Tag: Reno Rodeo

Basques, Broncs, and a Jack


Ramon Montero Orquin from Oronoz’s great-grandson Trenten Montero competes in the bareback riding and the bull riding at the Reno Rodeo.

It’s Reno Rodeo time here in Reno and it has all of us thinking about cowboys, but what about the roots of our Basque cowboys? A disclaimer, this post is a lot about my family, but as I’ve been working on our massive upcoming 2-volume compendium Basques in the United States, family roots have been on my mind a lot lately. The Reno Gazette Journal posted a really nice article about my nephew, Trenten Montero, and in it I found listed at least one other Nevadan Reno Rodeo competitor with Basque descent, Victor Ugalde  from Kings River, who will compete in the team roping. I was curious and looked up the entries for both of these cowboys’ immigrant descendants, and thought I would share with you all the entries that will be forthcoming in the Basques in the United States. Among the many striking things about these entries, the dangers and hardships, the hard work these ancestors put in and that their great-grandsons have put in to make it to the Reno Rodeo, what I want to highlight is that both of the ranches mentioned here, Leonard Creek Ranch on the Pine Forest Range, and 9 Mile Ranch in Kings River (both in my birthplace of Humboldt Co., NV) remain with these respective families. That says a lot about roots, Basque and cowboy, and how they’ve come together in our little corner of the West. Also maybe something about the central place of the Basque baserri in Basque culture (see for example, Zulaika and Douglass, Basque Culture) and how it relates to “Home on the Range.”

Trenten’s great-grandfather Ramon (from Volume 2: Iparralde and Nafarroa):

MONTERO ORQUIN, Ramon. Born in Oronoz to Antonio Montero and Ignacia Orquin. They were nine siblings and he sailed from LeH aboard La Lorraine, arriving in the US on Dec. 8, 1902 when he was just 18. While at the train station, Ramon was steered into the right train by a black woman, who noticed his tag attached to the jacket. Montero did not know how to thank her, but in his heart he did so, and profusely. Arrived in Los Angeles and herded sheep for Echenique, earning $25 a month. It took him six months to pay for the trip from Oronoz to California. At age 31 he married Fermina Frantziska Bidegaray. She was 21, from Eiheralarre and the marriage took place on Jan. 13 (or 16), 1918 at Our Lady Queen of Angels’ church in Los Angeles. The witnesses were Fermin Montero and Dominica Bidegaray. Frantziska’s parents were Juan Bidegaray and Juana Maitia (from Iparralde). Montero eventually came to Winnemucca and became a sheepman. He and Michel Bidart bought the Leonard Creek Ranch and for a time they ran 10–12,000 sheep. The ranch is isolated, so there was plenty of room for the sheep. They had donkeys, which are the best for herding sheep, and one day a fellow came looking for a jack donkey to breed his female. Montero had a jack and made a good deal when he exchanged the jack for five cows. That was the beginning of the cattle operation at Leonard Creek Ranch. Ramon’s son Albert (born in Winnemucca) in a memoir published in Herria in 2011, shares a detail worth replicating here. He told the interviewer Miel Elustondo that when his father was young growing up in Nafarroa, he smuggled contraband across the French-Spanish border (which by-the-way, cut the Basque Country in two). The interesting thing was that Ramon’s father was a border guard, working for the Spanish state.

And Victor’s great-grandfather, Antonio, who was born in Ea, Bizkaia (from Volume 1: Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa):

UGALDE CHACARTEGUI, Antonio. Born Feb. 9, 1889. Arrived in 1904. On Jan. 2, 1915 he married Paula Erquiaga (native of Natxitua) in Winnemucca. In 1917 he was a rancher and a stockman and worked the 9 Mile Ranch in Kings River. He was living there with his wife and his first 2 children. In 1930 he was living in Summit Lake. He died Nov. 3, 1933.


Basque Cattlemen: A Neglected History?

With the Reno Rodeo running June 18-27, here at the Center we thought it a good moment to reconsider an arguably neglected part of Basque history in the American West: that of Basque cattlemen.


Photo from Basque Library archive. 

Did you know, for example, that one of the first ever inductees in the Hall of Great Westerners (formerly known as the Cowboy Hall of Fame), in 1960, was a Basque, Pedro Altube, also known as the “Father of the Basques in America”?

Pedro Altube Idigoras was born on May 27, 1827, in Oñati, Gipuzkoa. At age 18 he left his family home for Argentina, where three of his brothers were already established. In 1850, he set sail once more, this time to seek his fortune in the Californian Gold Rush. But such get-rich-quick schemes were not for him and, once his brother Bernardo had joined him from Chile, the two Altube brothers set up a more steadily profitable dairy business in the San Mateo area of California, supplying both San Francisco and the mining camps in the Sierra foothills. After briefly trying his hand at ranching outside of Santa Barbara in the 1860s, in 1871 Pedro once more joined forces with brother Bernardo to establish a huge ranch in Independence Valley, Elko County, Nevada, near the town of Tuscarora, driving 3,000 head of cattle from Mexico to the Great Basin in order to set up the operation.  They named their property Spanish Ranch, which became one of the most prosperous ranches in Nevada. Following his retirement from the cattle industry, Pedro Altube moved to a mansion he had built for himself in San Francisco, where he died in 1905. When Spanish Ranch was sold in 1907, the sale included 400,000 acres of land, 20,000 head of cattle, 20,000 head of sheep (a later addition to the ranch), and 2,000 horses.

So, at a time when Reno dons its Western wear to celebrate Cowboy culture, let’s remember the Basque contribution to the cattle industry of the American West. Let’s remember the Altubes. And let’s also remember their close friends, the Garats, originally from Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country, who also ran a major cattle business after establishing the YP Ranch on the Tuscarora Fork of the Owyhee River in Elko County. Because these Basque families were at the very heart of the struggles and achievements of the cattlemen that, together with others, made the American West.

To learn more about the Altubes, Garats, and more like them, if you haven’t done so already, check out the classic Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World, by William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao. See also Nacy Zubiri’s wonderful Travel Guide to Basque America: Families, Feasts, and Festivals, which revisits many of the historic sites associated with the Altubes and Garats, providing useful travel information for those interested in following the Basque trail through the West and beyond.

For a brief online introduction to the significance of Basque ranches in the American West, see the excellent article “Basque Ranching Culture,” by Mike Laughlin. And for a highly evocative first-hand account of frontier life from the perspective of a Basque woman, check out My Mama Marie, by Joan Errea.