Tag: California

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!

 

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.

BUS_01_20151125

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.

 

Gregorio Salegui, the St. Francis ice-cream maker

SaintFrancisHotelKitchen

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.

Beaver 2

 

Beaver 1

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.

Ocean Park

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.

Salegui 1

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.

Salegui 2

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.

640px-500_USD_note;_series_of_1934;_obverse

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.

Hollywood_and_I

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: 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.