Tag: History of Nevada

Nevada Independent reports on Basque culture in the Silver State

On the occasion of Attorney General and CBS Advisory Board Member Adam Laxalt’s annual Basque Fry, the Nevada Independent recently reported on the Basque presence in the state and included some great personal recollections on the part of state senator Pete Goicoechea, part of which we quote below:

His grandfather, also named Pete Goicoechea, worked on a fishing boat on a seaside town on the Bay of Biscay until he immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century.

When his grandfather landed at Ellis Island, they pinned a tag on his coat that said “Elko, Nevada” and put him on a train, Goicoechea said. He couldn’t speak a word of English, couldn’t read or write but could figure out anything in his head. (“If you were talking about a nickel, he’d cheat you out of three cents,” Goicoechea said.)

“It was a hard life for them. A lot of them spent the first year before they had enough money in a tent with their sheep,” Goicoechea said. “There was no (Bureau of Land Management), no regulation at all. There’d be a group of them, the Goicoechea brothers and their families, they lived with those sheep from somewhere south of Duckwater close to Tonopah for winter and the Idaho border for summer.”

His grandfather ran moonshine for a period in Gold Creek during Prohibition, finally settling down and buying a ranch in 1937 and switching to cattle. “Sheep may be a little more delicate, but they have a personality,” Goicoechea said. “If you can run sheep, you can take care of a bunch of cows.”

Check out, too, Goicoechea’s observations about the emblematic Picon Punch!

See the full report here.

Immigrant tales like those mentioned above form the essence of the Center’s ambitious collection, Basques in the United States,  by Koldo San Sebastián, with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-
Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta.

Tales from Basques in the United States: Basques, Bets, Ball, and a Few Cadillacs, Life in the Fast Lane with Jean “John” Etchebarren

Today’s story in our ongoing series of tales from Basques in the United Statesadapted from volume 2, revolves around the charismatic figure of Jean “John” Etchebarren. Interestingly, he got involved in just about all the activities we would associate Basques with historically in the Western United States: the sheep and hotel industries, some retail interests, banking and insurance, and even gaming. To cap it all, as a young man he was even a champion handball player and a major figure in the lively gambling world that surrounded the sport. So saddle up and welcome to the story of one of the great go-getting Basque-American entrepreneurs and adventurers!

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Jean “John” Etchebarren

Born Mar. 12, 1880 in Baigorri, Lower Navarre, he arrived in New York City on May 3, 1898 and went initially to San Jose, California. Soon after, he moved to Nevada where he worked as a sheepherder. He later opened a hotel in the mining town of Golconda, Humboldt Co. and in Feb. 1910, after selling his hotel there, he took ownership of the Commercial Hotel in Reno. A year later, in partnership with Jack Marymont, he opened a clothing store on Center St., Reno. And in 1915 he rebuilt the largest hotel in town to add a new dining room and bedrooms (Reno Evening Gazette, Jun. 16, 1915).

Etchebarren expanded his business and by 1917 was president of the Stockgrowers & Ranchers Bank of Reno. One of its vice presidents, Martin Pradera, was also a Basque sheepman. A year later, he was president of an insurance company, the Nevada State Life Insurance Co., based in Reno (which he ran until 1924). By 1918 Etchebarren was also an important sheepman in Reno, and a prominent member of the Nevada Woolgrowers’ Association, in which he held various positions. In 1931, in partnership with Felix Turrillas, he rented the Laughton’s in Hot Springs, south of Reno, requesting a gaming license and becoming one of the first hotel casinos in the city (Nevada legalized gaming on Mar. 19, 1931).

 

Laughton Hot Springs

Laughton Hot Springs on the Victory Highway, US 40, 5 miles west of Reno, ca. 1933. From the Special Collections Department, University of Nevada, Reno Library.

Throughout his life, in whatever free time he could muster, he also distinguished himself as an excellent sportsman, especially as a handball player, shooter, and bowler. He also loved cars to the point that Sol Silen used to say that Etchebarren sold his Cadillac every year to buy the latest model. His love of cars (and speed) brought him some trouble with the law for exceeding speed limits, and for the same reason, he suffered several serious accidents as well.

(Enmarcado en negro).

Pilota or Basque handball in the Old Country. From the Jon Bilbao Basque Library archive.

Back in 1907, on the occasion of the opening of the Saval Hotel in Elko, Nevada, Gabino “Guy” Saval (Ispaster, Bizkaia, 1883 – Lovelock, NV, 1940) and Michael Saval organized a pilota (handball) game between Andrés “Andrew” Ripa, champion of California and an employee of the Commercial Hotel in Reno (which Etchebarren would later own), and Etchebarren (then still living in Golconda), the champion of Nevada. The winner would receive $1,000. George Etchart (born in Ospitalepea, Zuberoa), the owner of the Commercial Hotel and Ripa’s boss, reputedly wagered up to $5,000 on the “Californian” winning, but even so, the betting generally went 5-1 in favor of the guy from Baigorri (Nevada State Journal, Nov. 11, 1907).

The game was played to 50 points and Etchebarren gradually proved his superiority in the serve. Still, until the 43rd point, the game was very even but in the end Etchebarren won. That event brought Basques to Elko from Nevada, California, Idaho, and Utah, and was followed by a “grand ball and supper.” According to the local media, a lot of money changed hands that day and “an immense crowd was in attendance” (Nevada State Journal, Nov. 16, 1907). This was not, however, Etchebarren’s only major game. In 1915, another game was played, this time doubles, with Etchebarren partnering John Jauregui against the two best pilotariak (handball players) from San Francisco.

He married Demetria Arburua (b. Etxalar, Nafarroa, ca. 1886), who came to the US in 1905, and they had two sons: John (1908) and Peter (1909).

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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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.”