Fighting Basques: The Laxalts, a Basque Family Serving the United States, 1941-1945

This article originally appeared in Spanish at El Diario.

Foto oficial del 7º Batallón del 20º Regimiento de Ingenieros, en Camp American University, Washington, DC, antes de su despliegue en febrero de 1918, en el que se encontraba Jean Pierre Laxalt Etchart (Compañía C / Compañía 21) (
Official photo of the 7th Battalion of the 20th Engineer Regiment, at Camp American University, Washington, DC, before its deployment in February 1918, in which Jean Pierre Laxalt Etchart can be found (Company C/Company 21) (

At 36 years old, the Zuberoan Jean Pierre Laxalt Etchart found himself in Ardentes, in central France — about 650 kilometers from his hometown of Aloze — immersed in the Great War of 1914 that would devastate part of the country. The difference from his peers regarding his participation in the conflict was that Jean Pierre was recruited by the United States Army, a country in which he had lived since 1902. He returned to defend France in March 1918, for the first time (and last) time since his departure, 16 years earlier. He was one of the “Fighting Foresters” of the Engineer Regiment — the largest regiment that ever existed in the US Army. During the same period of time, in one of those fearsome trench on the fronts, was the French Army soldier Jean Michel (Alpetche) Bassus, born in 1894 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, of parents from Nafarroa Beherea, and whose life would intertwine unpredictably with those of the Laxalts in the not too distant future.

“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.

After his demobilization, Jean Pierre resumed his life as a sheep herder in Nevada. His brothers, Pierre and Dominique Laxalt Etchart, who came to the United States in 1904 and 1906, respectively, had previously and successfully accompanied him in his work for a few years starting in 1910. Both had been born in Liginaga; Pierre, in 1878, and Dominique in 1886. In 1914, Pierre “Pete” Laxalt Etchart married Marie “Mary” Ucarriet, born in 1892 in Aldude, Nafarroa Beherea, and arrived in the United States with her parents in 1912. They had four children: Gabriel “Gabe” Peter (1915-1979), Adelle Marie (1917-2003), Robert John (1920-1972) and Lucille Catherine (1921-1980). Three of them, Gabriel, Robert and Lucille took an active part in World War II (WWII).

Fotografía de Robert John Laxalt a los 18 años, tomada del anuario de su instituto, Lassen High School, Susanville (California) en 1938.
Photograph of Robert John Laxalt at age 18, taken from his high school yearbook, Lassen High School, Susanville, California in 1938.

Gabriel and Robert enlisted in the Air Force in 1941. Gabriel Laxalt Ucarriet did so eight months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, while Robert Laxalt Ucarriet volunteered two days after the Japanese attack. Gabriel was assigned to the maintenance personnel of the air fleet, and served at the end of the war in the 534th Air Service Group, being licensed with the rank of sergeant in 1945. Robert was assigned to the Icelandic Base Command, established by the US Army on July 7, 1941 for the defense of the island and as a strategic point between Europe and North America. There he remained throughout the conflict.

Lucille Laxalt (segunda por la derecha) en la ceremonia que da por finalizada los primeros tres meses de prueba en la escuela de enfermería (The San Francisco Examiner, 21 de diciembre de 1941).
Lucille Laxalt (second from right) at a ceremony that marked the end of the first three months in nursing school (The San Francisco Examiner, December 21, 1941).

In August 1941, Lucille Laxalt Ucarriet enrolled at the Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, California, to train as a nurse. While in nursing school, Lucille was admitted to the US Cadet Nurse Corps on July 1, 1943, the date of its creation by the US Congress. They aimed to train nurses for the armed forces and government and civilian hospitals. More than 124,000 nurses who enrolled in this federal program graduated during the course of the war to fill the severe shortage of nurses, both at home and abroad. The government again required the active participation of women, but not on the same terms of equality as men. As of today, the women of the Cadet Nurse Corps are the only ones of all the uniformed service men and women that served in WWII that have yet to be recognized as war veterans by the US government.

Fotografía de la familia Laxalt-Alpetche después de la SGM; Sentados, de izquierda a derecha: Peter, Paul, John, y Robert; De pie: Marie, Dominique Laxalt, Therèse Alpetche, y Suzanne. (Cortesía de University of Nevada Libraries Online Digital Collections, University of Nevada, Reno).
Photograph of the Laxalt-Alpetche family after WWII; Seated, from left to right: Peter, Paul, John, and Robert; Standing: Marie, Dominique Laxalt, Therèse Alpetche, and Suzanne. (Courtesy of the University of Nevada Libraries Online Digital Collections, University of Nevada, Reno).

In December 1920, a young woman of 29 years old from Nafarroa Beherea, Therèse Alpetche Bassus, arrived at the Port of New York from Bordeaux, France, where her family managed the Hotel Amerika and one of the first travel agencies between Europe and the Americas. Therèse “Theresa,” born in 1891 in Baigorri, Nafarroa Beherea, was destined for San Francisco. It was in this city, at the Hotel España, owned by a Basque family, where her brother Jean Michel resided, who, after the end of the Great War, had arrived in October 1919, following in the footsteps of his brother Maurice, a resident of USA since 1914. Jean Michel was dying from the effects of a poison gas attack used during the war. Therèse’s goal was to return to France with her brother. Unfortunately, Jean Michel died in 1921 and was buried in Reno, Nevada, where his sister erected a monolith in his memory. Therèse decided to stay in the country, marrying Dominique Laxalt Etchart shortly after. They had six children: Paul Dominique (1922-2018), Robert Peter “Bob” (1923-2001), Suzanne Marie (Sister Mary Robert of the Order of the Holy Family; 1925-2019), John Maurice (1926-2011), Marie Aurelie (1928-2019) and Peter Dominique “Mick” (1931-2010).

Like their cousins, three of the Laxalt-Alpetche brothers also contributed to the war effort. Paul Dominique Laxalt Alpetche was drafted in 1942 and, for three long years — 18 months these abroad — he served in the Army Medical Corps (a non-combatant unit), until his discharge with the rank of sergeant. It was during the Battle of Leyte, in the Philippines, where he took care of a young Basque-Nevadan officer, Leon Etchemendy Trounday (a hero of the Aleutians), who was seriously wounded. “Too much blood, too many wounded, and soldiers dying,” Paul would write, decades later, in his memoirs (1). Paul was later elected Lieutenant Governor of Nevada (1962-1964), Governor of Nevada (1967-1971), and finally US Senator for the State of Nevada (1974-1987). Paul became the first Basque senator in American history. He was the right hand and close friend of President Ronald Reagan. Paul was buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

Paul Dominique Laxalt está escribiendo una carta en su pupitre de los barracones del ejército, alrededor de 1942-1943. (Cortesía de University of Nevada Libraries Online Digital Collections, University of Nevada, Reno).
Paul Dominique Laxalt is writing a letter at his desk in the army barracks, around 1942-1943. (Courtesy of University of Nevada Libraries Online Digital Collections, University of Nevada, Reno).

His brother Robert Laxalt Alpetche interrupted his studies to enlist in the army. However, he was not accepted due to a slight heart murmur. Through family political connections, Robert finally landed a job with the State Department Diplomatic Service in Washington DC. He was assigned as a code officer to the Diplomatic Legation and sent to the Belgian Congo in 1944. He served in a jungle outpost in the context of a secret spy war between the Allies (the Office of Strategic Services, the current CIA) and the Germans for control of a mine in Katanga province that produced a little-known (at the time) mineral called uranium — the essential ingredient of the atomic bomb (2). Robert fell ill with malaria and was sent home in March 1945. He was 21 years old. In 1951, Robert accompanied his father to his birthplace for the first time after 47 years as a sheep herder in Nevada and Northern California. Based on his father’s story, he wrote Sweet Promised Land (1957), his second novel, and one of his best-known books. Robert founded the University of Nevada Press in 1961 and was its director until 1983. Together with William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao they founded the Basque Studies Program at the University of Nevada in 1967. Robert was a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction. He became the “voice of the Basques” in the American West (3).

Fotografía de John Maurice Laxalt mientras cursaba estudios de abogacía en 1947 en la Universidad de Nevada, Reno.
Photograph of John Maurice Laxalt while studying law in 1947 at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Near the end of the war, John Maurice Laxalt Alpetche was drafted by the Navy, serving on board the munitions ship USS Mount Katmai in the Western Pacific. He graduated with a second-class administrative degree in July 1946. He left his law firm to participate in his brother Paul’s election campaigns, later settling in Washington DC.

Paul’s death in 2018 at the age of 96, and that of Suzanne Marie (Sister Mary Robert), in October of the next year at the age of 94, marked the end of the first Basque generation of the Laxalts born in the USA. The Laxalt-Ucarriets, although they died relatively young, left behind a legacy of overcoming and defending freedoms that today we try to preserve at all costs. The Laxalt-Alpetches, perhaps the most visible face of this extraordinary Basque-American family, are possibly the paradigm of a history of successful emigration, of struggle for survival, and of the social, economic and political conquest of a family in one generation. They made the American Wild West, and especially Nevada, their home, a value that the Laxalts continue to treasure to this day with great zeal.

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

Articles selected for publication will receive a signed copy of “Basque Combatants in World War II”.

(1) Laxalt, Paul. (2000). Nevada’s Paul Laxalt. To Memoir. Reno, Nevada: Jack Bacon & Co.
(2) Robert Laxalt wrote in 1998 about his adventures in the Belgian Congo during the WWII, under the title, A Private War: An American Code Officer in the Belgian Congo. (Reno: University of Nevada Press).
(3) Rio, David. (2007). Robert Laxalt: The voice of the Basques in American literature. Reno: Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, Reno.

Basque Fact of the Week: John Adams’s Basque Adventure

It was 1779 and John Adams and his sons were on their way to Paris with the goal of establishing a commercial treaty with Great Britain and ending the Revolutionary War. On the way, however, their ship was battered by storms and they limped their way into Spain. After some debate and discussion, Adams and his retinue decided to take the land route to Paris, which took them through Bilbao and the heart of the Basque Country. What he learned about the Basque people and their government found its way into his A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. In turn, Bilbao has commemorated his visit with a bust in the city.

Gilbert Stuart, John Adams, American, 1755 – 1828, c. 1800/1815, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Robert Homans. From Wikipedia.
  • During his time in Bilbao, Adams was entertained by the Gardoqui family. This family proved immensely helpful during the course of the war, clandestinely funneling supplies to the Americans through a network of business fronts.
  • Adams was appalled, for the most part, by the living conditions of the Spanish people. Of one lodging, he wrote “There was no Chimney. … The Smoke filled every Part of the Kitchen, Stable … The Mules, Hogs, fowls, and human Inhabitants live however all together … The floor had never been washed nor swept for an hundred Years – Smoak, soot, Dirt, every where.” He was particularly put off by the position of the Church and clergy: “I see nothing but Signs of Poverty and Misery, among the People. A fertile Country, not half cultivated, People ragged and dirty, and the Houses universally nothing but Mire, Smoke, Fleas and Lice. Nothing appears rich but the Churches, nobody fat, but the Clergy.”
  • When he finally made it to Bilbao, he was intrigued by the form of government he found. In his Defence of the Constitutions, he wrote: “In a research like this, after those people in Europe who have had the skill, courage, and fortune, to preserve a voice in the government, Biscay, in Spain, ought by no means to be omitted. While their neighbours have long since resigned all their pretensions into the hands of kings and priests, this extraordinary people have preserved their ancient language, genius, laws, government, and manners, without innovation, longer than any other nation of Europe.”
  • He went on: “It is a republic; and one of the privileges they have most insisted on, is not to have a king.” Adams attributes the “flourishing commerce” to “their liberty.” He praises the “large and commodious houses and barns of the farmer; the lands are well cultivated; and there is a wealthy, happy yeomanry.
  • While Adams praises the liberty and industriousness of the Basques, he also has strong words about their supposed democracy, noting that “officers… are elected by the citizens, but they must by law be elected… out of a few noble families, unstained, both by the side of father and mother, by any mixture with Moors, Jews, new converts, penitentiaries of the inquisition, &c. They must be natives and residents, worth a thousand ducats … Thus we see the people themselves have established by law a contracted aristocracy, under the appearance of a liberal democracy. Americans, beware!

Primary source: The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Vol IV by Charles Francis Adams.

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 8

A few days later, Maite found herself sitting in her thermodynamics class. She hated the idea of taking summer classes. Since moving to Gernika with her parents, she had already missed out on so many things with her friends, and commuting to Bilbao to take classes certainly didn’t help her social life, but she wanted to finish her degree as fast as possible. She already felt guilty about continuing with school instead of finding a “real” job to help support her parents; she didn’t want to drag it out longer than necessary.

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!

Her parents had run the local Herriko Taberna for as long as she could remember and had almost literally worked themselves to death. Her ama would wake up at some ungodly hour to clean the bar and restaurant and begin cooking the day’s meals. Maite could remember the smells of the warm bread and the hot coffee as she got up, usually several hours after her ama. Once in a while, the less pleasant smells of cooking octopus made it to her pillow in the apartment adjacent the restaurant, which usually caused her to bury her head under the blankets.

Her aita also typically slept in, but only because he had been up so late the night before, serving drinks until the last of the bar’s patrons left in the wee hours of the night. She always had fallen asleep to the sounds of pilota blaring from the bar’s television, the patrons — including her aita — yelling as their favored player missed a point or cheering as the match ended with their man winning. Once a week, it was her aita’s job to head to Gernika to buy supplies for the restaurant and, during the summers when there was no school, Maite would join him. She had always been in awe of how everyone knew her aita and how he seemed to know everyone. As they walked the streets going from one shop to another, it seemed like hundreds of people would yell out a “kaixo!” or “eup!” She always thought that her aita must have been the most important man in the world. Or at least the Basque Country.

However, the restaurant business slowly took its toll on their health, and her parents had to retire. Seeing as how the medical services where they lived weren’t great, they decided to move to Gernika. They had saved enough over the many years of running the Herriko Taberna that they could afford an apartment not far from the plaza. Her parents would often wander down to the plaza where they could bump into all of her aita’s old acquaintances. 

Maite was seventeen when they moved, nearing the end of high school, and it was a hard transition for her. She had to leave her cuadrilla, the friends she had known since childhood, behind, and there wasn’t time to make new friends as she figured out her plans for the uni. Once she started her university studies, there was even less time for her old friends. She tried to make it back as often as she could, to see the old cuadrilla and do a night or two of gau pasa, but it was becoming more and more difficult. As she neared her university graduation, while excited by the prospects for her career, she lamented the longer distance that had grown between her and her friends. She feared the same might happen with her parents, especially if she decided to accept the offer to go to graduate school in the United States.

Basque Fact of the Week: Basque First Names

I’ve delved into my genealogy a bit, scouring the priests’ books that document births, deaths, and marriages in each little town. Going back centuries, the names are all too familiar: Pedro, Jose, Domingo, Juan for the men; Josefa, Maria, Manuela, Magdalena for the women. Once in a while, there will be a Bartolome, or an Agustina, but what they all have in common is their Spanish origin. However, if you go to the Basque Country today, you’ll find a much wider variety of names with a much more exotic sound, names like Aritz, Endika, Iratxe, Eneritz, Egoitz. The history of simply naming people in Basque has a long and complicated history.

List of names from NABO, base image from Wikimedia.
  • The dominance of Catholicism in the Basque Country, on both sides of the border, meant that it was inconceivable to give children names that weren’t from a Saint. Further, these names were in the dominant language, Pedro on the Spanish side and Pierre on the French side.
  • It wasn’t until the late 1800s, and in particular with Sabino Arana Goiri’s attempt to create Basque versions of the Saints’ names (Iñaki, Joseba, Josune, Koldobika, Kepa) and the rising nationalist sentiment, that Basque names became popular. The Church strongly opposed the use of such names, as they weren’t in the official languages. When Franco became dictator, he furthered such policies, to the point of erasing Basque names from cemeteries. It wasn’t until the 1970s, just before Franco died, that some historical Basque names like Oier, Gartxot, Tibalt, and Oneka were allowed.
  • Not much is known about Basque names before Christianity entered the picture or before contact with the Romans, but inscriptions in Aquitanian give some hints. Some names are directly related to kinship, such as Cison (Basque gizon “man”), Andere (Basque and(e)re “lady, woman”), Nescato (Basque neskato “girl”). Another set related to animals — Harsi (Basque (h)artz “bear”), Osson, Oxson “wolf” — or other “natural” inspiration: Bihoxus (Basque bi(h)otz “heart”; Arixo (Basque (h)aritz “oak, tree”), Artehe (Basque art(h)e “oak”).
  • Similar trends continued into the Middle Ages, but with much greater documentation. Thus, we know of names such as Affostar (native of Affos), Ame (mother), Anderezu (young lady), Andregoto (Mrs. Goto), Apalla (humble), Arzeiz (son of the bear), Beila (crow), Beltza (the Black), Beraza (the Soft), Eita (father), Gaisto (bad), Hobe (the best), Harze (bear), Launso (young man), Monnio (hill), Nequeti (tired), Ochanda (the she-wolf), Ona (the good one), Oria (the yellow one), Ozoa (the wolf, otsoa), Salduna (knight), Samurco (little tender), Seibelze (black vulture), Velasco (little raven).
  • The Middle Ages also provide us with a long list of nicknames in Basque. These include Beltza “The Black”; Zuria “The White”; Azeari “The Fox”; Begichipia “Little Eye, Little Eyes”; Begi-ederra “Beautiful Eye”; Mari Ederra “Mari the Beautiful”; Martino Chipia “Martino the Little One”; Ochanda “The Big She-Wolf”; Salduna “Knight”; Seibelze “Black Vulture”; Pedro Sendoa “Pedro el Robust”; Gaisto “Bad”; Obego “The Best”.
  • One last interesting note. One Basque name has become popular world-wide: Javier. It’s popularity is due to Saint Francis of Xavier, Xavier being where he was born. Xavier itself comes from the Basque words etxe and berri, meaning new house.

This Basque Fact of the Week inspired by a question from Ray Baehr. Thanks Ray!

Primary sources: Auñamendi Entziklopedia. Nombre. Available at:; Auñamendi Entziklopedia. Antroponimia. Available at:

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 7

It was about nine thirty in the morning when Maite’s little Fiat pulled up again outside of Goikoetxebarri, the baserri where Kepa lived with his mom.

“Mil esker for the ride,” said Kepa over a repressed yawn as he opened the door. “Are you sure you don’t want to crash here for a while, before driving home? If you are as tired as I am…”

“And sleep in that creepy room with those pictures of your uncle?” Maite replied, shaking her head. “No thanks.”

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 did have to admit that the middle room was a little creepy. His ama insisted that they keep the photos of his aita’s uncle, Domingo, up on the wall. Domingo had died fighting for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War as Franco’s forces had sieged Bilbao, and the family had always honored his sacrifice by having many photos of the then-young man around the house. They had all gotten consolidated in the middle bedroom upstairs and now the shrine to his great uncle gave the room a very disturbing atmosphere.

“Fair enough,” Kepa said. “But, at least come in for a coffee. I’m sure ama saw us drive up and already has a glass ready for you.”

Maite smiled in defeat. “Ados,” she said as she turned off the engine and got out of the car.

The smell of coffee filled their senses as they passed the foyer into the small kitchen. 

“Egun on!” said Kepa’s ama as the two entered the kitchen. She placed two glasses of coffee on the small table, beckoning them to sit. The table was already filled with cookies and biscuits.

“How are the fish, Mari Carmen?” asked Maite as she took a seat at the table.

Ever since they were children, Maite had always asked Kepa’s ama, Mari Carmen, about her fish. She and her parents had come to dinner at the baserri one night and Mari Carmen had served the best fish Maite had ever tasted. She had assumed that Mari Carmen must have a personal pond full of the best and freshest fish in the Basque Country and ever since she had asked Mari Carmen about her wonderful fish. Even when she grew older, she kept the conceit going as an inside joke.

Mari Carmen smiled. “The fish are wonderful, as always. How was the fiesta?” 

“It was great,” said Kepa as he shoved a few of the cookies into his mouth and took a sip of his coffee. “Koldo’s new band is really good. They have some excellent songs and all of them are great musicians. I think they could do really well.”

Maite nodded enthusiastically. “I agree. They’re better than all of the other new bands I’ve heard and better than most of the ones that are on the radio. They are really talented.”

“Pozik nago,” replied Mari Carmen. “I’m glad Koldo has finally found his place.”

Kepa knew what she meant. Koldo had struggled to really find his footing as an adult. He had tried various jobs, working at one of the factories, taking classes to be a mechanic, tending bar, but nothing had stuck. He seemed to only be happy when making music. 

Maite finished her coffee and stood up. “Well, I better go. Thanks for the coffee Mari Carmen.”

“Ez horregatik, neska. Ondo ibili,” replied Mari Carmen.

Kepa walked Maite out to her car. “Thanks again for the ride. I really appreciate it. And sorry for being so grumpy at the beginning.”

Maite laughed. “If you weren’t grumpy, you wouldn’t be Kepa.”

Kepa leaned in to give Maite a kiss on each cheek, but Maite grabbed his head and planted a kiss on his lips. “Ikusi arte,” she said with a devious smile.

Kepa just stood there, befuddled, as Maite drove off. 

Basque Fact of the Week: The Summer Solstice

The summer solstice, being the longest day of the year, is an important event in many cultures, marking the changing of seasons. Because of its importance, elaborate rituals and rites have arisen around this date all around around the globe, and the Basque Country is no exception. Many of the pre-Christian elements have been confused and combined with Christian holidays, as the Church placed San Juan’s Feast near the Summer solstice. That said, the echo of many elements of pre-Christian celebrations can still be heard.

Dancers surrounding the bonfire of San Juan in Zestoa. Image from El Diaro Vasco.
  • Of particular importance is the bonfire. On the day of San Juan, bonfires were lit in front of homes, in plazas, at crossroads, and at any other prominent place. This bonfire had healing properties, conferred to it by the herbs that had been collected throughout the year to help start the bonfire.
  • This bouquet was created the previous year, on the eve of San Juan, by the women of the house. They collected lilies, roses, carnations, daisies, an ear of wheat, a corn plant, and a branch from a cherry or apple tree with its fruit. It also contained many herbs, things like laurel, fern, wormwood, celery, and rosemary. This bouquet was blessed at Mass this year to be ready for next year to start the bonfire.
  • The bouquet itself had many of its own healing properties. It protected from thunder, relieved toothaches, softened cows udders, and drove away snakes. The mist of a cooked bunch from the bouquet fought phlegmon. To cure a chest cough, one took a foot bath in hot water after boiling in it a bundle of the bouquet. To cure the evil eye, the damaged part was washed with a small cloth.
  • To benefit from the healing properties of the bonfire itself, one had to jump over it at least three times and chant special spells, such as one heard in the mountains of Nafarroa: “Ogia Espainara, ezkabia Frantziara” (Bread to Spain, scabs to France). Precisely at midnight, people burned olive leaves, as this eliminated warts, cysts and other skin malformations. People saved the ashes from the bonfire as they had their own healing powers.
  • One odd ritual, practiced in the Basque Country and more widely in Europe, related to herniated children. To cure the children, two men would pass the child through an opening they had made in a young tree. They would cut a slit in the tree and pry it open for the child to be passed through several times. If the tree recovered once it was reformed, the child would be healed.
  • Water also achieved special healing powers on this day. If people took a pre-dawn bath in special streams or fountains, or even in the dew in certain fields, they would benefit from the healing properties of the water.
  • Finally, if you slept in on San Juan’s day, you would be sleepy all year. But, if you got up early on the longest day, you would sleep easily the rest of the year.

Primary source: Aranburu Urtasun, Mikel. Solsticio. Enciclopedia Auñamendi, 2020. Available at:

Ugh. Some issues with Buber’s Basque Page

Dear visitor. You may have noticed some issues with Buber’s Basque Page, particularly regarding how it is been up and down today and how some images are broken. I think there is something corrupted in my WordPress install. I will probably have to reinstall it at some point, which might mean I go dark for a little while. I’ll try to do this soon and as seamlessly as possible.

If there are any WordPress experts out there who might be willing to give me some advice, I would welcome it.

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