman named Blanchett decided to take his herd to lamb to the same canyon, arriving there before Aldecoa. On Apr. 1 Aldecoa started to move his herd toward the canyon. Two herders were guiding it, one of them his younger brother. Obviously he did not seem to know that Blanchett had arrived with his sheep ahead of him. On April 3 Aldecoa arrived and with the other herders and began setting up camp. Charles Wear, one of Blanchett’s herders came up to the Basque camp and, aiming his gun at Aldecoa, ordered him to abandon the site. Domingo agreed, even though he had been coming with his herd to the same spot for many years.

Around 4pm that same day the two Basque herders moving Domingo’s sheep arrived at a hill overlooking the canyon. Blanchett and Wear saw them and started moving their herd toward the Basque herders. When the two herds were about 200 yards from each other, the Basques started to move their animals away so they would not mix. Wear and Blanchett advanced toward the Basque herders, who tried to explain to them that they were going to the camp Domingo was preparing. Then Wear pulled his revolver out and began insulting and attacking them. The Basques moved the sheep about 2 miles away and young Aldecoa went looking for his brother. Meanwhile, Wear went to the Basque camp and pulled the tents down, scattering their provisions and clothes. Young Aldecoa went to the ranch and told his brother all that had happened. Domingo then went to Jordan Valley and the following morning went back to the camp, intending to pick up the things and take them over to Jordan Creek.

At this time the two herds were about 1,000 feet apart from each other. Young, one of Blanchett’s herders who had spent the night with the herd (and who would turn into the prosecutor’s principal witness), reported that Wear came to their camp and told him go eat dinner. Wear was armed with a rifle and a revolver. About 1,000 feet away he saw Domingo picking things up. Wear entered the Basque camp and Young heard some shots. Young said he then saw Domingo running away and Wear chasing him. Domingo had a gun in his hand and was bleeding and came to Blanchett’s camp seeking Young’s help. But Wear caught up with him and shot him dead in cold blood. Charles Wear was sentenced to life imprisonment (Idaho Statesman, May 7, 1910).

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

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: 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.

Basque Mural To Be Installed in Gardnerville, Nevada

Tuesday, March 1: Weather permitting, the Main Street Gardnerville Basque-themed mural project will be completed tomorrow, when the 12-foot by 16-foot work of art is installed on the building owned by the Masons/Carson Valley Lodge No. 33, F & A M at 1421 Hwy 395 N in Gardnerville, Nevada.


The full color mural, 16′ tall by 12′ wide and painted on 6 4’x8′ panels, which will be assembled on March 1. By permission of Beverly Caputo.

Designed  by local artist Beverly Caputo, the project has been in the works since 2012.

See a report on the event here.

Check out this other Basque-themed mural that Beverly did for Sharkey’s Casino in Gardnerville:


Mural in Sepia brown tones painted along with a series of historical works at Sharkey’s Casino in Gardnerville. By permission of Beverly Caputo.

Quoting Nancy Zubiri’s A Travel Guide to Basque America: Families, Feasts, and Festivals: “Gardnerville, founded in 1879, was an important sheep center in Nevada, and Basques first came here to raise sheep around the turn of the century . . . The heart of the Basque community is Gardnerville’s Main Street, where basque food is still served in the old style. The two remaining old-style Basque restaurants are the Overland Hotel and J and T Bar and Restaurant., which may be over 130 years old, according to its owners. There is also a lovely restaurant by the golf course, the Carson Valley Country Club Bar and Restaurant.”

Gardnerville is also home to the Mendiko Euskaldun Cluba Basque club.



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.

Last massacre 1

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.




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



The Far West comes to Bizkaia this weekend

This Saturday, September 26, the town of Mendata in Bizkaia will honor the Basque sheepherders who went to the Americas (and especially the US and Argentina) with a special celebration forming part of the town’s Festival of Saint Michael (Mikel Deunaren Jaiak).


In the words of its town council website, Mendata will, for a day, become “an authentic part of the Far West, with the aim of recognizing their efforts, strengthening public recognition of their work, and celebrating a festival in their honor.”

The program will begin at 12:00 pm with “Caravan to the Far West,”a parade involving sheepherders’ wagons and local people from Mendata dressed as representative figures from the era of immigration to the Far West. This will be followed by the re-enactment of a traditional send-off for a young Basque sheepherder heading for the Americas, accompanied  by the music of Gontzal Mendibil. Then, at 2:00 pm, an aspen tree (lertxun zuria in Basque) will be planted beside a small monument that reads “Mendatako herriak Ameriketan artzain ibilitakoari” (From the town of Mendata to those who went to the Americas as sheepherders). The next hour will be dedicated to country dancing before a family-style lunch at 3:00 pm. Following lunch, there will be rodeo at 5:30 pm, emceed by Basque TV personality Julian Iantzi (who was born in California), and the event will end with a concert by the group Kupela at 8:30 pm.

For more information, see the articles at Euskalkultura and El Correo (in Spanish).

Recently, the CBS paid its own homage to those Basques who went to the US in the form of a two-volume book, Basques in the United States, which contains names and entries for nearly 10,000 first generation Basque immigrants from the 1800s through today.

Check out, too the Diaspora and Migration Series, which includes works on different aspects of the Basque migrant experience. And if you haven’t already, see Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World, the masterpiece by William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao, now in its fortieth year of publication.

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