Tag: Nevada Basques (page 2 of 2)

Governor signs Basque Heritage and Culture Day Proclamation

5332b2937123fc47730b98c462c8bc33Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval has officially declared June 29 as the day to celebrate “Basque Heritage and Culture in Nevada.”  As a part of this celebration, local performers and artists will perform Basque traditional dance and songs, representing Nevada at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to be held in Washington, D.C. from June 29 to July 4. See a report on this by the Elko Daily Free Press here.

To mark the event, an Elko native, Vince Juaristi, has written a series of wonderful articles, titled “Intertwined,” which explore the connections between Basque and American culture. If you haven’t already done so, you can read these articles here.

Anyone interested in Basque culture should check out Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives, by William A. Douglass and Joseba Zulaika. As well as serving as a great general introduction to Basque culture, this work also includes the personal experiences and reflections of the two renowned authors.  The book is available free to download here.


Tales from Basques in the United States: Erramun Borda, the “Dutch” Basque sheepherder, moonshiner, and tree carver


Ramon “Dutch” Borda sitting and reading a book.

This week in our series of stories adapted from vol. 2 of  Basques in the United States we look at a man who had four names, about the same number of jobs, and, ultimately, seven kids. Welcome to the always lively world of Erramun “Dutch” Borda.

Erramun, aka Raymond, Ramon, or “Dutch” Borda was born Apr. 17, 1894 in Bidarrai, Lower Navarre. His mother, Marikita Etchelhar, had been born in Argentina. Besides Pierre, he had 2 other brothers, Guilen and Batita, who also came to Nevada to herd sheep. Their sister also came to the US. Borda was commonly known as “Dutch” (due to his affiliation with Minden, a German town, according to one source) but he wrote his name on aspen trees 3 different ways: Erramun, Ramon, and Raymond.

He emigrated to the US when he was 19, arriving in New York City and making his way across the country to Reno where his brother Pierre lived (in the Commercial Hotel). He began tending the sheep of his brother-in-law Uhalde, but soon had his own herd. In the next ten years he began many new adventures. He married Gorgonia Martinez from Iruñea-Pamplona and they had 4 children: Mary, Raymond, Helen, and Pete. He bought a ranch in Dayton, NV, and then he bought the East Fork Hotel in Gardnerville, NV from Charles Brown.

Those were the days of Prohibition and most Basque hotel owners in Nevada, more than 97 percent of them, ended up getting involved in Prohibition-related incidents at one time or another with the federal authorities. Some hotels were even shut down and their owners jailed. In April 1920 Raymond was arrested by federal agents when they discovered wort–the liquid extract from the mashing process involved in distilling beer and brandy–at his home. It was the second time that he had been caught breaking the law. He was released on bail and was tried in June of that year. In April 1921 he was arrested yet again for selling liquor to two clients in the hotel kitchen. He was brought before the magistrate who set bail at $500 with the obligation to report to the federal commissioner, Anna Warren, for preview. And on April 23, 1923 a federal judge ordered the closure of the hotel for 8 months. Two days later, in an event never clarified, someone fired 2 shots that hit the hotel office.


Detroit police inspecting equipment found in a clandestine brewery during the Prohibition era. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In November of that year he was sentenced to 6 months for 3 counts related to the ban and sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and a fine. While in prison in February 1924 he requested furlough to care for his lambs, and was granted permission. The costs of the probation officer were charged to Dutch’s account, and when the lambing season ended, he returned to the county jail to serve the rest of the sentence! Borda was a member of the Farmer’s Bank of Gardnerville, the Farm Bureau, and the Eagles Lodge. He had 7 children in total, and died on April 7, 1950.

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: 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.

Elkokoak, an online exhibit about the Basques of Elko

“Elkokoak: The Basques of Elko” is the title of an online exhibit by the Virtual Humanities Center at Great Basin College showcasing archive materials about Basques in northeastern Nevada. The exhibit is timed to coincide with both  the 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival “Innovation by Culture” tribute to Basque-Americans and the 2016 Elko National Basque Festival. Check out the exhibit here.


It includes Elko Basque Stories, the oral histories of the Basque residents of Elko; Elko Basque Articles, a sampling of Basque-themed articles from the Northeastern Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, published by the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko; a link to the Great Basin Basque Dancers; Intertwined, a wonderful series of articles by Vince J. Juaristi (highly recommended if you haven’t already read them); a link to the 2016 National Basque Festival; and other Basque resources.

This is yet another inspired initiative to preserve Basque heritage in the United States and we at the Center encourage you all to take some time out and visit this great new online resource.


Tales from Basques in the United States: Constancia Bengoechea and the only house in the US whose address was written out in Basque on the front door (probably)

This week’s story from Basques in the United States, adapted from volume 1, is about the only house in the US (probably) whose address was written out in Basque on the front door… and yet another remarkable Basque women who lived there: Constancia Bengoechea (also spelled Bengochea).


A photo of Constancia taken on her wedding day in 1916.

Born in 1895 in Nabarniz, Bizkaia, Constancia married Daniel “Dan” Gabica of Ereño, Biz. (b. 1883) in 1916, before coming to the US in December 1918 with their daughter, Felicia, born that same year. Dan had first come to the US in 1910. She arrived at Rock Creek Ranch near Orovada, Humboldt Co., NV, owned by Dan, in the dead of winter. The temperature was below zero and the ranch house was still not finished, the windows covered with blankets in an attempt to keep out the freezing cold. “Nora etor naz ni, ba?” (Where on earth have I come?) she would say and right then and there Constancia vowed never to go short of money again. But after WWI the armed forces quit buying lamb meat and wool and prices plummeted, with the result that the couple lost all their sheep.


The Winnemucca Hotel, where Constancia worked for over forty years. Picture by Finetooth, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This setback didn’t deter them, however, and following the births of Raymond (b. 1921), Joe (b. 1923, killed in WWII in 1944), Dan Jr. (b. 1925), and Mary (b. 1927), by the 1930s Dan was one of the most prosperous sheepmen in Northern Nevada, working in Rebel Creek, Humboldt Co. In 1931 he joined the board of directors of Humboldt Co. Farm Center. The couple then moved into the hotel business, running a motel on East Winnemucca Blvd. in Winnemucca. Life for Constancia was work and more work; then, after a few hours of rest, back to more work. Dan died in 1960, and Constancia went on to work at the famous Winnemucca Hotel for over forty years, always with a smile on her face. Felicia also worked alongside her mother for many years in the 60s and 70s.


“Beŕeun da Oguei, Ekera Binemuḱa Zeraitz”** (Two Hundred Twenty, East Winnemucca Boulevard). Photo by Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe.

Famously, Constancia owned a house on main street in Winnemucca, the only house (probably) in the US that had the address written entirely in Basque, mixing Iparralde and Bizkaian dialects. She died a centenarian in 1995 in Winnemucca (or “Binemuka” as she would say all her life).

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.

**The rendering of the address in Basque is the best we could make out from the photo. If it was spelled any differently, just let us know and we’ll change it accordingly.

Tales from Basques in the United States: How Basques saved the Paiute cutthroat trout

We continue today with our occasional series on the sometimes offbeat or downright quirky stories in 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.

Basques in the US vol 2

From the Wikipedia description here, the Paiute cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki seleniris) is one of fourteen subspecies of cutthroat trout native only to Silver King Creek, a headwater tributary of the Carson River in the Sierra Nevada, in California. This subspecies is named after the indigenous Northern Paiute peoples. Today, Paiute cutthroat trout are endemic to and protected within the Carson Ranger District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, but they would have disappeared altogether were it not for Basques! Here, then, is theis amazing story adapted from the biography (abridged from the original entry in Basques in the United States, volume 2) of Jose “Joe” Jaunsaras:

He was born in Irurita, in the Baztan Valley of Nafarroa, on Oct. 7, 1893 and emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City on Mar. 21, 1912. He went to Reno to join his brother Martin. In 1920 he was herding sheep in the Smith Valley, Lyon Co., Nevada. In 1930, he was a sheepherder in Simpson. From ca. 1917–22 he also worked for W. S. Conwell of Coleville in the Carson Iceberg area of California, where he and another herder, Jose “Joe” Azcarraga (b. Lekaroz, also in the Baztan Valley of Nafarroa, 1891) are credited for saving the pure strain of the Paiute trout.

It happened near Llewellyn Falls, where a severe downpour had disrupted the creek bed, leaving a bunch of fish dying in a small pool of water. The two Basque herders took a number of them in a bucket and transplanted them higher up in the creek where there was enough water. The trout mixed with other species in the creek. Only the ones transported in the bucket by the two herders proved to be the pure strain. Today, there is a wooden sign by a trail in the Toiyabe National Forest that tells the story of the Paiute Trout. One day California Fish & Game officials paid Jaunsaras a visit. They wanted to fly him back to where the Basques were herding sheep to show them exactly the place where they saved the trout, but when Joe saw the helicopter, he thought it was a big mosquito, and refused to get in!

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.”

Basque Mural To Be Installed in Gardnerville, Nevada

Tuesday, March 1: Weather permitting, the Main Street Gardnerville Basque-themed mural project will be completed tomorrow, when the 12-foot by 16-foot work of art is installed on the building owned by the Masons/Carson Valley Lodge No. 33, F & A M at 1421 Hwy 395 N in Gardnerville, Nevada.


The full color mural, 16′ tall by 12′ wide and painted on 6 4’x8′ panels, which will be assembled on March 1. By permission of Beverly Caputo.

Designed  by local artist Beverly Caputo, the project has been in the works since 2012.

See a report on the event here.

Check out this other Basque-themed mural that Beverly did for Sharkey’s Casino in Gardnerville:


Mural in Sepia brown tones painted along with a series of historical works at Sharkey’s Casino in Gardnerville. By permission of Beverly Caputo.

Quoting Nancy Zubiri’s A Travel Guide to Basque America: Families, Feasts, and Festivals: “Gardnerville, founded in 1879, was an important sheep center in Nevada, and Basques first came here to raise sheep around the turn of the century . . . The heart of the Basque community is Gardnerville’s Main Street, where basque food is still served in the old style. The two remaining old-style Basque restaurants are the Overland Hotel and J and T Bar and Restaurant., which may be over 130 years old, according to its owners. There is also a lovely restaurant by the golf course, the Carson Valley Country Club Bar and Restaurant.”

Gardnerville is also home to the Mendiko Euskaldun Cluba Basque club.



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