Tag: Idaho Basques (page 1 of 2)

Some Basque-American traditions during the Holiday Season

With the holiday season here, most of you out there will know that this is a time typically embraced by Basque-Americans to have a good old time, Basque-style, with plenty of eating, drinking, dancing, and general bonhomie. One only need check out Astero to get a flavor of all the events going on during the holiday season, but it’s worth recalling that all these Christmas parties, the lunches and dinners, as well as the New Year’s celebrations, are rooted in a long tradition stretching back many years. This custom–which in academic terms we could say was based on a drive to cement community and cultural ties, to keep those bonds strong, and maintain and pass on traditions, often in the face of adverse wider social conditions–has in recent years changed significantly, but I think it’s interesting to consider how and why these gatherings came about.

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For those that could, Christmas was one of the few opportunities for Basque-Americans to let their hair down a little. Picture from the Jon Bilbao Basque Library.

As Bill Douglass and Jon Bilbao point out in Amerikanuak (p. 386), such events were in former times typically less public than they are today. In their words, as regards the winter events (p. 388):

These Basque get-togethers all shared the characteristic of being closed ethnic affairs. With the exception of the Boise Sheepherders’ Ball, they were unheralded, inconspicuous events on the local social calendar. They were often held at some distance from the local population centers. None of this is surprising when we consider that the dates coincide with the periods of tension between the Basques and their neighbors … In such a climate, the Basques were not prone to display their ethnic identity publicly. If the Basque hotel and the private picnic or dance served as an ethnic refuge, where the immigrant could enjoy Basque cuisine, conversation, and company, he attempted in his dealings with the wider society to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

Even the origins of the famed Sheepherders’ Ball, perhaps the most famous of all Basque winter social events, recall an altercation between different Basque insurance groups in the late 1920s. As John and Mark Bieter note in An Enduring Legacy: The Story of Basques in Idaho (p. 100):

Both organizations scheduled Christmas dances for herders in town on the same night. The influential sheepman John Archabal mediated the controversy and convinced the two sides to organize one dance with a lamb auction for charity. Both parties agreed, and the annual Sheepherders’ Ball became a mainstay in Boise and, later, in other southern Idaho towns.

The Sheepherders’ Ball became known as an “apron and overalls” dance, because admission required sheepherder garb or traditional Basque costumes. Sometimes a stand was set up near the door, where any partygoers who arrived inappropriately dressed could buy jeans on the spot. Although it was reserved for Basques and their guests, the Sheepherders’ Ball attracted the attention of the general public. On December 19, 1936, the Boise Capitol News wrote: “Black-eyed sons and daughters of the Pyrenees danced their beloved ‘jota’ with snapping fingers and nimble feet Friday evening at the annual Sheepherders’ Ball held at Danceland, to the music of Benito Arrego’s accordion and pandareen.”

Nowadays, these holiday season get-togethers are more open affairs, with everyone welcome, as noted in our recent post on the Basque Ladies’ Lagunak Christmas Luncheon in Reno. But it’s good to see that this great tradition of holiday season lunches, dinners, and dances continues to bind the Basque-American community together.

Besides these events, there is also a tradition of Basque-American participation in Christmas parades, as Nancy Zubiri writes in her invaluable book, A Travel Guide to Basque America:

On Christmas Eve for several years local Basque Children traveled down the usually snow-lined main street of Gardnerville in  hay-wagons, displaying the Nativity scene, signing gabon kantak (Christmas carols) and playing instruments–an Old Country tradition. Their procession would end at the Overland, where they received gifts and [Elvira] Cenoz served them the traditional hot chocolate. But the custom ended when the number of children dwindled.

Nowadays, the Garnerville Basque Club, Mendiko Euskaldun Cluba, usually takes part in the town’s annual festive Parade of Lights.

Christmas was also an occasion for family gatherings of course, as the stories collected in Portraits of Basques in the New World, edited by Richard W. Etulain and Jeronima Echeverria, testify to. For example, Ysidra Juanita “Jay” Arriola Uberuaga Hormaechea, born in Boise in 1908, recalled the holiday season of her youth (pp. 194-95):

We never knew what Christmas was until I was grown up, went to work, and earned some money. I brought in a fresh Christmas tree to our home at 310 Grove, in Boise. It was the first tree that our family ever had. Christmas day for us people was shared big suppers, dancing, and enjoying ourselves, in that way … Maybe, a little package for the kids. That was it … That’s the way it was when I was a girl.

Similarly, and in the Old Country tradition, Marjorie Archabal remembered (p. 91) Christmas Eve meals at which some thirty people gathered, women on one side of the table, men on the other, with the Archabal family patriarch and matriarch at the head. These meals took days to prepare, with the menu consisting of tongue, tripe, and codfish, among many other dishes. Meanwhile, growing up in a Basque home in northeastern Montana in the 1940s and 1950s, Rene Tihista recalled a blend of Basque and American traditions, with turkey making appearance at the family table (p. 121):

When I was a kid all the holiday gatherings with my uncles and cousins were held at our place. Mom raised a huge turkey for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. Dad played the accordion and violin and sang Basque songs. Of course wine flowed freely during our get-togethers. I would sit on dad’s knee and sing “Uso Zuria,” a song he taught me about a white dove that travels to Spain. It was the only Basque song I knew, but it must have been a hit because the grown-ups made me sing it over and over.

And no doubt many of you out there, if you are part of a Basque-American family, will be enjoying similar kinds of celebrations this holiday season.

If you do have any stories you’d like to share with us about your own Basque-style holiday celebrations, we’d be pleased to hear from you!

 

 

 

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.

Recent report on Basque-Americans causes much food for thought

In 1901 the renowned philosopher Miguel de Unamuno remarked before a crowd gathered to celebrate traditional Basque culture: “[T]hat language you speak, Basque people, that Euskara, will disappear with you, and this is of no importance as you too must disappear. Hurry up and kill it, bury it with honor, and speak Spanish.”

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Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) in 1912. Although he was a Basque-speaker and wrote his dissertation on the language, he later rejected Basque as a “serious obstacle to extending European culture in my country.” Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Unamuno’s words, which centered on the language but which were also clearly aimed at Basque culture as a whole, have become synonymous in the Basque Country with a mindset that, at best, views Basque culture as anachronistic in–and at worst antithetical to–the so-called modern world. Indeed, such views, as Juan Madariaga Orbea demonstrates candidly in his prodigious Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language, were hardly new at the time and represented in many ways the culmination of a centuries-long tradition of claiming that Basque culture was in demise and would soon disappear.

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Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). Philosopher, linguist, educator, and diplomat, Humboldt visited the Basque Country and wrote at length about its culture and language. On the latter he wrote in 1801, a full one hundred years prior to Unamuno’s declaration above: “Basque will possibly have vanished from the list of living languages in less than a century.” Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If anything, Unamuno’s views marked the beginning of a new era, namely that coinciding with the threshold of the contemporary world as it crashed into the twentieth century, in which the Basque language and Basque culture more generally would come under the critical spotlight from supposedly more educated, erudite, and urbane elites. By the late twentieth century, so this view went, Basques were part of a disappearing world and their antiquated ways had no place in contemporary society. And this mantra–which to be clear is embraced by many Basques themselves, as well as outsiders sympathetic to Basque culture like Wilhelm von Humboldt (see his Selected Basque Writings)–has been applied to questioning anything from the potential for such a small language as Basque to actually survive in the modern world to the “parochial” selection policy of soccer club Athletic Bilbao and “outmoded” sports like Jai Alaia or zesta punta (on the latter see this report from a few years ago).

Which brings me in a slightly roundabout sort of way to an interesting report published recently in the Idaho Statesman about Basque-American identity. Eric Quitugua’s “Cultural identity fades among Idaho’s second-generation Basque immigrants,” is a thought-provoking article that I would encourage anyone with an interest in Basque-American culture to read. It charts the decline of the Basque sheep industry in Idaho and a waning interest on the part of new generations of Basque-Americans to maintain the Basque language.

This all got me to wondering whether this was another example, albeit transplanted across the Atlantic, of the glass-is-half-empty view of Basque culture. After all, the changing nature of the sheep industry and the loosening of specifically Basque ethnic ties to this lifestyle have been long recorded. Indeed, Peruvian herders are mentioned in the classic Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World by William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao, published for the first time in 1975. And isn’t it typical of such immigrant communities to relinquish their ties to the hard and grueling niche industries that brought them to the US in the first place, once they are more settled, have enjoyed greater educational possibilities, and are socially mobile? Don’t get me wrong, I fully acknowledge many of the sentiments expressed in the report, and it should come as no surprise to anyone with an interest in Basque-American identity to note that the same general theme has been explored on multiple occasions by by Bill Douglass.* Indeed, he also critically questions the staying power of Basque identity within the changing social and cultural framework of the American West.

But I think it is also worth noting the historical evidence for Basque cultural endurance. After all, this is a country of just 3 million people, less than a third of whom actually speak Basque, and it still exists and people still speak Basque today. Such resilience is expressed in the US today by numerous initiatives to promote Basque culture and maintain a sense of Basque-American identity on the part of both institutions and private individuals and groups, many of which you yourselves out there, possibly even reading this, are largely responsible for.

I’m thinking here obviously about our own Center and its special commitment to research and publishing, but also the great work being done in Basque Studies at Boise State University and the remarkable Boiseko Ikstola preschool. I’m also thinking about the tireless efforts of NABO, the North American Basque Organizations, and the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in Boise to perpetuate Basque culture and identity. I’m thinking of the global network of Basque Clubs as well as the university network of Basque language and culture readers and chairs in the US and beyond developed by the Etxepare Basque Institute, both sponsored by the Basque Government. And I’m thinking of other initiatives at a more private, even personal level, like Buber’s Basque Page (surely a historic institution in itself by now?) and the National Basque Festival in Elko, Nevada, celebrating 53 years this year! This year, too, is particularly special because as I’m sure you’ll all know by now, Basque culture will be front and center at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. And of course there are many, many more people, places, and events I could mention. My point is that, in the great scheme of things, it would seem to me that serious conscious efforts have and are being made to not only maintain Basque-American identity but also adapt it to the context of an ever-changing world. And by way of a counterpoint to the abovementioned report, check out the following article: “‘Ni Boisekoa naiz’: Keeping Basque alive in Idaho.”

One of the great benefits of being a small culture is that you typically know a lot more about your bigger and more powerful neighbors than they will ever know about you; and smaller cultures are sometimes much better adapted to withstanding the bad times and responding to changes in their circumstances creatively, having had to do so constantly throughout their history just to survive. Bigger cultures, in contrast, having enjoyed the reins of power, find it awfully difficult to cope when things don’t quite go their way and if they didn’t already know, they should take heed from Shelley’s warning, in his timeless “Ozymandias,” that even they may be susceptible to disappearing without trace.

So here’s to speaking Basque, Athletic Bilbao’s recruitment policy, zesta punta, and every other expression of Basque cultural identity! If I started with some words by Unamuno, a Basque, who believed that Basque culture would eventually die out, I’ll end with a thought by Mark Kurlansky, a New Yorker, who thinks quite the opposite. Perhaps, he speculates, in a thousand years, “relative newcomers” like the French and Spanish, won’t be around,.

But the Basques will still be there, playing strange sports, speaking a language of ks and xs that no one else understands, naming their houses and facing them toward the eastern sunrise in a land of legends, on steep green mountains by a cobalt sea–still surviving, enduring by the grace of what Juan San Martin called Euskaldun bizi nahia, the will to live like a Basque.

*See in particular “Basque Ethnic Resurgence: Consolidation or Crisis of Heritage,” paper presented to the American Association of Anthropology. San Francisco (1992); “Basque-American Identity: Past Perspectives and Future Prospects,” in Change in the American West: Exploring the Human Dimension, ed. Stephen Tchudi (Reno: Nevada Humanities Committee and University of Nevada Press, 1996); and “Creating the New Basque Diaspora,” in Basque Politics and Nationalism on the Eve of the Millennium, ed. William A. Douglass, Carmelo Urza, Linda White, and Joseba Zulaika (Reno:  Basque Studies Program, University of Nevada, Reno, 1999).

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.

Tales from Basques in the United States: The importance of Basque women in the world of boardinghouses

Although the sheepherder is often regarded as the iconic personification of Basque immigrants in the West, it is worth remembering that the Basque boardinghouse–perhaps the quintessential institution serving as the foundation of Basque social networks–would have been nothing without the many women who made the long trip across the Atlantic, sometimes (as we can see below) at a very young age, to work in this key institution and set an example of what hard work, effort, and dedication really meant. As Monique Laxalt recalls of her own grandmother, who ran a Basque boardinghouse in Carson City, NV, in the wonderfully evocative The Deep Blue Memory: “for eighteen hours a day, she cooked, cleaned, and washed.”

Today, then, in our continuing series of stories from Basques in the United States, this time adapted from volume 1, we celebrate two Basque women who forged new lives for themselves in the US by starting out in the tough, and sometimes uncompromising, world of the Basque boardinghouse.

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Anastasia Arriandiaga Gamecho Arteaga.

Anastasia “Ana” Arriandiaga Gamecho Arteaga was born in 1892 in Elantxobe, Bizkaia. She arrived in New York in 1907 and went to Boise where her sister Escolastica (b. ca 1890) lived. Ana was 14 when her parents sent her to Boise to serve as a maid in Benito Arego’s boardinghouse. They had reached an agreement with Arego (b. 1872), who was also from Elantxobe, whereby she would be paid $5 a month to meet the expenses of the trip ($150) that he had covered. The working conditions were harsh and furthermore, as Ana told her sister, she was treated badly. As a result, the girl’s brother-in-law, José or “Joe” Alastra (b. 1871, and who owned the Howell Spring Valley Ranch), met with Arego to try and reach an agreement that would allow Ana to quit the job, but Arego refused and the case ended up in court. The young woman feared that such a scandal would harm her parents, but in the end the court ruled that she should be allowed to leave her work, after the amount owed Arego was paid in full (Idaho Statesman, Nov. 1908). On Dec. 24, 1909 she married Marcelino Aldecoa (born in Natxitua, Ea, Biz. in 1886) in Boise, and they had 5 children: Luis, Fermín, Domingo, Alfonso, and Carmen who were all born in Boise.

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Luciana Celestina Aboitiz Goitia (Lucy Garatea).

Our second story concerns Luciana Celestina “Lucy” Aboitiz Goitia. Born in Lekeitio, Bizkaia, in 1905, she arrived in New York in 1920 and traveled with an uncle, Ignacio Barandica (b. 1892 in Muxika, Biz.), and a cousin, Visitación Arriaga, to Boise, ID. Their reference was another uncle, Francisco Aguirre “Zapatero” (b. 1878 in Segura, Gipuzkoa), who was married to Gabina Goitia (b. 1890, in Lekeitio), her mother’s sister, who managed the Star Hotel in Boise. For a while she worked in her uncle and aunt’s hotel as a maid. She did everything: cleaning, laundry, ironing, as well as taking care of her little cousins. Her work paid for her room and board and the passage.

This was part of a deeply rooted practice in the Basque Country, the so-called morroiak (live-in menial workers). Large families saved themselves having to feed their sons and daughters by sending them to the homes of relatives or neighbors, through the custom of tripa truke (food for work). And this practice was transferred to the US. Sometimes, the sheepherders who lodged in the boardinghouse also asked her to wash and take care of their clothes while they were in the mountains with the sheep. That was the only money earned that she was able to keep for herself. She had only 2 free hours a week, on Sundays. That’s when she would get together with Felisa Gamecho Achabal. Young Basque men invited her to the movies, to dinner at some Chinese restaurant, or to dance at the Anduiza Boardinghouse.

In Feb. 1922, Felisa and Lucy, along with Julia Lizundia (from Mendata, Biz., who later married Cipriano Barroetabeña, b. 1899, from Markina-Xemein, Biz.) and Maria Uberuaga (b. 1883, Lekeitio) participated in a festival organized by the Americanization School of Boise. They danced the jota and the porrulsalda accompanied by Julián Ecenarro (b. 1897, in Abadiño, Biz.) on guitar and Miss Lizundia on the pandero or Basque tambourine (Idaho Statesman, Feb. 19, 1922). One day, one of the young men, Esteban Garatea (b. 1895) from Nabarniz, invited her to the movies and Lucy no longer wanted to date anyone else.

They married Feb. 3, 1923, and for their honeymoon, they went to Nampa, ID in a taxi cab, spending the night at the famous Dewey Hotel. Esteban bought Lucy her wedding gown, shoes, and, what’s more, he had to pay her uncle the expenses of her trip and her room and board for the last 2 and a half years … as if Luciana had done no work! Ultimately, this sort of “buy-out clause” came to an end at some point by ruling of the state courts. The newlyweds settled down in Barber, CA, where Esteban had a job in a sawmill. They had 4 children, and life was good to them. In Aug. 1935, along with other families, they moved to Emmett, ID., but in Nov. that same year Esteban died from a work-related accident.

In 1940, together with Cipri Barroetabeña and Julia Lizundia (with whom she maintained an old friendship), Jon Bilbao (b. 1914, Cayey, Puerto Rico), the subdelegate of the Basque government-in-exile in Idaho and future co-founder of the Basque Studies Program at UNR, and José Villanueva (b. 1895, Greater Bilbao) and his wife María Teresa López (b. 1905, also from Lekeitio), formed the first group of Basque dancers in Idaho, in Emmett. Lucy had danced with the Lekeitio batzoki dance group in her youth and she was a good dantzari (dancer) as she showed whenever she had an opportunity. She lived in Emmett until 1948, when she moved to Burns, OR, after she bought the Plaza Hotel. She ran this ostatu (boardinghouse) there for 17 years, when she sold it to Bernardo and Maite Andueza in 1965 and returned to Boise. In Aug. 2009, she went to live in a residence. In 2010 she was a centenarian, thus becoming the amuma (grandmother) of Idaho. She died Nov. 15 of that year.

If you’re interested in these stories and you haven’t already done so, check out Jeri Echeverria’s delightful Home Away from Home: A History of Basque Boardinghouses. See, too, Robert Laxalt’s classic The Basque Hotel.

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: Two Lessons Learned in the New World

Today in our survey of stories adapted from Basques in the United States, we look at a couple of invaluable lessons learned by Basques newly arrived in the US.

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Gold prospector. Pen and ink illustration by Tony Oliver, Denver, CO, based on original photograph. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

First of all, there’s the story of (Juan) Pablo Aramburu, born July 23, 1902 in Aulesti, Bizkaia, who arrived in the US in 1920. He worked as a sheepherder in Emmett, Idaho for Andy Little. One day while keeping watch on his herd near Idaho City, he saw a group of people prospecting on his boss’s property. He informed Old Little; “There are some men prospecting on your land; you want me to kick them out?” The boss calmed him: “When they find something, then we kick them out!”

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Eusebio Asla

Nest up is the tale of Eusebio Asla, born on Feb. 26, 1928 in Arrieta, Bizkaia. After an eventful early life, which included a stint in the Spanish navy (during which time he once served General Dwight D. Eisenhower dinner), he came to the US in 1952 to visit his uncle Doroteo and brother Jess, who lived in Mountain Home, Idaho. He traveled by ship to New Orleans and rode a Greyhound Bus with a little piece of paper indicating his destination, Mountain Home. He loved telling the story of his arrival at Mountain Home bus station, where he hailed a cab to take him to the Basque boardinghouse in town. After loading his suitcase and getting into the car, the cab driver did a u-turn in the road, stopped abruptly on the other side of the street, and announced “we’re here.” The $5 charge to cross the street was a “welcome to the US” moment!

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: Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, the Woman Sheepherder

Welcome to another post about the (sometimes extraordinary) lives of ordinary Basques who came to the United States in search of a new and hopefully better life. These are all stories adapted from our 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.

Today we’re going to recall the remarkable life of Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, who we honor as a pioneering woman sheepherder (adapted from vol. 1 of Basques in the United States).

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Juanita Mendiola Gabiola. A true pioneer.

Born Jun. 24 1901 on the Ziortza-Beitze baserri (farmstead) in Ziortza-Bolibar, Bizkaia, as a child Juanita Mendiola Gabiola went to live on the Karrietorre baserri in Markina. She married Cipriano Barrutia (b. 1891) of the Patrokua baserri in Xemein, Bizkaia–who had first emigrated to the US in 1911–in 1921 and that same year they traveled across the Atlantic to start their new life together. They arrived in Mountain Home, Idaho and she worked alongside her husband, for the Gandiaga Sheep Company, in the desert and the mountains herding sheep and cooking. Although the majority of sheepherders’ wives stayed in town while their menfolk were up in the mountains, Juanita wanted to accompany her partner and husband. Her first month in Idaho she spent on horseback, trailing sheep, and spending nights in a sleeping bag under the stars. Her first home was a sheepherder’s tent, and this lifestyle lasted six years. Indeed, the couple’s successful partnership meant that in 1927 Cipriano was able to launch his own business, the Yuba Sheep Company.

Gus Bundy.

Women were no strangers to life in the sheep camps. Photo by Gus Bundy. Photo from Jon Bilbao Basque Library Archive.

Juanita adjusted well to the new and very different lifestyle in the desert, where she gave birth to their 5 children (although 2 died at birth). Ralph was born in 1929, John in 1931, and Richard or “Dick” in 1935. When the 3 children came of school age, they rented a house in Mountain Home and she stayed in town with them. The couple established a ranch, where they spent summers and a lot of the year with the sheep, and Juanita acquired US citizenship in 1938. When it came to life outside work, she used to visit the Bengoechea Hotel in Mountain Home to socialize with other Basque women. Cipriano died in 1966 and Juanita continued on, active as always, and competing in several contests for seniors. At age 92 she participated in the Third Age Olympic Games in Boise, Idaho and won several races. In 2001 she was still living alone on her ranch, caring for animals, and was very interested in politics and the Church. She died a centenarian on Oct. 1, 2001.

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: 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.

New Location for Boiseko Ikastola

The preschool Boiseko Ikastola, the only ikastola or Basque-language school outside the Basque Country, has just moved to a new location and celebrated this in a grand opening ceremony on July 20. On the opening, and the ikastola more generally, see the report by Boise’s KTVB Channel 7 here.  Zorionak from everyone at the Center to Boiseko Ikastola!

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For more on ikastolas and the Basque education system in general, see Equality, Equity, and Diversity: Educational Solutions in the Basque Country, edited by Alfonso Unceta and Concepción Medrano, available free to download here.

 

National Geographic recommends Jaialdi

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June 10. On its Intelligent Travel blog, prestigious magazine National Geographic has just included the 2015 Jaialdi Basque festival as one of five recommended open-air events to attend this summer in America.  In the “Beyond the Guidebook: Where the Locals Go” section, as part of Maryellen Kennedy Duckett’s recommendations to “Get Outside in the U.S.A,” Jaialdi is described as “a multisensory bash celebrating all things Basque.” To see the original post click here.

We’re sure here at the Center that if you’re reading this blog, you probably won’t need any extra encouragement to get out and about, July 28-August 2, at Jaialdi this summer. Just in case, though, bear in mind that even Old World Basques will be heading to Boise to attend the event, as noted in this article by Euskalkultura here, and they want to meet you!

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