Since at least the time of the Spanish conquests, Basques have been a feature of the American West. Basques were a big part of the Spanish armies that rolled over South America, Mexico, and southwestern United States. They came later as well, after the Carlist Wars, after the gold rush of the mid-1800s, and in the aftermath of World War II to help fill labor shortages. An untold number of Basques established roots in the American West and Basque names dot the landscape. Sol Silen’s The History of the Basques in the West was an early attempt to document some of that history.
- La Historia de los Vascongados en el Oeste, or The History of the Basques in the West in English, is a curious book. In some ways, it is a who’s-who of the Basque families living in various parts of Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada during the beginning of the 1900s. Biographies and photos of Basque men and women fill the three volumes but, as with the modern who’s-who books, it has a feel of not objective history but individual promotion.
- The original was written primarily in Spanish in 1917, but the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in Boise, through the hard work of Aintzane Gonzalez, translated it into English, almost exactly 100 years later in 2018. Both versions appear online on the Basque Museum’s website.
- My namesake, Blas Telleria, his wife Ines Eiguren, and their son Jose Telleria (my grandfather) are all pictured in the book. Blas is described as a “tenacious, young man with an unwavering purpose” who combined “excellent judgement and great integrity.”
- Not much is known about the author, Sol. He seems to have been born in Russia, though moved to the United States at a young age with his parents. He eventually made his way west and somehow grew attached to the Basques, possibly via the sheep industry. In addition to writing The History of the Basques in the West, he also defended the Basques in the media, penning a letter to the Reno-Gazette Journal in 1916 defending the Basques against attacks by Senator Key Pittman, who had called them “nothing but a sheepherder.”
Primary source: The Basque Museum and Cultural Center.