Basque Fact of the Week: Juan Bautista de Anza I and II, Explorers of the North American West

As part of the conquest of the Americas, Basques played an outsized role. They were there for many of the pivotal events that ended up shaping both continents. This is no less true for what would become the United States. Far west, in what eventually became California, Juan Bautista de Anza was an explorer, a military leader, and eventually a politician, following the path his father, also named Juan Bautista de Anza, had blazed to the south.

Portrait of Juan Bautista de Anza by Ira Diamond Gerald Cassidy, El Paso Museum of Art. Image from Wikipedia.
  • Juan Bautista de Anza Sasoeta, the elder de Anza, was born in Hernani, Gipuzkoa, in 1693. When he was around 19 years old, without being able to speak hardly a word of Spanish, he made his way to the Americas, to New Spain to be precise, where some of his mother’s family already lived. He became involved in mining, and was part of the silver boomtowns of Aguaje (near HermosilloSonora) and Tetuachi (near Arizpe). He joined the military, and was primarily occupied with protecting Sonora from Apache raids.
  • He later established the first livestock ranches in what would become southern Arizona. It was during his watch that silver was discovered near the Arizona Ranch and he used the ranch, owned by his good friend Bernardo de Urrea, as a base of operations to adjudicate the future of that silver. Through his actions, the name Arizona rose in prominence and ultimately became the name of the state. He was killed by Apaches in 1740 during a supply trip.
  • His son, Juan Bautista de Anza Becerra-Nieto, was born a few years earlier, in 1736, in the province of New Navarre in New Spain (now Mexico). He enlisted in the army when he was 16, and became a captain in 1760, when he was 24. He continued his father’s quest to establish a trade route between Sonora and Alta California. After approval from the King, he set out in 1774 with 3 padres, 20 soldiers, 11 servants, 35 mules, 65 cattle, and 140 horses, and, most critically, Sebastian Tarabal, a Native American from California who had fled from Mission San Gabriel who served as a guide. This first trip took him as far as Monterey, the then-capital of Alta California. He led a second group a few years later, trying to bolster the Spanish presence against the Russians. This second route is now commemorated as the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. This time, he reached as far as San Francisco Bay.
  • Upon his return to Mexico City in 1777, he was then appointed governor of the Province of Nuevo México (today, the state of New Mexico). As governor, he led punitive expeditions against the Comanche, who had been raiding the village of Taos. His military actions eventually led to the Comanches capitulating and signing a peace treaty, which was the foundation of the Comanchero trade. De Anza ended his tenure as governor in 1787, and died only a year later in 1788.

Primary sources: Ruiz de Gordejuela Urkijo, Jesús. ANZA SASOETA, Juan Bautista. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at:; Juan Bautista de Anza I, Wikipedia; Ruiz de Gordejuela Urkijo, Jesús. Anza Becerra-Nieto, Juan Bautista. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at:; Juan Bautista de Anza, Wikipedia.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 51

The next day, they got up early. Once the car was packed with their suitcases, Maite checked them out while Kepa went to get coffee and breakfast. It wasn’t long before they were sitting in the car, ready to go.

“So, it’s almost five hours to Santa Barbara, where Javi lives,” said Kepa. “I say we drive down the coast and stop to look at the sites. Javi isn’t expecting us until late this evening, since he had to work today. So, there is no rush to get there.”

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“Are you sure you don’t want to drive first?” asked Maite as she started the car.

Kepa chuckled. “You drew the short straw. You get to navigate us out of the big city.”

While Maite was used to driving in Bilbao, with its small streets and thick traffic, driving in California was a different experience. Even early in the morning, the freeway was full of cars. Sometimes, she was able to reach the speed limit, though other cars still flew by her; she could almost feel their anger at her for going “slow.” Other times, they were almost at a standstill. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to how the traffic flowed. 

“Won’t it be nice when they have self-driving cars and we don’t have to think about traffic?” said Maite as she brought the car to a halt on the freeway, traffic backed up for what seemed forever. “We can just sit back and do anything else as the car takes us to our destination.”

“What? And miss out in the joy of controlling the beast, feeling the engine rev as you hit the gas?”

“Ha! Can you even feel the engine in that thing you have back at home?”

“No, but my next car…” began Kepa wistfully. 

“You keep dreaming,” interrupted Maite. “Where would you even drive such a beast back home? On those roads? You’d end up killing yourself or, worse, some bicyclist.”

Kepa shrugged. “Maybe I’ll build a little track on the land behind the baserri, something where I can take my car out for a spin.”

Maite laughed. “And maybe I’ll build a particle accelerator in my basement.”

“What basement? You live in an apartment!”


Kepa laughed as the traffic started moving again. He looked at his phone. “It seems there is no route that follows the coast all the way down, unfortunately. How about we swing over to Monterey for lunch and then back inland until we get further south to San Luis Obispo. I read that it has some interesting historical buildings.”

“That sounds good to me,” said Maite as she gave the rental a bit of gas, revving the engine as they started to move.

“See! You like it too!” exclaimed Kepa.

Maite smiled. “I never said I didn’t,” she said as she gave the car a little extra gas to swerve around the slower car in front of her.

Basque Fact of the Week: Other Basque Cities Were Bombed During the Spanish Civil War

A couple of weeks ago, on the 84th anniversary of the bombing of Gernika, I posted about Picasso’s Guernica, and how it was inspired by those horrific events. Eneko Sagarbide and Jabier Aldekozea pointed out that Gernika was not the only, nor even the first, Basque city bombed during the Spanish Civil War. In fact, as emphasized in his book “Arrasaré Vizcaya”. 2000 bombardeos aéreos en Euskadi (1936-1937), Xabier Irujo recounts that the Basque Country was bombed some 2000 and several important Basque cities were devastated as a result.

A photo of Durango as it was being bombed, taken by an Italian pilot. Photo from Sustatu.
  • Eibar, just on the Gipuzkoa side of the border with Bizkaia, was first bombed on August 28, 1936, and was bombed fifteen times — twelve between the dates of April 22 and 25, 1937 — until the city finally fell on April 26, 1937, the same day that Gernika was bombed. According to the book The Civil War in Eibar and Elgeta, by Jesús Gutiérrez, the population was reduced to about 150 people from some 13,000, many due to casualties and evacuations. In the urban center, out of 488 buildings, 156 were completely destroyed and another 101 were damaged. 840 out of 1750 homes were destroyed. After the war, the population had been reduced to 5,000.
  • Durango, Bizkaia, was bombed on March 31, 1937 by both the Italian Aviazione Legionaria and the German Legion Condor. Durango was a road and rail junction between Bilbao and the front lines of the war. Two of the town’s churches were bombed while conducting mass, leading to the death of 14 nuns and a priest. Estimates put the civilian death toll at about 250 people. Elorrio, a nearby tourist destination known for its spas, was bombed on the same day. After Durango, the civilian populace began to realize that their houses were not safe against the bombings and began taking refuge in, amongst other places, local caves.
  • My dad’s home town of Gerrikaitz, and the associated town of Arbatzegi, which together comprise Munitibar, was bombed in the morning of April 26, 1937, just hours before Gernika. 11 people were killed. The nearby towns of Markina, Ziortza-Bolibar, Arratzu, Muxika, and Errigoiti were also bombed during this wave. In fact, Markina was the first Basque city bombed by air in the war, on September 29, 1936, but this first bombing caused little damage. In fact, people were more curious than anything when these first bombings and attacks occurred as they were fascinated by the planes flying overhead. However, that all changed when 6 people were killed by such attacks in Markina in October, 1936. By the end of the war, Markina had been bombed at least 20 times.
  • The Bizkaian towns of Etxebarria and Berriatua were bombed starting in October, 1936. In fact, Mount Kalamua, part of the front lines and where the towns of Markina, Etxebarria, and Elgoibar converge, was bombed nearly every day between October 1 and 20 by Italian planes.
  • These are only a few of the bombings that occurred against the Basque populace. A very comprehensive list of all of the bombings, both aerial and land by both sides, can be found here: Atlas de Bombardeos en Euskadi (1936-1937).

Primary sources: History of Éibar,; Bombing of Durango, Wikipedia; Bombardeos en Euskadi (1936-1937); Bombardeos de la Guerra Civil (an Excel spreadsheet listing the bombings, by both sides, during the war)

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 50

I’m rebranding the story — the plot continues, but I thought I’d add a little bit of a splash.

After a delayed start to their day, they headed out to the street. 

“Do you still want to check out those gardens?” asked Kepa as they strolled past a few cafes that were packed with students.

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“Nah,” replied Maite. “I’d just like to get a better sense of the city, if you don’t mind. If they do offer me a position here, I’d like to know what the city is like, to help me decide.”

Kepa chuckled. “Help you decide? Are you seriously thinking you’d turn down an offer?”

“What?” replied Maite absentmindedly. “Sorry,” she continued as she shook her head. “No. Maybe. I don’t know. I mean, this is such a great place for science, it would be a dream to work here. But, I would desperately miss everything about home. It’s a big change.”

“How about we walk to the marina? It might remind you of home, put your mind at ease a bit.”

Maite looked at her phone. “It’s like an hour walk from here!” She shook her head. “It’s so different here compared to home. You can’t really walk anywhere.”

Kepa shrugged. “True, but we aren’t in a hurry. And we’ll get to see more of the city this way.”

Maite smiled. “Egia da. That’s true. Ok, lead away, my fearless leader!”

Kepa pulled up a route on his phone and began walking, Maite in hand. They passed what seemed like a park on their right, full of tall trees. Some people were jogging along a trail while others were walking their dog. A few were sitting on the grass, reading or listening to music.

“That’s pretty nice,” said Kepa. “Almost like the mountains back home.”

“And right out the door too,” agreed Maite.

Once they got past the park, however, the cityscape changed to low-rise buildings that seemed to extend on forever.

Maite shook her head. “It is amazing that they don’t build up more here. Even the smallest towns back home have taller buildings than these, it seems.”

“I guess this is how it is when everyone wants their own house and more space. I can see the appeal.”

“You live in a baserri, surrounded by space. If everyone did, we’d be just like this, I imagine. I like being able to pop down to the street and get a coffee.”

“Yeah, I like that too. But, I also like having space for all of my stuff.”

“Seems like the more space you have, the more stuff you buy. Not just you, all of us.”

They kept walking, past an endless stretch of houses punctuated by the occasional church.

“It does surprise me,” remarked Kepa, “how many churches there are.”

“Yeah, it almost seems like every person has their own church,” chuckled Maite.

“I guess that’s the difference between having one dominant religion. But, I don’t see any bars around here. The bar-church ratio seems… backwards to me.”

Maite laughed. “Maybe the bar is your religion.”

“Maybe,” smiled Kepa. 

They came to the freeway. “Somehow, we have to cross over that to get to the marina,” said Kepa, looking at his phone.

Maite shook her head. “They don’t make it easy.”

Kepa was looking around to get his bearings when he noticed the street sign. “Hey, look at that, we are on Bolivar Drive.” Bolibar was a small town very close to Kepa’s baserri. His grandmother had been from another baserri that was in Bolibar proper.

“That’s cool! Who would have guessed we’d find a Basque name way out here!” 

They found the foot bridge that took them over the freeway. Mid-way across, they stopped to watch all of the cars zooming by underneath. 

“So many people,” mused Maite, more to herself than to Kepa.

“Yeah, and they’re all in cars,” added Kepa. 

Once they were across the bridge, it wasn’t too much further to the marina. The docks were full of sailing boats, all with fancy names like “Prince of Tides,” “Dark Star,” and “Zafir.” 

“It’s pretty,” said Maite as they strolled along the waterfront, watching people scurry on their boats. “It reminds me of the ports in Bermeo and Lekeitio, though something’s different.”

“There aren’t any fishing boats,” replied Kepa. “They’re all sail boats and the like. I don’t think I see a single fishing boat out there.

“Yeah, I see what you mean. It’s a different world out here.”

“So, what do you want to do now that we found the marina?”

“I’m famished,” answered Maite. “Let’s find some food!”

Fighting Basques: Relentless fighters. The Etchemendy-Trounday in World War II

Between them, these three Basque-American brothers had 27 years of military service, a third of them during World War II.

This article originally appeared in its Spanish form in El Diario.

John, Leon, and William Etchemendy (left to right) pose in their University of Nevada Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) uniforms.

In February 1952, the Reno Gazette-Journal proclaimed the Basque-American brothers John, Leon, and William Etchemendy Trounday as “the most decorated group of brothers in Nevada.” Between the three, they had a combined 27 years of military service – a third of them in combat – having participated in the World War II and the Korean War. In total, they received twelve stars representing each military campaign they participated in – from Normandy to Okinawa, passing the 38th Parallel and the Yalu River – six purple hearts, two presidential commendations, and nine other decorations [1]. They had traveled the world, starting from their hometown of Gardnerville in the State of Nevada. However, the origin of their history dates back a few decades earlier to the small towns of Nafarroa Beherea, Arnegi and Ortzaize [2].

Arnegi, on the road that connects Donibane Garazi and Iruñea, currently has a population of less than 240, half of what it had at the beginning of the 20th century. Similarly, Ortzaize, barely 20 kilometers away from Arnegi, with a population today close to 900 people, had double that in 1900. Both towns became two important centers of Basque emigration to the New World.

Jean Etchemendy rides a horse through the Blue Lakes area of the Sierra Nevada, northern California, around 1910. He had been on American soil for only three years. Photo courtesy of Raymond John Uhalde Etchemendy.

Jean Etchemendy Saragueta, born in 1886 in the House of Ixteotenia in Arnegi, arrived in the United States in September, 1907. He was 21 years old. His final destination was Reno, Nevada, where he met his brothers Michel, who had arrived in 1904, and Joanes, who had arrived only months earlier in March, 1907. His sister Marie would also set sail for the United States years later. His father had died in 1900, leaving behind his pregnant wife and his nine children. For four of them, emigration became their only way out.

Jean had completed the journey from Arnegi to Reno in 18 days. It would take him 43 years to retrace those same steps. From the time of his arrival until 1912, he did various traveling jobs between Nevada and California. From 1912 to 1917, Jean worked at a wagon loading yard and stagecoach way station in Wellington, Nevada. During his first brief vacation in San Francisco in 1915 he met his future wife Jeanne Trounday Heguy.

Jeanne, born in 1883 in Ortzaize, arrived in New York in 1905 at the age of 22. She was accompanied by her cousin Marie Grace Trounday. Jeanne followed the path taken by her sisters who had emigrated previously, although their destination had been Argentina. She arrived in the small Californian city of Fresno, where she first worked for the Hotel Bascongado, owned, at that time, by the Basque emigrant Jean Bidegaray.

Jean Etchemendy and Jeanne Trounday were married in 1916 in Fresno. In 1917, they moved to Gardnerville, beginning a fruitful career in the hotel business that lasted 55 years. There they ran the East Fork Hotel, between 1917 and 1921, and the Overland Hotel, as owners, from 1921 to 1972. They had six children: John (1917-1995), twins Leon (1918-1988) and Louie (he died at birth, apparently as a result of the so-called Spanish flu), William (1920-2011), Josephine (1923-2006), and Marie (1927-2018). Jean was also involved in sheep farming in the 1920s and was a sheep wool dealer from 1933 until he was almost 100 years old, being the oldest active dealer in the American West.

Jeanne Trounday poses with her children at the door of the Overland Hotel around 1924. In her arms is her daughter Josephine. From left to right: John, William, and Leon. Photo courtesy of Raymond John Uhalde Etchemendy.

Just a couple of decades after arriving in the country, Jean and his wife had become respected and successful entrepreneurs, instilling in their children the importance of family, work ethic, and the value of education. In fact, all of them would study at the University of Nevada, Reno.

John, Leon, and William all excelled in a variety of sports throughout high school and college, whether it was basketball for John or football for the other two brothers. John had a degree in mining engineering and education, Leon get his in education, and William in Hispanic philology. All three graduated in military science from the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of Nevada, with a reserve commission as a second lieutenant in the US Army Infantry. As if this weren’t enough, John enrolled in cadet flight school in May 1940 before finishing college, attending among other places the prestigious academy at Randolph Field in San Antonio, Texas, known as the “West Point of the Air.” He graduated in December 1940, receiving the coveted military pilot wings and a second reserve commission as a second lieutenant, this time in the Army Air Corps.

John, Leon, and William Etchemendy (from left to right) as they passed through the University of Nevada, where they participated extensively in various sports and social activities. Yearbook of the University of Nevada, 1939 and 1943.

“Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945” aims to disseminate the stories of those Basques and Navarrese who participated in two of the warfare events that defined the future of much of the 20th century. With this blog, the intention of the Sancho de Beurko Association is to rescue from anonymity the thousands of people who constitute the backbone of the historical memory of the Basque and Navarre communities, on both sides of the Pyrenees, and their diasporas of emigrants and descendants, with a primary emphasis on the United States, during the period from 1936 to 1945.

Guillermo Tabernilla
is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association, a non-profit organization that studies the history of the Basques and Navarrese from both sides of the Pyrenees in the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. He is currently their secretary and community manager. He is also editor of the digital magazine Saibigain. Between 2008 and 2016 he directed the catalog of the “Iron Belt” for the Heritage Directorate of the Basque Government and is, together with Pedro J. Oiarzabal, principal investigator of the Fighting Basques Project, a memory project on the Basques and Navarrese in the Second World War in collaboration with the federation of Basque Organizations of North America.

Pedro J. Oiarzabal is a Doctor in Political Science-Basque Studies, granted by the University of Nevada, Reno (USA). For two decades, his work has focused on research and consulting on public policies (citizenship abroad and return), diasporas and new technologies, and social and historical memory (oral history, migration and exile), with special emphasis on the Basque case. He is the author of more than twenty publications. He has authored the blog “Basque Identity 2.0” by EITB and “Diaspora Bizia” by On Twitter @Oiarzabal.

Josu M. Aguirregabiria is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association and is currently its president. A specialist in the Civil War in Álava, he is the author of several publications related to this topic, among which “La batalla de Villarreal de Álava” (2015) y “Seis días de guerra en el frente de Álava. Comienza la ofensiva de Mola” (2018) stand out.

John Michael Etchemendy Trounday, who had already excelled as a pilot extraordinary, was sent to the Army Air Corps Advanced Flight School as an instructor, serving at air bases in Louisiana and Alabama, where he suffered two plane crashes, though he was unharmed in both. Meanwhile the US entered WWII. Subsequently, John was assigned to the Accelerated Service Test Unit at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, training new pilots first as commander of the 83rd Teaching Squadron and later as group commander until March 1943. In August he was promoted to the rank of major. In January 1944 while he was piloting the P-40 Warhawk fighter plane, he had his last accident, this time at Mitchel Air Force Base in New York. The plane was totally destroyed. After the war ended, in November 1945, John was appointed group commander and flight director at the Central School of Instructors at Randolph Field. In March 1946, John served as deputy director of the Central School of Instructors and as an assistant training and operations officer, flight safety officer, and assistant commander at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. By 1946, John had accumulated more than 2,200 hours of total flight time as a pilot. In June 1946, he was nominated by President Harry S. Truman and consequently named First Lieutenant of the Army, being one of 9,800 chosen from more than 100,000 candidates. Between 1947 and 1949, John assumed command of the 26th Fighter Squadron (one of the first units to fly jet aircraft overseas) of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Group in Okinawa, Japan, with the mission of defending the airspace of the Ryukyu Islands.

After graduating, Leon Etchemendy Trounday was sent directly to the Army base of Fort Ord, in Monterey Bay, California, and from there to the South Pacific, serving in the 7th Infantry Division. He participated in 17 amphibious landings from Attu and Kiska, Alaska, through the Marshall Islands, to the Philippines. On May 11, 1943, they landed at Attu, where the division lost about 600 soldiers. On January 31, 1944, Leon and his comrades-in-arms landed on the islands of Kwajalein Atoll, participating in the capture of Engebi, part of Eniwetok Atoll, on February 18, 1943. Finally, they took part in the invasion of Leyte, where Leon was seriously injured. The Basque-American native of Nevada, Paul Laxalt, of the Army Medical Corps, helped transport him on a stretcher to the hospital, providing care during his recovery. Leon spent the next 14 months in and out of hospitals. He was discharged with honors in January, 1946. He received a Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal with four battle stars, 17 bronze arrowheads corresponding to as many amphibious landings, the Combat Infantryman Badge, a Presidential Commendation, and two Army Commendations Medals. Leon returned to Nevada where he taught in Reno and Sparks until his mobilization due to the Korean War.

Little brother William Etchemendy Trounday was assigned as Rifle Platoon Leader to L Company, 3rd Brigade, 329th Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division (the “Thunderbolts”). On June 18, 1944, they landed on Omaha Beach. They fought in Normandy, northern France (capturing the fortress of Saint-Malo, in Brittany), the Ardennes, and in the Rhineland. The division went through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, and Germany. In the Hürtgen Forest, William was wounded in one of the bloodiest battles in US military history with 33,000 casualties, including deaths and injuries. After recovering, he participated in late 1944 in the successful Allied effort that stopped the German counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge. In March 1945, the division advanced towards the Rhine river. William was part of the first platoons to reach the river with the aim of crossing the bridge that led to Dusseldorf before it was blown up. However, part of the bridge was dynamited. William fell wounded and was transferred to a hospital in Paris. After a brief convalescence he returned to his unit, which assumed the responsibilities of the occupation and the military government of Austria. He was promoted to captain. For his participation in WWII, he received the Purple Heart with two clusters of oak leaves, a Bronze Star, and four battle stars.

The photo shows the last time the family was fully reunited after the end of WWII. Jeanne would pass away in 1949. From left to right, seated: Josephine, Jean, Jeanne, and Marie. Standing, Leon (with an eye patch from the Battle of Leyte), John, and William. Photo courtesy of Raymond John Uhalde Etchemendy, Gardnerville, 1948.

In 1948, the three brothers were able to reunite with the rest of the family in Gardnerville after the end of WWII. In 1949, Jeanne passed away at the age of 66. Accompanied by his little daughter Marie, Jean visited his relatives in Arnegi for the first time. He continued to manage the Overland Hotel until 1953, when he transferred it to another Basque family. In 1958, he married the Nafarroa Beherean Jeanne Lartirigoyen, returning together to the country where they were born. After the death of his second wife, Jean returned to Arnegi for the last time. He passed away in 1990 in Reno at the age of 103 years and seven months. He was the oldest person in Nevada, and was considered one of the most influential people in the history of Douglas County.

John Michael Etchemendy was appointed an Air Force colonel in 1955. He would later be appointed commander of the Air Force Basic Military Training School at Randolph-Lackland Air Force Base. Photo courtesy of Raymond John Uhalde Etchemendy, 1962.

After WWII and the Korean War, the brothers remained linked to the armed forces. Leon retired from military service in 1968 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, followed by John in 1971, and William in 1975, both with the rank of Colonel. Between the three they added 84 years of service to their parents’ adopted country, with almost 14 years of combat spanning between the last world war and the Korean War. John, with more than 7,000 flight hours, survived three air accidents and led combat missions in Korea, while Leon fought in WWII where he was seriously wounded, and William fought in both wars, being wounded in battle four times. William is the only one of the brothers who was active during the Vietnam War.

Leon passed away at age 69, John at 78, and William at 90. Both John and William were buried with military honors in Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery. Marie, the youngest of the family, passed away in 2018, being the last of the first generation of her family born in the United States. Few are the Basque-American families whose children match the spectacular military trajectory of the Etchemendy Trounday. This article serves to honor the memory of all of them.

[1] Reno Gazette-Journal. “Team of Nevada Brothers Compiles Service Records” (February 22, 1952. P. 14).

[2] This article draws on oral history interviews with Jean Etchemendy between 1978 and 1980 by her daughter Josephine and on the stories written by Josephine’s son, Raymond John Uhalde Etchemendy, about his family.

Collaborate with ‘Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945.’

If you want to collaborate with “Echoes of two wars” send us an original article on any aspect of WWII or the Civil War and Basque or Navarre participation to the following email:

Articles selected for publication will receive a signed copy of “Combatientes Vascos en la Segunda Guerra Mundial.”

Basque Fact of the Week: Akerbeltz

Many of the figures in Basque mythology are shrouded in mystery, their true natures lost to the mists of time. Whatever role they played in the original Basque religion, their character became confused and contorted with the advent of Christianity. The black he-goat – the Akerbeltz – is a prime example. While he was originally viewed as good, a sign of fertility and health, he later became associated with Satan himself and became an iconic part of the Black Sabbaths celebrated by witches.

BasokoArima’s rendition of the Akerbeltz.
  • While later black he-goats became associated with Satan and demonology, before that they were benign creatures with healing powers. Often associated with Mari, who could take the form of a black goat, black goats were prized. In many houses, as a way of avoiding disease in their cattle, people would ensure a black he-goat was part of the flock, raised in the stable.
  • This benevolent akerbeltz was also a symbol of fertility and there is some speculation that he was related to the Greek god Pan. It was also believed that, if the right person cut a black he-goat’s beard, they could summon a hail storm.
  • It wasn’t until the 16th and 17th centuries that the old pre-Christian beliefs began to become so strongly associated with evil, the devil, and demons. Pre-Christian beings such as Akerbeltz were directly associated with Satan and were said to be worshipped by witches and warlocks, at Black Sabbaths that, in Basque, are called Akelarreak. The importance of these gatherings is reflected in the fact that more than fifteen different places are named for the Akelarre — literally the he-goat’s pasture — where these celebrations were said to take place. In reality, it is unclear what happened at these gatherings — to the extent they happened at all — but it is certain that Basques were not worshipping the devil.
  • In descriptions of the Akerbeltz from the akelarres or Black Sabbaths that the witches attended (often extracted from testimony under duress or torture), he is said to have the face of a man and sometimes two faces, one in the front and one on his back. He performs a reverse-mass, in mockery of the Catholic mass. These were said to end in an orgy in which human flesh was served.
  • Akerbeltz as one of the deities the pre-Christian Basques worshipped is documented from pre-Roman times. In the Church of Saint-Aventin, in the Occitanie region of France, there is stone taken from a previous building, and inscribed upon it is the phrase Aherbeltse, which most translate to modern Akerbeltz (though some have connected the first element – aher – to the Basque word harri, or stone). This suggests that Akerbeltz is a very old figure in the Basque pantheon.

Primary sources: Akerbeltz, Wikipedia; Barandiaran Ayerbe, José Miguel de [et al.]. Akerbeltz. Enciclopedia Auñamendi, 2021. Available at:

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 49

If you have comments or questions, or have simply been enjoying the story and want to say hello, please drop me a note!

The next morning, Maite quietly opened the door to their room, just in case Kepa was still asleep. She had gotten up early and gone out, not able to sleep next to Kepa any longer.

As she entered the room, the bathroom door opened at the same time. Kepa stepped out as he dried his hair with his towel, his body otherwise naked. Maite’s eyes wandered down for a moment before she caught herself and looked at Kepa in the eyes. 

“I got you some coffee,” she said, holding out a cup as Kepa wrapped the towel around his waist. 

“Mil esker,” he said as he took it from her. 

“I also got some pastries,” she said as she walked into the room, grabbed a tray, and placed the tray and the pastries on the bed. She sat down on one corner.

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

Kepa came over and sat on the other corner, taking a sip of his coffee. “Looks good,” he said as she opened the small box of pastries. 

“Kepa,” Maite began. “I’m… I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking last night. I got caught up in all of the talk about the science going on here, was excited to continue it into the evening, and just thought it would bore you. But, really, I was thinking more about myself and less about you.”

Kepa took another drink of his coffee. “Look, Maite, I know I’m not always going to fit in all aspects of your life. I can’t claim to understand all of this stuff you study. And, to be honest, sometimes I feel a bit insecure about it, that you can’t really talk to me about your research. I’m always afraid that you are going to meet someone else who really understands what you are doing and that has a connection with you that I know I’ll never have.” He paused for a moment, looking down at the cup in his hands. “I am afraid that you’ll find someone better.”

“Ez!” cried Maite. “There is no one better for me than you! I have enough people to talk science with, I don’t need that from you. You and I share so much more. No one could ever replace all of those memories of playing together at your baserri or in the plaza when you came to ama and aita’s taberna. And now, with all of this stuff with the zatiak, you and I have a connection that literally no one else can have. I can’t imagine going on this adventure with anyone else but you.”

“Thank you Maite,” said Kepa as he put his cup aside and took her hand. “And I’m sorry for lashing out last night.”

“No, I know I hurt you. And, really, that’s the last thing I want to do. I’m really sorry.”

“Apology accepted.”

“Now how about one of those pastries?” asked Maite.

“I think they’ll keep for a little while longer,” said Kepa with a smile as he pulled Maite over.

Basque Fact of the Week: Picasso’s Guernica

Tomorrow marks 84 years since the bombing of Gernika, that day during the Spanish Civil War when Hitler’s Air Force, at the behest of Franco, bombed the civilian population of the Basque village on a Monday, market day. It was one of the first aerial bombings of a civilian population, though other Basque towns, notably Durango, had been bombed earlier but without the same press coverage. The bombing and destruction of this sacred Basque town generated wide-spread shock and anger. It also inspired Pablo Picasso to paint his now-iconic masterpiece Guernica.

Image from Wikimedia.
  • When Picasso was first commissioned to paint a mural for the Spanish pavilion in the 1937 World’s Fair, he was at a bit of a loss as to what his subject would be. Something anti-fascist, to be sure, and he played with scenes of Franco eating his horse and fighting a bull. But, it wasn’t until the bombing of Gernika that he found his inspiration. Immediately after the bombing, he was visited by poet Juan Larrea, who urged him to make the bombing the topic of his mural. On May 1, Picasso read the accounts of George Steer, who described the complete destruction of the Basque town. Picasso finally had his subject.
  • Picasso never revealed what symbolism he intended in the elements of the painting, saying “this bull is a bull and this horse is a horse.” Rather, while he didn’t deny there was symbolism, he said it came from the painting, not from something he intended to place in the painting.
  • Guernica was first displayed in July 1937 at the World’s Fair. Initially, it didn’t draw much attention and even received significant criticism for its style (“jerky” and “too compressed for its size” by art critic Clement Greenberg) and its message, criticized by Marxists for not depicting a more hopeful future.
  • However, immediately after, it went on tour, first in Scandinavia and then the United Kingdom, before making its way to the United States. It continued to tour across the US, South America, and Europe until concern for its condition kept it at the Museum of Modern Art in New York until 1981. In 1974, it was vandalized, the words “kill lies all” painted in big red letters on the canvas, a response to the Mỹ Lai massacre in the Vietnam War.
  • Picasso had forbidden the painting from going to Spain until after it was again a republic. The death of Franco and the establishment of the new government eventually led to the painting finding its permanent home in Spain, in Madrid. There have been requests to move the painting to the Basque Country, at least for an exhibition, but the curators argue it is too fragile for such a move.
  • A tapestry of the painting, originally commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller when Picasso refused to sell him the original, has hung at the entrance of the Security Council at the United Nations beginning in 1985, with a break from 2009-2015. It was famously covered in 2003 when Colin Powell was making the case for the war against Iraq. In February 2021, the Rockefeller family took the tapestry back.

Primary source: Guernica (Picasso), Wikipedia

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 48

If you have comments or questions, or have simply been enjoying the story and want to say hello, please drop me a note!

That afternoon, Kepa was opening the door to their hotel room when his phone began to ring. He fumbled with the key, pushing the door open as he grabbed his phone. He smiled as he saw Maite’s image smiling back at him as he answered it.

“Maite!” he exclaimed. “How did it go?”

“It has been great so far!” replied Matie’s voice. “My presentation went really well. There were lots of questions that really showed they were interested in my work. And none that I couldn’t answer. And then I toured a few of the labs and met with some of the professors in the department. They are doing so many cool things here! At lunch, some of the students took me out and we talked about what life was like working and living in Berkeley. So far, it has all been great! I can’t wait to tell you all about it.”

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“I’m so glad to hear that!” said Kepa. “Though, I knew you would do well. I always had confidence in you.”

“Thanks Kepa. So, one of the professors asked if I could meet her and her group for dinner, to talk about a possible position in her team.”

“Great! Where should I meet you?”

“Well, it’s all going to be shop talk, with just her and the other students.” She paused a moment. “Do you mind?”

“No, no,” answered Kepa as he slumped on to the bed. “You have fun. I’ll see you when you get back.”

“Mil esker, Kepa! You are the best!” He could almost hear the ‘click’ of her hanging up. 

“Yeah, the best,” he said to himself as he let the bouquet of roses he had been holding fall to the floor.

It was late at night when he finally returned to the hotel room. Maite was sitting up in bed with the light on and a book in her hands.

“Where were you?” she asked. “I was so worried. You weren’t answering your phone.”

“I was… out,” replied Kepa as he stumbled to the bed and almost literally fell on top of it, not bothering to get out of his clothes or brush his teeth. 

“Are you drunk?” asked Maite. 

“I only had a few drinks,” he said as he rolled on to his side, his back to her. “What do you care anyways?”

Maite reached out a tentative hand but then pulled it back. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“If you didn’t want me around, you could have just said so before I got on that damn plane with you.”

“What? No, of course I want you here…” she began.

“Not today though, huh? I’m not good enough to be around with your fancy new friends.”

“I didn’t mean… I didn’t think…” began Maite. For a moment, the room was quiet. “I’m… I’m sorry, Kepa.”

“Well, I’m tired, Maite. Gabon.”

Almost instantly, Kepa’s snores filled the room, almost drowning out Maite’s quiet sobs.

The Power of Story: An Interview with Begoña Echeverria and Annika Speer

Drs. Begoña Echeverria and Annika Speer will have a showing of their play Picasso Presents Gernika on April 24.

On April 26, 1937, the Basque city of Gernika was bombed. This, and other disastrous events during the Spanish Civil War, led to thousands of Basque children being evacuated from the Basque Country. In their play, Picasso Presents Gernika, Drs. Begoña Echeverria and Annika Speer, both professors at the University of California, Riverside, explore the human toll that the bombing, the war, and the evacuation had, particularly on the children. In this interview, they discuss the origins of the play, why a docudrama was the right way to present this story, and how the collaborative experience keeps evolving in unexpected directions.

Buber’s Basque Page: Begoña and Annika, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. How did your collaboration on Picasso Presents Gernika begin? 

Begoña Echeverria: We were introduced by Bella Merlin, Annika’s colleague at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) Department of Theatre, Film and Digital Production. Bella, who does a wonderful job playing several characters in the staged reading, and I met at a Women’s Faculty Retreat when she first arrived at UCR. Bella and I struck up a friendship and I shared the Picasso Presents Gernika script with her. She suggested I get in touch with Annika about possibly collaborating with me, given Annika’s expertise with docudrama.  

Fortunately, Bella was able to assemble a wonderful cast (including her husband, professional actor Miles Anderson) and some talented UCR undergraduate students she had trained, so I knew that important part was well in hand. I also had kept in touch (as one does) with my former elementary school teacher, Paul Larson, who is a founding member of the Chino Community Theatre. Paul generously offered the use of their theater for the premiere on May 19, 2019, and also agreed to direct.

BBP: What were the most challenging aspects of turning the play into reality?

Begoña Echeverria: Once we had the right team assembled we began to tackle some of the logistics. Because the play is a docudrama, it was important to incorporate primary source material into the text and the performance. Thanks to UC San Diego’s Southworth Spanish Civil War Collection ( and the digital archives of the Association for Basque Children UK (, I had an abundance of posters, pamphlets, photographs, children’s drawings, commemorative stamps, news reels, videos, and the like to choose from. But shifting through them and deciding which ones to use was the most challenging part of the process. And that’s where Annika’s expertise and enthusiasm came in. She helped me think about the primary source material with an eye for visual variety and theatricality. Which images would best serve the story? How could we incorporate the material in a way that drew the audience in, provided historical context, but didn’t upstage the actors? 

Begoña Echeverria is the daughter of Basque immigrants to southern California. A native Basque speaker with a PhD in sociology, she is a Professor at UC Riverside’s Graduate School of Education.  Her research on Basque language, culture and identity has been published in academic journals in education, sociolinguistics, anthropology, history and folklore.  She is also a singer-songwriter with the Basque-American trio, NOKA (, which has performed over 60 concerts domestically and internationally. Her historical novel, The Hammer of Witches, loosely based on the 1610 burnings of Basque “witches” from the Baztan Valley in northern Spain from which her family hails, was the Historical Novel Society’s Editor’s Choice for May, 2015. Other creative works include her docudrama Picasso Presents Gernika, which  considers the fate of Basque refugees after the bombing of Gernika in 1937, as well as the artistic journey of Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece, Guernica. (A film screening of the play will be streamed on April 24, 7pm).

BBP: Begoña, what was your inspiration for Picasso Presents Gernika? Your play is a docudrama. How did you balance historical documents with the fictionalization of your main characters?

Begoña Echeverria: When I was living in Donostia (San Sebastian) in the early 1990s, I learned that my neighbor’s father – and his brother – were among the children evacuated to England after the bombings. But their mother only asked for the brother to return to Spain, not my friend’s father, and he never knew why. That’s all I know of that story, but over two decades later, it inspired Picasso Presents Gernika. I decided early on to make one of the siblings a sister, as I wanted to explore the idea that war and political oppression often affect the genders differently. I knew from the beginning what those effects on the siblings would be – you have to watch to watch the play to find out! – but I also wanted to show the larger historical context in which this particular story played out. The evacuation of Basque children after the Gernika bombing – 20,000 of them, in all – predated the kindertransport of Jewish children during the Holocaust, but it is not nearly as well known. And, unfortunately, war and political instability continue to have repercussions on children even today. I sought to balance political message with artistry and wanted to avoid being heavy-handed in the delivery. Much of that comes from examining the history of the Guernica mural as well, when the Picasso character narrates how it has been used and seen as a symbol of political protest since its inception.

BBP: Annika, what are the unique advantages of docudramas in conveying a story? How do you balance “truth” from “fiction” in best telling a story?

Annika Speer: Docudrama is a theatrical form that blends primary source material with imaginative fiction. A unique advantage of this format is that in drawing from primary sources, by which I mean material such as news reports, trial transcripts, photographic journalism, etc., the docudrama taps into the lived experience of real people and shapes or contributes to the audience’s understanding of real events. However, docudrama also incorporates fiction, which distinguishes this format from traditional documentary. While some documentary scholars are opposed to docudrama – wanting documentary to be entirely comprised of primary source material – there is a difference between documentary, which may seek to be a journalistic truth-telling account, and docudrama which may seek to be a form of storytelling that allows fiction to show us theatrical truths or imagine the circumstances from alternative angles. And this difference opens up potential from a storytelling perspective. A strict reliance on primary course material ignores the fact that such material is constructed in the first place. Whose stories get told? Whose voices are on the public record? Who is left out? What are the discursive circumstances that shape narratives such as trial transcripts or journalistic interviews? Primary source material doesn’t exist in a vacuum and upholding it as somehow better, or more important, than fiction may be useful in a journalistic context but is potentially short-sighted in a theatrical storytelling context. Because Begoña’s script was tapping into the perspective of women and children, she was thinking about voices who were not necessarily given the same space in constructing the original primary source material. Our production incorporated primary source material through images, radio broadcast, letters, journalism, and then wove that material with the fictional story of Andrea (“woman” in Basque) and Aitor (“testimony”), the two young children being displaced by the war. 

BBP: Question: Annika, as someone who doesn’t have that same personal connection to the Basque culture, what did you find most interesting about Begoña’s play and the story behind it?

Dr. Annika Speer is a Professor of Teaching in the Department of Theatre, Film, and Digital Production at UC Riverside where she runs the public speaking program. She is the Co-Director of the Public Speaking Initiative, a UC-Wide program based out of UC Santa Barbara that prioritizes interdisciplinary training in speech and rhetoric. She prioritizes communication pedagogy through close work with numerous campus programs, providing a large variety of public speaking workshops for the Graduate Student Resource Center, the Chancellor Research Fellows, the Science to Policy Certification Program, and the Social Entrepreneurship Engagement and Development (SEED) Lab, to name but a few. Speer is also supporting faculty of the Medical Health and Humanities Studies (MHHS) program:
In addition to academic work, Speer works as a dramaturgical researcher and script consultant for film, most recently for The Girl on the Train (2016), Men, Women & Children (2014), Walking Stories (2013), and Call Me Crazy: A Five Film (2013). She has directed plays as fundraisers for Women Help Women, Planned Parenthood, and Pacific Pride Foundation with the mission to generate collaborative, creative, and activist oriented theatre. 

Annika Speer: Although I do not share Begoña’s personal connection to Basque identity and culture, I do share a commitment to the power of story. I believe strongly in theatre as a vehicle for social justice and that theatre, film, and other forms of storytelling hold up a mirror to our society, educate us, and increase our empathy. What was powerful for me was both learning the personal story behind the play (about her neighbor’s father) as well as learning more about the history of the events of the bombing of Gernika. I also see the parallels between the treatment of the children and Basque families during the bombing of Gernika and the treatment of children and families on our border in this current political moment. 

BBP: Begoña, I imagine you have thousands of stories you could potentially tell. Why was this the story to tell now? What story will you tell next? 

Begoña Echeverria: Thank you for your confidence in me! I don’t know if I have thousands, but a couple stories come to mind.  I’m currently reworking a draft of my second historical novel, Apparitions, loosely based on the supposed appearance of the Virgin Mary to Basque children in the 1930s. In many ways its themes echo those I explored in The Hammer of Witches (, a fictionalized version of the 1610 burnings of Basque “witches” from Baztan, the valley in northern Nafarroa where my family lives. In both cases, political instability and religious intolerance upended “traditional” structures of authority that ultimately led to the persecution or death of many innocent people. A few years ago, it came out that Franco and his followers had been stealing babies from his political opponents for decades, telling mothers that their babies had been born dead when they really had been given away to Franco’s supporters to raise as their own. (This is the subject of the award-winning 2019 documentary, The Silence of Others: I’ve written a song based on that story, but I feel like that might grow into another play or book. Who knows?

As for why Picasso Presents Gernika was the story to tell now, I don’t really know.  Even though I’d heard my friend’s story about her father in the early 90s, it wasn’t until this century that it occurred to me that it might be a good story to tell – and it was very clear to me that the form it would take would be a play rather than a novel. I don’t have an explanation for that either; it just felt right.

BBP: Annika and Begoña, what does the future hold for Picasso Presents Gernika? Do you have plans for the play to tour? Are there other collaborative efforts you plan to work on together?

Begoña Echeverria: Thanks for asking! UC Riverside is sponsoring a showing on April 24 – the Saturday closest to the anniversary of the bombing of Gernika on April 26, 1937 (link to UCR screening).

We are also scheduled for a screening at New York City’s Euskal Etxea on Saturday, June 5, which will be 84 years and 1 day after the date Picasso completed Guernica. We’re hoping this screening will be in person (see for details). And Annika will be directing a staged reading at the Santa Monica Playhouse on Saturday, November 20—which is the day Franco died in 1975. 

Additionally, we have a book chapter about the process of staging the play coming out in October 2021 in the collection Theatres of War: Contemporary Perspectives (

We would love to have more screenings or productions, so let one of us know if you’re interested: or

BBP: What has been the most rewarding part of this experience for each of you?

Annika Speer: For me the process of creativity and collaboration has been most rewarding. When Begoña reached out to me two years ago asking me to read her script, I said yes, but at the time had no idea that we would end up working together on the staged reading, the dramaturgy, a book chapter, and then the film adaptation. It has been a joy to work on this project precisely because it keeps growing and evolving in different ways and our collaboration really functions well because we have shared goals and working styles but bring different skills to the project and process.

Begoña Echeverria: It has also been a pleasure for me to work with Annika on this project. It was actually her idea to turn the footage of the staged reading into a film when the pandemic hit and we were unable to move forward with plans for live staged readings. This gave us the opportunity to integrate archival images into the film that we did not show at the staged reading itself, and that’s where Annika’s expertise in dramaturgy and docudrama really shone. It’s been rewarding to share more of the history of these events this way, in particular some haunting images showing a Basque couple waving goodbye to Gernika as it was bombed, and a mother and her two children crying at their kitchen table.  

For the staged reading, it was also gratifying for me to integrate personal touches into the play. I made a point of integrating personal artifacts into the production: the handkerchief that the mother in the play gives her daughter was my mother’s, the photos Andrea sifts through at the end of the play includes my father’s, and the leaf from the tree the mother gives her children for safe keeping is a tree from the actual tree of Gernika.  It also meant a lot to me that the staged reading premiered in my hometown with most of my family and many fellow members of the Chino Basque Club in the audience.

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