Tag Archives: Sheepherding

Yes!

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark”

Victor Hugo (Les Misérables, 1862)

Against the backdrop of the secular Basque immigration history to the United States of America, a five-year-old girl, Maite Echeto, awaits the return of her father to the Old Country with her mother. In a visit to her cousins’ farm Maite meets a new-born goslin, by the name of “Oui Oui Oui,” that she ends up adopting. As one could imagine this is the beginning of their numerous and unexpected adventures throughout the colorful countryside of the Basque Country in France (Iparralde). Maite and the goslin are the main characters of the children’s book Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees.

Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees is the posthumous and first short story of Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton. As a well-known local artist she also illustrated the book with original drawings. Mary Jean was born in 1921 in Reno, Nevada, and passed away in 2008 in Verdi, Nevada. She lived in Iparralde for a number of years in the 1950s. According to her family, “Mary Jean had a vehicle and was popular with the family because the roads then were in bad shape. She lived most of the time in a little house named Bakea, in Laxia of Itxassou [Itsasu], Lapurdi.

Mary Jean’s parents were Jean Pierre Etcheberry and María Simona “Louisa” Larralde. Jean Pierre was born in 1891 in the small town of Saint-Just-Ibarre (Donaixti-Ibarre), in the Basque province of Lower Navarre, Nafarroa Beherea. He arrived in New York City at the age of 18. He worked as a sheepherder in Flagstaff, Arizona, and later on in the Winnemucca area. Jean Pierre arrived in Reno around 1914 and worked for the Jeroux family, a successful rancher at that time. María Simona “Louisa” was born in 1896 in Erratzu in the province of Nafarroa. She was the seventh of ten children, of whom six migrated to Nevada and California. Louisa arrived in New York City in 1914. Upon arrival in Reno, she worked as a maid in the mansion of the Jeroux family. “No doubt this is where she met her future husband Jean Pierre Etcheberry,” Paul Etxeberri, a nephew of Mary Jean, states. They married in 1917 in Reno and had three children: St. John, Paul John and Mary Jean. A decade later, Jean Pierre and Louisa bought a sheep ranch in southwest Reno and managed the Santa Fe Hotel, a successful Basque boardinghouse in downtown Reno, for over thirty years. Jean Pierre passed away in 1943, and Louisa in 1989 at the age of 93.

Mary Jean has now become part of Basque-America’s literary legacy, alongside Frank Bergon (Jesse’s Ghost), Martin Etchart (The Good Oak, The Last Shepherd), Robert Laxalt (Sweet Promised Land, The Basque Hotel…), Gregory Martin (Mountain City), and Monique Urza (The Deep Blue Memory), among others.

Before passing away Mary Jean entrusted her great-nieces, Marylou and Jennifer Etcheberry, with her precious manuscript, although it was just recently published.

Oui-Original-ManuscriptBook cover of Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees alongside the original type-written manuscript. Photo by Pedro J. Oiarzabal, July 2013, Reno Nevada.

Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees was published by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2012, the second book of its Juvenile Literature collection. It follows Mark Kurlansky’s The Girl Who Swam to Euskadi, published in 2005 in English and Basque. With more than eighty titles ranging from diaspora and migration books to graphic novels it is by far the largest publishing house in the world on Basque topics for the English-speaking audience. Not shy to admit that academic presses should welcome other types of non-academic quality literary works, the Center for Basque Studies has issued a call for the first annual Basque Literary Writing Contest. (Please note: Entries closed on September 15, 2013.)

Marylou-EtcheberryMarylou Etcheberry, proud great-niece of Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton, poses with a copy of Oui Oui Oui. Photo by Pedro J. Oiarzabal, July 2013, Elko, Nevada.

Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees is a welcoming breath of fresh air for the English-speaking reader, and especially for its younger members, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background. I hope that many more titles would follow the adventures of Maite and her goslin.

My dearest darlings,” Jacque, Maite’s father, writes. “This is the letter I’ve dreamed of writing for four long years…Our future in America looks bright, and I can look forward to having my darlings with me…” This might well echo the wishes of many families that became strangled due to the physical separation upon leaving their homes and their loved ones behind. It very much resembles the family histories of our recent past. For Maite and her mother, it marks the beginning of a new quest.

Many thanks to Paul Etxeberri for gathering information on the Etcheberry family.

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The Flag

Johnson County, Wyoming – encompassing the rolling plains of the Old West and the towering peaks of the Bighorn Mountains. It’s a land rich in both history and scenery. A place of sheep herders and cattle barons, renegades and rustlers. Where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holed up after their outlaw exploits. Where miners consumed with gold rush fever passed through on the Bozeman Trail. Where some of the most famous Indian battles in American history occurred. And where the Johnson County Cattle War, a rangeland dispute which historians often deem one of the most notorious events in our history, left its mark here in the late 1880s…and that Owen Wister wrote about in his epic American novel, The Virginian.”

(Johnson County, 2012)

Within this grand introduction to the singular history of the Johnson County in the State of Wyoming, surrounded by wild beauty and its frontier origins, lie the story of the Espondas from Baigorri; the Harriets, the Etchemendys, the Urrizagas, and the Caminos from Arnegi; the Iberlins from Banca; the Ansolabeheres, the Iriberrys, and many others. All these Basque pioneers came from the tiny province of Nafarroa Beherea (approximately 511 square mile), in the Department of the Atlantic Pyrenees in France, and with a current population of 28,000 people. On the other hand, Johnson County, established in 1879, and its main city Buffalo, has a population of over 8,500 people on an area of 4,175 square mile.

The history of the Basque presence in the Johnson County begins with the arrival of Jean Esponda in 1902 as reported by Dollie Iberlin and David Romtvedt in their book “Buffalotarrak”. Most Buffalo Basques originated in the village of Baigorri, because Jean Esponda, a successful immigrant from Baigorri, settled in that area of Wyoming. Esponda immigrated into California in 1886 and then moved to Wyoming in 1902, where he set up a thriving sheepherding operation, claiming many Basques from his own natal village and neighboring villages for nearly two decades. Esponda became known as the “King of the Basques”. He passed away in 1936. By the end of the 1960s, Basque sheepmen owned over 250,000 acres (approximately 390 square mile) of Johnson County land, which was about 76% of the land of the entire province of Nafarroa Beherea. According to the United States Census, in 2000 there were only 869 Basque people in Wyoming, being the smallest, but nonetheless vibrant, Basque community in the American West.

basq04111Basque group photograph at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, in Buffalo, Wyoming, in the late 1960s. (Photograph courtesy of the Center for Basque Studies Library, University of Nevada, Reno)

110 years have passed since Jean Esponda set foot in Wyoming, and much of the Basque heritage is still flourishing. It has become part of the social and cultural fabric of Wyoming. In this regard, Johnson County designed a flag to commemorate the State Fair’s 100th anniversary, which depicts the Ikurriña or Basque flag (originally designed in 1894 in Bilbao, Bizkaia) with the county’s seal in the center, as a way to honor the county’s Basque origins. The Johnson County’s “Basque” flag is the first official Basque flag outside the Basque Country, and the first in the nation. Its symbolism will definitely help to preserve and assure the continuity of the Basque history in the State of Wyoming. It will be publicly displayed, for the first time, at the State Fair that is going to be held on August 11-18 in Douglass.

Do you know similar stories to this one?

jo_co_flag The Johnson County, Wyoming “Basque” flag

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Encounters

For the past few years we have witnessed an increase of documentary productions on Basques of the American West through truly nostalgic stories of some remarkable lives. For example, Tim and Ken Kahn and Scott Carroll directed “The Last Link” (2004), while Javi Zubizarreta and Jacob Griswold produced “Artzainak: Sheperds and Sheep” (2010) and Nacho Reig and Gorka Bilbao filmed “Amerikanuak” (2010). “The Last Link” addresses the transformation of a Basque sheepherding community in the State of Wyoming through the story of Pete Camino who planned to travel to his home village of Arnegi in the Basque province of Behe Nafarroa. “Artzainak” looks into the hard life of former Basque sheepherders in the State of Idaho, while “Amerikanuak” focuses on another prominent Basque immigrant area, Elko, in the State of Nevada.

“Amerikanuak” falls in love with Nevada’s winter landscape of big and blue skies and with its main character, Juan Juaristi “Parrillas,” an 83 year old boarder at the centennial Basque boardinghouse, the Star Hotel of Elko. Juan becomes the link between the different colorful stories that the film narrates through its ninety minutes of majestic photography. Juan was born in Guizaburuaga in the Basque province of Bizkaia in 1926 and immigrated into the United States at the age of 29. He first settled in Pocatello, Idaho and then moved to Elko, Nevada and worked as a sheepherder for many years. I hear from Scott “Patxi” Igoa, current owner of the Star Hotel, that Juan got sick in May and has been moved to a nursing home. Juan still manages to go to the Star Hotel every Saturday to play mus, a Basque card game, and have lunch with his old friends. I would say that Juan was the last Basque sheepherder that lived in a traditional Basque boardinghouse in America. Most of them, nowadays, have closed down or refurbished as public restaurants and do not offer rooms.

Amerikanuak-715544182-large

amerikanuak (teaser english)

This media has become a new cultural interface between two worlds—the world of the emigrants and their descendants, the Basque-America, and the world of their ancestors in the European homeland. For many in the Basque Country this is the first encounter with Basques abroad. The three documentaries are interlinked brief journeys through various Basque communities in America that reflect their rise and fall within the context of a migrant culture portrayed as endangered. The short documentaries explore Basque heritage in America, which is clearly and painfully fading away with the vanishing of the immigrant generation. Their homes in the Old Country are figments of their childhood and youth memories, while their present lifestyle and sheepherding culture in America cannot keep from disappearing. The image of Juan looking through the window of his room at the Star Hotel is a powerful metaphor of the life of many migrants that left the Basque Country to live the American dream in the hills of the American West and encounter many hardships, loneliness and despair…

If you have watched any of the documentaries, particularly if this is the first time that you have learned about Basques in America, please share your thoughts with us.

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