Tag: Koldo San Sebastian

Gregorio Salegui, the St. Francis ice-cream maker


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 Tragic Case of Txomin Malasechevarria

We at the Center are really proud to have published the monumental 2-volume work, Basques in the United States 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. We intend for this 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. Welcome, then, to an occasional series on some of those lives, with a special focus on more striking or offbeat stories.

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.

Basques in the US vol 1

While we rightly seek to celebrate the success stories, it’s also worth recalling (at least from time to time) the less pleasant or unfortunate side of some of these individual tales, if only to emphasize just how hard it was for some folks to get ahead in their new lives. Here, then, is the tragic biography (abridged from the original entry in Basques in the United States, volume 1) of Domingo “Txomin” Malasechevarria:

At precisely 6 am on Nov. 13, 1952, the doors of the new gas chamber in the State Prison near Carson City, NV, were closed. Inside, tied to a chair was a 58-year-old Basque sheepherder, Domingo Malasechevarria (his last name had been changed to Echeverria). At 6:08 am gas fumes spread throughout the chamber and the culprit passed out immediately. At 6:20 am Doctor Richard Petty pronounced him dead.

Domingo Malasechevarria Yturraran was born on the “Erreka” baserri in Gizaburuaga, Bizkaia, on May 12, 1892, one of 7 brothers and sisters. Following a well-established tradition in the village, Domingo arrived in New York City on Mar. 7, 1912. He was 19 years old. With him traveled a large group of Basques (from Berriatua, Lekeitio, Deba, Amoroto, Markina, and also from Gizaburuaga). Domingo headed for Paradise Valley in Humboldt Co., NV, where two of his brothers, Antonio and José Mari, lived. In 1917 he worked as a sheepherder for Alfonso Pascuale, a major local stockman. According to his draft file he had no objections to being drafted into the US armed forces, and in 1930, according to the US Census, he continued living in Paradise Valley. During those years he also herded sheep in Douglas Co., NV. But things were not going well. His brothers had returned home, and had settled down more or less, while he was fighting loneliness in the Nevada desert. Domingo’s disposition was turning sour. He had become antisocial and a loner.

His ruin began at the famous Martin Hotel in Winnemucca in northern Nevada. One afternoon in Jul. 1947 he got into an argument with another Basque, Claudio Yturriaga. In a fit of madness, Domingo struck his countryman on the head with a garden hose. Later he told the police that he had hit his companion because “he had not passed him the bread.” Malasechevarria was at the time 52 years old and was by all accounts very strong. Yturriaga, meanwhile, born in Ereño, Bizkaia, was 63. He had to be taken to the Humboldt General Hospital and later moved to San Francisco for further specialized treatment. As a consequence of his injuries he ultimately had to give up his job with the Western Pacific Railroad (he had been a sheepherder before). He died of a heart attack a few years later on Nov. 6, 1956 and is buried in Winnemucca. Malasechevarria, meanwhile, was found guilty of assault and condemned to two years in prison. Further, he had to compensate Yturriaga with $5,000 plus he had to pay court costs.

Before his provisional release from jail two years later, he underwent psychiatric evaluation at the Nevada Mental Hospital in Sparks (Reno Evening Gazette, Oct. 10, 1947). Totally broke and with a reputation for violence, none of the stockmen wanted to hire him. Soon he had become a vagrant that wandered around Humboldt Co., living off charity and scrounging handouts from fellow Basques. In Sep. 1951 he was interned in the poor and destitute section of Humboldt Co. General Hospital.

That same month, on Sunday, Sep. 23, he locked himself in the bathroom and refused to come out. In turn, an orderly had the door opened but in doing so, Domingo struck him on the wrist with piece of piping that he had manged to unscrew from the plumbing, and ran away down the hallway. Still running, he entered one of the rooms hitting a patient (Tony Robinson) three or four times. At that moment nurse Elizabeth Catlett showed up and he struck her twice, killing her instantly. Doctor Hartoch, the superintendent of the hospital was the first to arrive on the crime scene. When he arrived Mrs. Catlett and Mr. Robinson were on the floor surrounded by a pool of blood.

Malasechevarria was with them, crouching like an animal. He was looking down at the floor with the bloody iron bar in his hands. He tried to attack the doctor, who defended himself with a chair. Finally, Doctor Hartoch, Peter Pedroli, a businessman from Winnemucca, and Phil Erringer, a hospital nurse, succeeded in restraining him. Police said that the Basque calmed down when he was locked up in a cell, acting as if nothing had happened (Nevada State Journal, Sep. 25, 1951).


Domingo “Txomin” Malasechevarria

On Sep. 25 District Attorney Callahan formally charged Domingo Malasechevarria with the murder of Elisabeth Catlett, 59 years old, and of Thomas Robinson, 86 years old. In the official document of the charges the DA emphasized that during the crime, Echeverria, “a man of great strength, was not mad (criminally insane).” During the preliminary hearing of Oct. 1, the sheepherder explained to the judge the reasons for his behavior: “That morning I was laying in bed when Mrs. Catlet came in and closed the window. I got up and opened it. She returned and closed it. I told her that she had better not close my window again. Later Mrs. Catlett came with her husband [the orderly] to yell at me while I was in the bathroom.” The judge asked him if he had anything else to add. “They didn’t used to give me enough laxatives. They only gave it me once a week. If I asked for more and they used to scold me. I couldn’t sleep and they refused to give me sleeping pills. I asked the doctor four times for sleeping pills and the doctor told Mrs. Catlett to give me a pill to sleep. That night she gave me a sleeping pill that was not a sleeping pill. They didn’t give me a laxative or any medicine for my stomach. They were always after me, attacking me.” On Oct. 17 the Basque sheepherder appeared before the district judge Mervin Brown and he pleaded not guilty. The judge assigned him the lawyer Donald Leighton as the public defender. Domingo was charged only with the murder of Nurse Catlett, and the trial date was set for Nov. 5 (Nevada State Journal, Oct. 18, 1951).

From the very beginning Nieves Dufurrena was the Basque-English translator. She was a native Nevadan, married to a Basque, and her parents were from Ea, Bizkaia (her maiden names were Legarza Erquiaga). She was a well-known woman in Winnemucca, active in the (Catholic) parish and in many social events. A few years later she became the first secretary of the local Basque Club. Nieves was fluent in the Bizkaian dialect and didn’t have any problem communicating with Domingo. The county sheriff, Derbert Moore, was in charge of selecting the jury. Of the 60 men, 13 were Basque, namely: Peter Albisu Jr (McDermitt), Audrey Etchegoyen, Chas Ugalde, Sylvester Urigüen, Pete Etchart Jr. (Winnemucca), Frank Bidart (Leonard Creek), Peter Lecumberry, Frank P. Garteiz, Pete J. Laca (Winnemucca), Fermín Gavica (Paradise Valley), Domingo Arangüena, Frank Bengoechea, and A. P. Garteiz. The last one selected was Domingo Arangüena Bengoa, a Winnemucca barber. His father was from Munitibar and his mother from Ispaster. Moreover, Fermín Gavica was on stand-by.

After the selection of the jury, the trial began. The prosecutor called the witnesses, the most important being Dr. Hartoch, who explained how he was able to contain the Basque until help arrived. T. Critzer, another patient, said he saw the nurse fall down by his feet. Herb Daniels, a Winnemucca policeman, said that he asked the Basque why he had committed the deed. The answer was: “It doesn’t matter. Better that she is dead.” For his part, the defense lawyer claimed “madness” (Nevada State Journal, Nov. 6, 1951). Finally, on Nov. 10, 1951 the jury found Domingo Malasecheverria guilty of the murder of the nurse and sentenced him to die by gas chamber. The death sentence was handed down by the district judge, Mervin Brown, and the execution was to take place in Carson City’s state prison. He similarly decided to deny the possibility of a repeat trial.

According to one report of the trial, “Echevarria looked more calm during the reading of the sentence than at any other time during his arrest. For the first time he appeared in court without an interpreter, even though earlier he had said that he did not understand English.” After Judge Brown imposed the penalty, the Basque sheepherder turned to Leighton, the public defender, and with something that looked like a smile, told him: “Good, this means the gas chamber.” (Nevada State Journal, Nov. 11, 1951; The Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 11, 1951). Leighton did hid his utmost to save the life of the defendant, submitting a clemency petition before the State Pardons Board, and at the same time an appeal to a higher court, which delayed the execution (Nevada State Journal, Jan. 19, 1952; Ogden Standard-Examiner, Jan. 26, 1952). Both petitions were turned down, setting the definite date of execution for Nov. 26. On the eve of the execution, according to the warden, the Basque rejected all the perks of people condemned to death, such as being able to talk to someone or any special wish. He did not have supper, although he did at all times have the company of two Catholic priests who were there until the last moment (Reno Evening Gazette, Nov. 13, 1952; Nevada State Journal, Nov. 14, 1952).

The execution was witnessed by Warden Art. E. Bernard and Doctor Richard A. Perry, as well as five upstanding citizens of the State of Nevada. One Basque was present, John Etchemendy, who at the time managed the Overland Hotel in Gardnerville. The doctor’s execution report is frightening:
NEVADA STATE PENITENTIARY (Carson City, Nevada, Nov. 13, 1952)
The prisoner enters the chamber: 6:00 AM.
He is tied to the chair: 6:02 AM.
Door is closed: 6:04 AM.
HCH gas hits him in the face: 6:08 AM.
Apparently unconscious: 6:08½ AM.
Definitely unconscious: 6:09 AM.
No longer breathing: 6:11 AM.
Heart stops: 6:20 AM.
Ventilator comes on: 6:25 AM.
Body taken out of the chamber and his death is certified: 6:51 AM.

Malasechevarria was the second oldest person to be executed in Nevada to that date. Warden Bernard declared to the press that “the gas chamber worked perfectly” (Nevada State Journal, Nov. 14, 1952).

Basques in the United States author Koldo San Sebastián also discusses this particular case (click here to read his post, in Spanish). For San Sebastián, the word that most summed up life for Basque sheepherders was solitude. Not for nothing, he notes, is the Basque Sheepherder Monument in Reno, a sculpture by Nestor Basterretxea, titled “Solitude/Bakardade,”  and that very loneliness was perhaps the greatest hurdle to surmount for Basque arrivals in the New World. He continues by quoting from a study of Robert Laxalt’s classic Sweet Promised Land by Gorka Aulestia: “feelings of solitude, melancholy, nostalgia, sadness, and notions of effort, struggle, danger, [and] work run through the book. The solitude of the sheepherder who lived, lost (in some cases going crazy), up in the mountains of Nevada.”

Center Books Take Stage at Tabakalera

Etxepare presentation

Left to right: Daniel Montero, Argitxu Camus-Etxecopar, Aizpea Goenaga, Bill Douglass, Mari Jose Olaziregi, and Koldo San Sebastián

Five of the Center’s books on the Basque diaspora in the United States were presented at the brand new and ultra hip Tabakalera Cultural Center in Donostia-San Sebastián yesterday. Myself, along with researchers Koldo San Sebastián and Argitxu Camus-Etxecopar, author (and all-around Mr. Basque) Bill Douglass, and with co-sponsors of the event the Etxepare Basque Institute represented by director Aizpea Goenaga and director of the diffusion of Basque Mari Jose Olaziregi, presented five books that treat the Basque diaspora in the United States from a variety of perspectives: the 2 volumes of Basques in the United States, led by Koldo San Sebastián and Argitxu Camus-Etxecopar but also representing a network of reseachers looking at Basque immigration through time and space, Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean by Bill Douglass, Zelestina Urza in Outer Space by David Romtvedt, and Garmendia and the Black Rider by Kirmen Uribe and illustrated by Mikel Valverde. We chose these books to present on the diaspora because of the variety of perspective, viewpoints and voices that they bring to writing about the presence of Basques in the United States.

The event received wide coverage in the Basque press, including an important story in El Diario Vasco.

As readers of this blog will surely know, Basques in the United Statesrepresents a giant undertaking that has already been the product of many years of research and that will certainly result in many more. Now containing names and bibliographic information for nearly 10,000 Basque immigrants, we hope in forthcoming editions to grow this into as a complete and comprehensive as possible encyclopedia of all first-generation Basque immigrants to the United States. We hope to do this with the continuing diligence of researchers like Koldo and Argitxu (and too many others to name here), but also with your help, that is why we’ve set up basquesintheus.blogs.unr.edu where we hope that interested people will also help us continue this important historical work.

Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean is a different kind of work altogether, one of the most recent publications by one of the most important Basque researchers and anthropologists of all-time, it takes readers on an exciting journey along with the galleons and caravels of the “Spanish” empire when Basque mariners formed an essential corpus in the empires exploration of this tremendous area which was known for more than 200 years as the “Spanish lake.”

Zelestina Urza in Outer Space provides yet a different aspect on Basque immigration, telling the story of young Zelestina Urza, who is just 16 years old when she arrives in Wolf, Wyoming from the green hills of Arnegi, throuhg her story, and her friendship with another young Native America woman, not only is the Basque diaspora explored, but also are the whole idea of the “winning” of the west and what it really meant in human terms.

Finally, Garmendia and the Black Rider takes maybe the most exotic take on the Basque diaspora of all of the books presented. Written by acclaimed Basque poet and novelist Kirmen Uribe, it treats the subject of the Basque immigrant from the perspective of modern Basque culture, and, as a children’s book, also with an eye that brings the Western experience to life in a completely different way that what we are usually presented with.

In addition to the presentation of the book, there was also other exciting news at the presentation. The Etxepare Institute has organized, in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the creation of a William A. Douglass chair in Anthropology, which will help us continue to build strong academic links that promote Basque Studies throughout the United States and the world!

What an exciting day for Basque culture in the diaspora and everywhere!

2015 Books Round-up II: Basques in the United States, 2 vols.; Hollywood and I

In the second day of our round-up of our 2015 books we see 3 more books that continue to treat the Basque experience in the United States.

Basques in the US vol 1Basques in the US vol 2

Basques in the United States, vol. 1: Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa

Basques in the United States, vol. 2: Iparralde and Nafarroa

Koldo San Sebastian, Argitxu Camus Etchecopar, et al.

The Basques in the United States is a long-term project to gather and publish information about first-generation Basque immigrants to the United States. The first fruit of this project has been published in July 2015 in two volumes (one for Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa, the other for Iparralde and Nafarroa) and contains the most comprehensive listing of Basque immigrants to the United States that has been made until now. Entries are listed arranged by the town or region of origin of the Basque immigrant and are cross-referenced by last name. An updated edition is being published in December of 2015 and plans are already in the works for further additions to increase the number of names that are included and the quality and depth of information that has been found about each person. To this end, the researchers and the Center are looking for the public’s help. We also publish a website basquesintheUS.blogs.unr.edu where the public is encouraged to help us enrich the information that has been gathered. With the help of dedicated researchers and the public at large we hope to grow this comprehensive listing of the Basques who ventured across the Atlantic to make a new life into a lasting testament to as many of those brave people who made the long and difficult trek to a strange land that soon became home for many.


Hollywood and I and Mad City, Javi Cillero

Bringing together of 2 collections of short stories, in this book Basque writer Javi Cillero, looks mainly at US culture from they eyes of world weary, well educated, but ultimately disoriented protagonists. The caretaker of a collection of exotic animals embarks on a dangerous relationship with a mobster’s girlfriend; the tragedy of Oediupus is retold as a Western with a happy ending; revenge is wreaked on a Bilbao art dealer for his past transgressions. In these two short story collections–“Hollywood and I” and “Mad City,” brought together here and published in English fro the first time, Javi Cillero creates an astonishing variety of different worlds: Basque cities and a city of the West; the Nevada desert; jetliners, trains, cars, ferries; classic cinema and Greek myths and legends; and much much more. All are written into existence with a distinctive voice that blends noir fiction and dark humor. These stories generally tell the stories of outsiders, and it is no coincidence that thus the city of Reno, Nevada, also forms a central heart of many stories: like them, it is a place of missed connections, of sad and broken histories, and yet has the capacity for the human spirit to persevere against the odds. The characters here are just as varied as the stories themselves: witnesses and students, cowboys and art dealers, outsiders and insiders and blends of the two. The stories almost defy summary in the incredible flowering of their imaginary worlds, just as desert flowers surprise with their splash of color in the otherwise gray sagebrush steppe.