Category Archives: Diaspora

The Basque History of Shoshone, Idaho


The Basques have been an integral part of the history of much of the world, from their role in Magellan’s voyage around the globe to their participation in the Spanish conquests of America. The Basques also touched a lot of the American West, and, while I should by now be accustomed to the pervasiveness of the Basques in the West, I’m still surprised when I hear about the story of places like Shoshone, Idaho.

Shoshone is a small town, just east of Gooding (another center of Basque-American culture). It’s a town I’ve certainly heard of, but have never visited. It turns out that Shoshone was one of the important stops for Basques making their way west after their voyage across the Atlantic and their landing on the east coast. Shoshone, at one time, boasted 7 Basque boarding houses (today Shoshone has a population of about 1400, so that would be about one boarding house per 200 inhabitants, probably the highest density in the country). Today, only 4 survive. But, the pride of that Basque heritage lives on.

Tomorrow, Shoshone will celebrate the 1st Annual Lincoln County Basque Heritage Day. Sponsored by the Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce and the Ben Oneida family, the event will showcase the Basque heritage of Shoshone, featuring a lecture by Prof. Dave Lachiondo of the Center for Basque Studies at Boise State University and a screening of the film Basques in the West. In addition, there will be sheep camps, photo displays, and history displays. The event is free and all are welcome.

Sounds like a wonderful event! It is inspired by the Basque immigrants who helped shaped the history of Shoshone. I’m curious what those boarding houses look like today, and what secrets they might still hold!


Zorionak NABO!

index.5679874652This year marks the 40th anniversary of NABO — the North American Basque Organizations. NABO’s goal is to bring together the Basque clubs of North America (NABO has member clubs in Canada and the United States) to help those clubs in their efforts to preserve and promote Basque culture. NABO is thus a collection of organizations and is able to provide opportunities that individual clubs would not be able to, such as the national Mus tournament and the Udaleku summer camp.

I first encountered NABO about 14 years ago, via my involvement with the Seattle Euskal Etxea. At the time, Bob Echeverria was president. Grace Mainvil, who has been a constant presence within NABO, was treasurer. I remember being overwhelmed by all of the experience that was represented in that room and all of the great ideas that were being tossed around. As with any such organization, NABO had more ideas than it could realistically realize, but it was great simply seeing the energy of the people involved. I remember that there were ideas for a directory of Basques in the diaspora (a very ambitious idea that unfortunately didn’t go anywhere, partially because they tapped me to be involved and I, well, sort of dropped the ball…). I don’t remember many more specifics, but I simply remember being part of something big and grand.

More recently, I’ve been to a NABO meeting a few years back, in Salt Lake City, as president of the New Mexico Euskal Etxea. While some faces have changed (the current president is Valerie Arrechea), others are familiar (Grace is still treasurer), the energy and ideas were as vibrant as ever. One simply cannot forget the energy that John Ysursa brought with him, and the grand visions regarding Basque identity and building the desire for embracing that identity among young Basques in the diaspora.


Last week, NABO celebrated their 40th anniversary in Elko as part of the 50th anniversary of the Elko Basque festival. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend, but it sounds like, by all accounts, it was a grand weekend.

NABO offers a valuable presence in the Basque community by pooling together the resources and expertise of all of the individual clubs and providing a common voice that can help promote projects that are simply too big for any one club. It also offers a network for Basque clubs and their members that helps develop a national and international Basque identity, where Basques are exposed to other Basques from other parts of North America. Basques in California get to interact with those in Washington DC, Quebec, and Florida. This expands the concept of “Basqueness” in the diaspora, as each of these communities has a different history, from the sheepherder experience, to the jai alai players, to more distant roles in exploring and settling North America. By providing this umbrella, NABO expands and redefines what it means to be Basque.

Zorionak NABO! And here’s to another 40 great years!

Hella Basque is Hella Blog

Writing a blog, putting posts out there on a regular basis, requires dedication. Writing a blog that pulls in readers and engages them requires charm and wit. Hella Basque has both. Billed as “youthful musings on Basque American culture and community,” Hella Basque is the work of Anne Marie, a young Basque-American who has been immersed into Basque-American culture for many years and is now pouring out those years into a blog that is both insightful and a delight to read. Hella Basque has posted about the band Amuma Says No, the Top 5 Things Not to Say to a Girl’s Aita (I will have to note these down for the very distant future when my little girl gets to that age),  and You Know You’re Basque American When… (which has been shared many times on Facebook), among other topics.

Hella Basque has only been posting for a few weeks, but the writing and the choice of topics makes it a top choice among Basque blogs. I highly recommend it!

Big Basque News: Basque World Heritage Site and .eus Basque Internet Domain

Two big news items related to Basques this week.

redbay20nw1First, long time contributor David Cox, who also happens to be Canadian (we don’t hold that against him), sent this article about the possibility of the Red Bay National Historic Site in Labrador becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Canadian Officials are currently lobbying UNESCO to make that site, and another in Canada, World Heritage Sites. Red Bay is home to a 16th century Basque outpost on the eastern coast of Canada. Drawn initially by cod, it seems, the Basque sailors found whales as well and setup the site to process the whales. The site has been excavated and a cemetery, a number of ships both large and small, and processing stations. The article points out that the establishment of this processing center in Canada marked the beginning of commercial whaling and that establishing it as a World Heritage Site would indicate “that the story of the Basque Whaling in Red Bay is a story that should be protected and presented for all humanity.” To get a feel for what it might have been like for Basques living in Labrador in the 1500s, check out the Last Will and Testament of Juan Martinez de Larrume.

logo_enSecond, as some of you may now, there has been an effort for quite some time now to get a top-level domain (think .net, .com, .edu, .es) on the internet for things Basque. I’ve featured a link in the top right corner of my page to the group that is advancing this cause, The PuntuEus Foundation. A couple of weeks back, ICANN, the organization that decides these things, approved the creation of the .eus domain. Now, there is a corner of the web dedicated to things Basque. If a site ends in .eus, you will know it is Basque related. Having a domain like .eus will aid groups in promoting Basque culture and language. Thanks to Pedro Oiarzabal for pointing this out to me. Zorionak PuntuEus!

Thoughts on Longmire: Death Came in Like Thunder

longmire-death-thunder-1-tx_On June 10th, A&E broadcast the episode of Longmire that features the crew dealing with a Basque community in Wyoming, Death Came in Like Thunder. For those who missed it but are interested in seeing it, you can catch it on A&E’s website.

The plot centers around the murder of a Basque sheepherder, the grandson of Basques who lost the rest of their family in the bombing of Gernika. While investigating the murder, the cast of Longmire visit a Basque festival, in progress, and the scene that a bunch of Basques (and non-Basques) were recruited to lend authenticity — you can read about the actual filming experience here. They later find one of the sheepherders, brother of the dead man, in the mountains tending sheep and then go to the home of third brother. Throughout, various references to Basques are made with varying degrees of accuracy.

Overall, given the difficulty of both cramming in as much Basqueness as possible while still staying true to history, I felt they did an admirable job. They had the sheepherder and his dog featured in the beginning of the episode, with the herder sporting a big black beret. The star, Walt, tells Vic, the sidekick, that the Basques came to Wyoming to escape World War II. This is the first inaccuracy, as the reason Basques left Euskadi are more varied and more complex, but Basques in Spain weren’t directly affected by WWII. The Spanish Civil War, on the other hand, would have been more accurate. But, there were Basques in them thar hills before the war. And most of the Basques in Wyoming, I believe, are from the French side, so maybe they could have been escaping WWII, in principle. This didn’t bother me too much, actually, as it isn’t a documentary, but one character giving his explanation. As in real life, and as is true of many Basques themselves, he can be wrong. While investigating the cabin of the dead herder, they find a postcard of Picasso’s Guernica. Thinking on the date, Walt realizes that today is the day of St. Ignacio and there is a Basque festival (never mind that St. Ignacio’s feast day is in July and this episode is supposed to take place in the spring…).

longmire-death-thunder-5-tx_The festival is an interesting mix of both big, Jaialdi-style festivals with booths for food, sport, nicknacks, and alcohol, but with a very small festival feel. They have the Basque colors everywhere and some traditional dress (the crew made the costumes for the women dancers). There really isn’t any dancing though — the dancers carry a hoop around but there is no dancing. I guess there wasn’t time for it. There are traditional sports: tug-of-war and orga jokoa, a game in which men lift wagons and turn them as much as they can. The filming showed relatively small guys lifting what were supposed to be 400 lb weights into the wagons. That didn’t make the cut, presumably because they realized there is no way the little guys could do that. Walt and Vic approach one of the food booths and Walt eats what is implied to be a longmire-death-thunder-9-tx_Rocky Mountain Oyster (in reality it was a meatball). I haven’t ever seen one of those at a festival (though I have in my parents’ fridge) but it isn’t the kind of thing I would seek out either. Otherwise, the scene has people wandering, talking, drinking, and having fun, much like any real festival. The sausages were far from chorizo, but no one could see them anyways (you can barely make out that dashing cook preparing that fine fare). I thought they did a nice job with the festival.

longmire-death-thunder-29-tx_Next we find Walt and Vic in the mountains, confronting one of the brothers. Of particular note here are the aspens with the arboglyphs, a well-documented feature of the Basque presence in the western mountains (though I think many cultures carved images into the trees). The herder describes how the arboglyphs recount their family’s history with the land and how the timber company wants to take their land and trees. (Here, my father-in-law, a former logger, pointed out that timber companies don’t want aspens, they are useless as lumber.)

This brother thinks the timbermen killed his brother so he fights them and gets arrested. While in jail, he describes how his grandparents’ families were killed in the bombing of Gernika. Walt then stares at the postcard of Guernica and recounts a poem by Norman Rosten, made into a song by Joan Baez, which has the phrase “death came in as thunder while they were playing” — hence the title of the episode. He then goes on to state how the Basques would always look someone in the eye when killing them, an odd reference indeed.

longmire-death-thunder-30-tx_The final glimpse into the Basques occurs when Walt and Vic go to the third brother’s home. There is a painting on the wall, a painting that was done by a friend in Santa Fe. But, there isn’t too much said about the Basques in this scene.

One last thing is worth noting. The two living brothers refer to the dead brother as “basati”, which means wild or savage in Batua. Not sure if anyone would use it in the context of calling their brother crazy or wild. Anyone know?

So, in the end, things weren’t perfect. Some things they got off a bit, particularly with the motivation for the festival, but, that said, I thought it was an overall very nice portrayal of Basque-Americans. It was refreshing to have a positive spin on Basques, even if it was at the expense of those evil timbermen (sorry Dave!), as opposed to crazy jumping warriors or the stereotypical terrorist. Of course, the time of the Basque sheepherder is nearing its end. Most sheepherders are now from South America, often from Peru (at least in the Treasure Valley of Idaho). Though Basques are still involved in the industry, they have often moved up the ladder and own the outfits. Still, this was a positive portrayal, one that I’m proud to have been a part of.

In addition to the photos in this post, I’ve put a gallery of some other screen captures from the episode here.



Mark Bieter interviews Lehendakari Urkullu

inigo_urkullu-haMark Bieter is a Basque-American originally from Idaho who finds himself in Washington DC. He keeps a blog that touches pretty much any and all topics (Taylor Swift, really?), including many on the Basques and the Basque culture. Not only is Mark a very good writer, making each blog post interesting and intriguing, but he has some great insights and connections as well. His latest Basque-related blog, posted way back in early May (I just can’t keep up with things sometimes), is an interview with the current Basque Lenendakari (President), Inigo Urkullu.

The Basque Country held elections back in October, elections in which the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which had been the party that held the presidency of the Basque Parliament ever since it was formed in the 1980s, retook that position after having lost it in the last election cycle, for the first time, to the Socialist Party. Inigo Urkullu, a former teacher, was elected president of the parliament and now has the task of guiding the Basque government through the economic crisis in Europe as well as past the legacy of ETA.

In this interview, Lehendakari Urkullu touches on the foreign policy goals of his government, the impact of the crisis on the Basque Country, the connections to other independence movements in Europe, and the importance of the Basque diaspora to the present and future of Euskadi. A true politician, however, he doesn’t take sides in the crucial question of Athletic vs Real Sociedad… They always seem to evade the hard questions.

If you aren’t reading Mark’s blog, I highly recommend it, both for the pleasure of reading such great writing and for the perspective on a variety of topics. Thanks for sharing with all of us, Mark!