The American West was a strong draw for many young Basques seeking opportunity. Jordan Valley, Oregon, was one of those areas that provided opportunity for young Basques. Jordan Valley first attracted miners around 1863 when gold was discovered. The first Basques arrived soon after, in 1890, as part of the sheep industry. So many Basques came that Jordan Valley became known as “Home of the Basques.” The Basque influence was so strong that, in the early 1900s, Americans living there said they felt like they lived in the Basque Country.
- The population of Jordan Valley has always been small, maybe about 300 people during the decades of 1910-1930. More than half of the residents were Basque. The Basques lived separately from the American neighbors, retaining their old customs. They were so isolated that their children often only knew Basque and had trouble when they started school, where teachers forbade speaking the language. Their houses often had a touch of green or blue with red roofs, reminiscent of the baserri back home.
- While Basques probably passed through the area in the 1860s with the discovery of gold, they didn’t really start settling in the area until 1889, when Antonio Azcuenaga and José Navarro arrived. While they were the first, it only took a few decades for Basques to be the dominant population. Many other Basque families followed, including the Eiguren, Elorriaga, Telleria, Yturri, Elordi, and Madariaga families. By the 1940s, 50% of the local farms were owned by Basques and Basques 90% of the sheep owners, according to a study by Joseph Gaiser.
- In 1914, in cooperation with the local Irish population, the Basque community built the Catholic Church, Saint Bernard’s. They followed up in 1915 with a fronton, the only fronton in Oregon then, and now. After many years of disuse, the fronton was renovated in 1997, with a grand celebration when the renovation was complete (I was there!). About 1500 people, mostly descendants of the Basques of Jordan Valley, came to the celebration.
- Because of the strong Basque identity, Jordan Valley was, with maybe the exception of Boise, the only place were certain traditions were still practiced. For example, on New Year’s Day, young men would go from house to house, singing Urte Barri Ekarri (Bringing the New Year), hoping for a drink from each house. Children did something similar on the day of Saint Agueda, hoping for bacon and sausage as their reward.
- Even as late as 2001, Basque names abounded in local businesses. Aiden Madariaga was the owner of the Sahara Motel and the Chevron gas station. Jim Zatica was the owner of the Basque Station Motel and the Texaco gas station. Robert Telleria (my uncle!) was the owner of the town’s only supermarket, Telleria’s Market (sadly, I can’t find a single photo of the Market, run by my grandpa for many years before my uncle took over, online). Brother and sister Jim and Marcia Elordi were the owners of the bar, J.V. Club and Coffee.
Primary source: Totoricagüena Egurrola, Gloria Pilar. Estados Unidos de América. Oregón. Enciclopedia Auñamendi, 2019. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/estados-unidos-de-america-oregon/ar-49293/