Tag: Gambling

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.

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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.

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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.

Remembering the “Sagebrush Battle” 84 Years Later

On July 4, 1931, on an extremely hot summer day, a long expected boxing match took place in Reno, Nevada: Max Baer vs. Paulino Uzkudun. The “Sagebrush Battle,” as the Nevada State Journal titled it, was a tough twenty-round fight between heavyweights Baer, from California, and Uzkudun, the professional Basque boxer from Errezil, Gipuzkoa. Not risking anything, both fighters resisted each other and tried to avoid falling to the burning ground until the very end. Finally, Uzkudun was victorious over Baer after Jack Dempsey, in his dual role as referee and promoter, raised the Basque boxer’s hand.

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Nevada State Journal front page on July 4, 1931

The fight was greatly hyped. The match between Max Baer and Paulino Uzkudun in 1931 generated huge interest at both the local and national levels. Next day, on July 5, the New York Times reported the battle round-by-round as follows:

Grinning, gold-toothed Paulino Uzcudun out-roughed Max Baer, rangy Californian,…

Clubbing, butting, heeling, and wrestling marked the battle from the opening gong until [the very end]… The two warriors violated most of the rules of ring etiquette in efforts to beat each other down in the resin of the sun-scorched battle pit.

Cautions by Referee Dempsey had only momentary effect. When Paulino quit cuffing, Baer started heeling. The Californian missed a couple of pivot punches, but not intentionally. On occasions, they butted like goats. Baer started wrestling and Uzcudun retaliated by twisting his rival half way out of the ring.

…Kidney and rabbit punches, therefore, were countenanced.

For a twenty-round bout, the big fellows set an unusually fast pace. The last five rounds developed the more furious exchanges. As they struggled along, mauling and planting solid punches in swift rallies, the advantage see-sawed from one to the other.

At no time was either out in front and at the end of the nineteenth Referee Dempsey told newspaper men the last round would decide the fight. Paulino had the better of the last session. He tore into his bigger rival and rushed him into the ropes, meanwhile scoring heavily with hard punches to the midsection. Baer’s occasional rallies were weak-hearted.

Baer went into the bout with most of the physical advantages on his side, but Paulino was the favorite from the start. Ignoring Baer’s superior reach, the sturdy Basque bobbed in and out to thump the Californian regularly with solid lefts to the body.

In the fifth round, Paulino scored with some heavy blows to the jaw and Baer appeared in distress. But by the time the eighth round rolled around, the Californian was leading with his stocky rival retreating around the ring.

Uzcudun’s greater experience stood him in good stead. He fought cooly, whereas Baer lost his head at times to beat the air with wild swings…

The match attracted around 18,000 people. This fight went hand in hand with the legalization of gambling in Nevada as means of economic development during this critical period in the American history in the early thirties. The Baer-Uzkudun match of 1931, according to historian Richard Davies, revived the fusion of the western athletic hero and economic promotion in Reno.

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Reno’s Virginia Street days before the boxing match

Furthermore, the victory of Uzkudun over Baer resulted in a great deal of pride on the part of the Basque-American community. Unsurprisingly, Basques living in Reno and surrounding areas took an active interest in the fight during the days before and after the event. Almost the whole Basque immigrant community of northwestern Nevada attended this big fight, including a large number of sheepherders who absented themselves from their work on the rangelands. Indeed, this fight provided a historic opportunity for this immigrant group to express pride in its roots and reaffirm its Basqueness in the American West.

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Promotional photograph of Paulino Uzkudun, 1930


Sources:

  • “Fighters Ready For Sagebrush Battle,” Nevada State Journal,  July 4, 1931.
  • “Paulino Defeats Baer in Reno Bout,” New York Times, July 5, 1931.
  • Richard O. Davies, “A ‘Fistic Festival’ in Reno: Promoting Nevada’s New Economy,” Mariann Vaczi, ed., Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport (Reno: Center for Basque Studies, 2013), 295-314.
  • Richard O. Davies, The Main Event: Boxing in Nevada from the Mining Camps to the Las Vegas Strip (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2014).

To learn more about this story, check out the book Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, in which you can find an interesting chapter on the Baer-Uzkudun match by Richard Davies entitled “A ‘Fistic Festival’ in Reno: Promoting Nevada’s New Economy.”