Tag: California Basques

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!

 

Basque bread, and some beloved neighbors, featured in the John Deere Furrow

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Abel making his delicious french fries for camp visitors.

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The famous bread oven.

Making bread at their Russell Valley, California, summer camp was quite the project for Abel and Judy Mendeguia. Abel, from Lesaka, was a sheepman for many years from northern Nevada to the Central Valley of California, and the couple’s summer camp was a hive of activity, especially on the days that Abel would bake bread using 50 lbs of flour for the sheepherder camps spread across the range. A story that is reported on in “For the Love of Bread: Part 1: Basque immigrants brought a taste of home with them to the American West” by Laura Read in a recent issue of John Deere’s The Furrow. I don’t want to ruin the story for you, but a key part of it is Abel sticking his arm into the bread oven to gauge its temperature. I’m sure anyone who knows Abel can imagine this quite well!

The Mendeguias have been Reno residents for many years since retiring from the sheep business and they are some of the best neighbors anyone could ask for. Abel has volunteered many many years to helping out Reno 4-H sheep project children and they generally invite visiting USAC scholars from the Basque Country and elsewhere to the Russell Camp for a taste of Western life (and some of Abel’s famous fresh cut and made-on-the-spot french fries). His wife, Judy, was from the East and met Abel at a sheep camp on a visit to the West, and then became his lifetime partner.

Abel has an entry, along with thousands of other Basques who came to the US, in Basques in the United States, vol. 1, Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa.

Never a dull moment at the Mendeguias’ summer camp!

Arbasoen Ildotik: 6th Grade Students from Baigorri visit Far West to learn about Basque settlement there

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A group of 6th grade students from Baigorri in Lower Navarre are on the trip of a lifetime to the American Far West in a quest to understand what it meant for Basques to uproot and make new lives for themselves across the Atlantic. Titled “Arbasoen ildotik” (On the trail of our ancestors), the expedition is made up of the following students who all attend the Donostei school in Baigorri: Laina Aizpurua, Alaia Arangoits, Maialen Innara, Enaut Gorostiague, Ana Gouffrant, Iñaki Hualde, Morgan Labat, Mathias Lallemand, Leatitia Oronos, Pauline Perez, Céline Séméréna, and Viktoria Toro. Accompanying them are four teachers: Amaia Castorene, Danielle Hirigaray, Xantxo Lekumberry, and Christine Paulerena. During their stay they will visit several locations in California and Nevada, where they will study first-hand the Basque emigrant/immigrant experience in the US.

For more information, see their Facebook page here.

And to get in contact with them send an email to slobasque@aol.com

There is a comprehensive list of Basques who emigrated from Lower Navarre to the United States in the Center’s Basques in the United States, volume 2, Iparralde and Nafarroa, 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.

Basques in the US vol 2

 

 

 

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: Santiago Arrillaga, an atypical Basque immigrant

In this week’s tale from Basques in the United States, adapted from vol. 1, we meet the fascinating Santiago Arrillaga Ansola, a precociously talented young musician who arrived in the US almost by chance, as part of a concert tour, fell in love, and ultimately settled in the San Francisco Bay Area where he earned great renown as a pianist and composer, especially of religious pieces of great beauty, and became a key figure in both the religious and musical life of the area.

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Santiago Arrillaga Ansola (1847-1915), a key figure in the musical history of the Bay Area.

Born in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, in 1847, he was related to the textile industry leader Antonio Elosegui, a well-known producer of the Basque beret, whose company is still prominent today. In his home town, he learned music theory with Antonio Buenechea, director of the local Municipal Band. Then, when the natural disposition of the child for music became obvious, his parents sent him to the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid, the principal college of music in Spain, where his teacher of counterpoint was Hilarión Eslava from Navarre, author of the “Solfeo de los Solfeos” method of instruction. In Madrid, he scored the highest marks in harmony, piano, and composition, graduating with honors and being awarded the institution’s gold medal. He then went to the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris to pursue his training with the teachers François Bazin and Antoine François Marmontel (following the tradition of Chopin).

He arrived in the US in 1874, having been chosen to accompany at the piano the opera singer Carlotta Patti during her tour of the country. On this tour, he met and married the Californian Clementina Savin, settling in San Francisco, where they were parents to Vincent (b. 1880), Elena (1881), Frank (1883), Leo (1886), Graciala (1888), and Cecilia (1898).

In San Francisco he served as organist at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as at other French and Spanish Catholic churches in the city, for forty years. There, too, he also taught music, founding the famed Arrillaga Musical College, and he even established an orchestra. In 1880, he prepared Hilarion Eslava’s “Mass in E-flat,” regarded as a major event in California at the time. He composed several masses and motets as well as secular and folk music: jotas, habaneras, waltzes, pasodobles, hymns, and a Basque zortziko (1912) entitled “Nere mendi maiteak” with the subtitle “Dear Mountain of My Province.”

Santiago Arrillaga died at home in Oakland, his adopted city, in 1915. He was succeeded in running the Arrillaga Musical College by his eldest son Vincent. Five of his six children were musicians: Vicente; Elena, who married Luis Alegria, son of Fermín, the mayor of Tolosa; Elena, with superior degrees in music, was organist at the Sacred Heart Church in Oakland and ran a Music Academy in this industrial city; Leo Arrillaga, pianist and organist; Graziela Arrillaga, concert pianist; and Cecilia Arrillaga, who also gave piano concerts. Today, María Luisa Alegria Arrillaga offers piano recitals throughout the US and Susan Sarti Arrillaga is a piano teacher and concert artist. Both are Santiago’s granddaughters.

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.

May 15, 1849: Basque pioneers Juan Miguel Aguirre and Maria Martina Labayen arrive in US

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The Hotel Vasco (or “Aguirre Hotel”) in San Francisco, built by Juan Miguel Aguirre and Maria Martina Labayen in 1866.

On May 15, 1849 two of the most influential early Basque immigrants to the US arrived in San Francisco: Juan Miguel Aguirre (b. Etxalar, Navarre, in 1813) and Maria Martina Labayen (b. Areso, Navarre, 1816). Juan Miguel had fought on the losing Carlist side in the First Carlist War (1833-39). In 1845 he emigrated to Montevideo, Uruguay, where he established a successful hide and tallow business.

On hearing of the discovery of gold in California, they headed there in 1849, but instead of Juan Miguel seeking his fortune in the mines like most other forty-niners, the couple stayed in San Francisco. He made a living there by supplying much needed water to the ever-expanding city, transporting this valuable commodity by burro from a spring at the Presidio and peddling it, door-to-door for a dollar a bucket, to businesses and residents in old downtown San Francisco. As the business expanded, he employed fellow Basques to help him meet the growing demand. Today the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, in charge of the city’s water supply system, acknowledges Aguirre as one of the first entrepreneurs to recognize the importance of supplying fresh water to residents in the city.

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“San Francisco.” Engraving from The United States Illustrated by Charles A. Dana (New York, 1855). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The couple then used the profits of this business to invest in real estate, buying a lot at the intersection of what is now Grant Avenue and Ashburton Place, on which they built a fronton. Then, in 1866, they built one of the city’s first Basque hotels at 1312 Powell St., just off Broadway, a modest two-storey wooden building. And they also helped establish Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Church on Broadway, which served as a point of reference for many Basques.  By the 1870s, the Aguirre, as it was known popularly, had also become a kind of employment agency for newly arrived Basques in San Francisco, as the following contemporary description of the establishment (quoted in Jeri Echeverria’s wonderful Home Away from Home, p. 69) demonstrates: “There was a Basque hotel in the center of town, where California rancheros in need of help were sure to find quiet gentle men from the Pyrenees.”

Interestingly, the Basque forty-niners formed a specific group within this growing Basque community in the Bay Area, regarded and revered as the veterans or pioneers of their compatriots. And a dinner in their honor was held in 1893, at which both Juan Miguel and Maria Martina were present, and at which several bottles of champagne were consumed according to the local Basque-language newspaper California’ko Eskual-Herria.

Juan Miguel died in 1897, but Maria Martina and their three children continued to run the hotel. By the turn of the century, the Aguirre had become the premier meeting point (and “marriage mill”!) for Basques living in San Francisco, Alameda, Sonoma, and San Jose counties. It was even a vacation destination for other Basques visiting from further afield in the West. This all came to an end, though, when it burned down in the San Francisco fires of 1906.

Juan Miguel Aguirre and Maria Martina Labayen can rightly be credited as key figures in establishing the Basque community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

Further Reading

Douglass, William A., and Jon Bilbao, Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World.

Echeverria, Jeronima. Home Away from Home: A History of Basque Boardinghouses.

Oiarzabal, Pedro J. Gardeners of Identity: Basques in the San Francisco Bay Area.

San Sebastián, Koldo, with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more. Basques in the United States, vol. 2.

Zubiri, Nancy. A Travel Guide to Basque America: Families, Feasts, and Festivals.

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!

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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.”

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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.

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:

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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).

 

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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.