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.
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.
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.
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.