Basque culture leaves its mark on Nevada

Their numbers may be small, but Basques and their descendants have left an indelible mark on Nevada — so much so that the theme of the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko is “Basques & Buckaroos: Herding Cultures of Basin, Range and Beyond.”

“They really have played a huge role in the American West in ranching culture, in herding culture,” said Meg Glaser, artistic director of the Western Folklife Center, organizer of the six-day annual festival, which starts Monday. It’s a natural fit considering many Basques came to the West to work as sheepherders, just as they have for generations in the Basque country in the Pyrenees Mountains of southwestern Europe.

Today, about 5,390 Basques live in Nevada, mostly in the central and northern parts. The National Basque Festival is in Elko each year, and the National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder is in a Reno park.

Jose Beristain, president of the Lagun Onak Las Vegas Basque Club, said the club has about 50 to 60 members who get together for twice-a-year picnics and a Christmas party. He said the purpose of the club is to promote Basque customs and traditions “because we’re proud of our heritage.”

“It’s a small country,” Beristain said. “Our language is one of the oldest in the world, and it’s hard to learn. We like to promote the use of the Basque language, so we don’t lose it.”

Prominent Nevadans

A scan of Nevada political and business leaders reveals a long list of Basque names — Erquiaga, Parraguirre, Ernaut, Goicoechea, Ascuaga — but none more prominent than Laxalt. Paul Laxalt was governor of Nevada from 1967 to 1971 and a U.S. senator from 1974 to 1987, and his grandson, Adam, is Nevada attorney general and a candidate for governor.

“Paul Laxalt was really the first prominent Basque to ascend to the absolute pinnacle of power,” in office and as “first friend” to President Ronald Reagan, said Pete Ernaut, chief government relations officer for R&R Partners. Ernaut added that Paul Laxalt, a Republican, was elected in an era when Democrats held a two-to-one advantage in Nevada.

“He was such a tremendous role model and such an inspiration to the Basque culture for me and a lot of my fellow Basques that have followed in politics or business,” Ernaut said. “People wanted to be like him and felt it was possible, if he could do it.”

Paul Laxalt’s brother, Robert, authored “Sweet Promised Land” in 1957 detailing the immigrant history of their father, Dominique, and other Basque-Americans. Two of Robert Laxalt’s later books about Basque culture received Pulitzer Prize nominations. He was a consultant on Basque culture to the Library of Congress and founded the University of Nevada Press.

And the Laxalt name is known in Basque country as well. Once, while visiting a cheese shop there, Adam Laxalt recalled being asked where he was from. When he said Nevada, they asked if he knew the Laxalts.

“I am a Laxalt,” he replied. “He didn’t believe me, as you can imagine. I had to pull out my driver’s license to prove I was really a Laxalt. It was really cool.”

The Basque diaspora

Basque country extends over parts of France and Spain in an area that is smaller than New Jersey and has a population of just 3 million.

“Basques were kind of the mystery people of Europe,” said William Douglass, coordinator of the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, from its founding in 1967 to 2000. “Nobody knows where they came from.” Their language, he said, is unlike any other.

That air of separateness led to a long history of adversity.

“The very fact that we’re talking about Basques today is a minor miracle,” Douglass said, “because they’ve been under centuries of pressure from Madrid and Paris to disappear.”

Douglass said there are Basques in every U.S. state and many countries. According to the most recent data available, 59,586 people in the United States identify as Basque, compared with nearly 47 million who consider themselves German or of German descent. More than 21,000 are in California, followed by 7,000 in Idaho.

The immigrants came to Nevada for varying reasons. Many were escaping Spanish oppression, others sought economic opportunities unavailable elsewhere. Douglass said the first wave of Basque immigration to the West began in the mid-19th century, during the California Gold Rush and the expansion of the cattle industry.

“Most Basques came here without any intention of settling,” he said. “They came with the idea that they would herd sheep for a few years and run it on the public lands. Most of the people who came left. Then the Depression kicked in and World War II kicked in, and that kind of cut off immigration.”

After the war, the country had a labor shortage that was particularly acute in the sheep industry, he said. Sen. Pat McCarran of Nevada, who had been a sheep rancher, sponsored legislation in 1950 to allow Basque sheepherders to enter the United States for three-year periods. But some managed to stay, and along the way, a couple of Nevada industries were born — most notably hotel and restaurants.

“It’s important to note that that lifestyle created the Basque hotels that populate all of those same areas,” said Pete Ernaut, chief government relations officer for R&R Partners. “Because most of the sheepherders needed a place to stay in the winter, these boarding houses sprung up.” They served meals family-style because it was more efficient, he said.

“More people in town started to get onto the fact that that was really good food,” Ernaut said. “It evolved from just feeding the tenants and boarders to full-blown restaurants.”

A center is born

Robert Laxalt was instrumental in the founding of the Center for Basque Studies, which offers an undergraduate minor in Basque cultural studies and is the only center for Basque studies in the United States.

“It’s become the major English-language source of publications about the Basque people,” Douglass said, adding that UNR and the center have published 200 titles, including the “Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language,” “Basque Cinema” and “Basque Aspen Art of the Sierra Nevada.”

“Before we started doing that, Basque-Americans had little idea of the substance of their own origins,” Douglass said. “Nor did the American public.”

It was the element of mystery that first interested Douglass, who isn’t Basque, in the people and their culture. A native of Reno, he earned a Spanish degree at UNR, spending his junior year at the Complutense University of Madrid. He went on to graduate school in social anthropology at the University of Chicago, and while there, started reading the works of Basque scholars.

“They had an extensive history of immigration, and I was looking for a part of Iberia where that was true,” Douglass said. “The origin of the people and the language posed some interesting questions. In the course of my career, I never addressed either.”

Then again, neither did anyone else.

“To this day it’s still a mystery,” he said. “There are various theories, but nothing’s been proven conclusively. When they first appeared was another part of the mystery.”

Douglass returned to the Iberian Peninsula to research immigration in two Basque villages and in 1963 met up with Robert Laxalt, who was there at the time. The Desert Research Institute at UNR had brought in some consulting anthropologists to help determine its research agenda.

“Of course it was focused on the Great Basin, and the obvious was the American Indians,” Douglass said. “One of the consultants suggested that maybe a Basque program would make sense because Basques had been prime architects of the history and economy of the Great Basin, but nobody had looked at them closely.”

Laxalt invited Douglass to be the first director, but he had yet to write his dissertation. By 1967, the center was ready to open, and Douglass was available.

From that day to this, he has marveled at how important Basque culture was — and is — to the region, and yet, how few people know or appreciate its many contributions.

“They’re one of the tiles in the American mosaic,” Douglass said. “We’re a nation of immigrants. While we know a lot about Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, German-Americans, the smaller tiles are lesser known; the Basque tile is as important as any other if you want to have a complete picture. Without an understanding of all the tiles in the mosaic, the picture of we as a multicultural society is incomplete.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

Cowboy poetry coming to Elko

The Basque will be in the spotlight during the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko this week, themed “Basques & Buckaroos: Herding Cultures of Basin, Range and Beyond.”

Meg Glaser, the artistic director of the Western Folklife Center, which organizes the festival, said one of the first Basque families to settle in Elko County was the Altube family. The Altubes established one of the most successful ranches in the area, the Spanish Ranch, with both sheep and cattle.

“We were compiling a list of families that were currently ranching or historically have ranched, and it was a huge list of Basque families. The ranching families are just keeping some of those ranchlands that they’re caretaking in good shape and trying to pass it down to the next generation. A lot of the ranching families I’ve been working with are multi-generational,” she said.

“Locally, the Basques in this community are some of the most prominent businesspeople. We’ve had Basque mayors and people who have contributed a lot to the cultural fabric of the community.”

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, America’s original cowboy poetry and music festival, will include presentations on Basque traditions including bertsolaritza, an improvisational form of poetic verse with two participants, workshops on Basque cooking, dancing, musical instruments and carving, and storytelling sessions. A gallery exhibition will showcase Basque art, history and contemporary culture in the American West. Nearly 50 poets and musical groups will perform on nine stages.

For tickets and more information, visit nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org or call 888-880-5885.

ad-high_impact_4
Local
New York artist Bobby Jacobs donated a sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden
Bobby Jacobs, an artist from upstate New York, has spent much of the past year creating a sculpture of two separate angel wings. He donated the sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Weather will cool slightly through the end of the week
The weather will cool slightly through the end of the week., but highs are still expected to be slightly above normal for this year. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mayor announces new public-private partnership
Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced the creation of the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE, a public-private partnership that will allocate money to the city’s neediest.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Fall fairytale gets cozy at Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory introduces its fall-themed garden titled "Falling Asleep." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
What the house that Ted Binion died in looks like today
Casino heir Ted Binion died in this Las Vegas home in 1998. Current home owner Jane Popple spent over $600,000 to restore and modernize the home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Rescue Mission employees terminated
Don James, a former employee for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, talks about the day his team was terminated. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Cupcakes at Freed's Bakery
Freed's Bakery will have Raiders-themed cupcakes available in store and for order during football season. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s fans say goodbye to Cashman Field
Las Vegas 51s fans said goodbye to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Monday September, 3, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s owner Don Logan's last weekend at Cashman Field
Don Logan, owner of the Las Vegas 51s, gives a tour of Cashman Field before the team's final weekend using the field. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Star Trek fans on show’s enduring popularity
Star Trek fans at the Star Trek Convention 2018 talk about why they think the show has stayed popular across the years Thursday, August 2, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Nonprofit provides clothing for homeless
Sydney Grover of Can You Spare A Story?, talks about how she founded the non-profit organization. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Family remembers deceased mother
Family members of Adriann Gallegos remember her. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Camp Broadway teaches kids how to sing and dance
The Smith Center's seventh annual Camp Broadway musical theater program gives 150 kids ages 6-17 an opportunity to learn musical theater skills from industry professionals over a five-day period. Marcus Villagran/ Las Vegas Review-Journal @brokejournalist
Restoring classic Corvettes to perfection
Members of the National Corvette Restorers Society Convention talk about what it takes to earn the NCRS Top Flight Award for a restored Corvette at South Point in Las Vegas on Tuesday July 17, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Watch Ruthless! at Las Vegas Little Theatre
The musical Ruthless! will be playing at Las Vegas Little Theatre from July 13-29. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Cadaver art and sword swallowing at The Dark Arts Market
Curator Erin Emrie talks about her inspiration for The Dark Arts Market at Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
'NO H8' Campaign comes to Las Vegas
Hundreds of locals participate in the NO H8 campaign founded by Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley as a response to Proposition 8, a California ban on same-sex marriage. The campaign has since evolved to represent equal treatment for all. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Star Wars and Golden Knights mashup at downtown art shop
Star Wars and Vegas Golden Knights fans attend the Boba Fett Golden Knight Paint Class at The Bubblegum Gallery in Las Vegas, Friday, June 29, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Tourists and locals enjoy Independence Day fireworks at Caesars Palace
Hundreds of tourists and locals gaze at the Independence Day fireworks show at Caesars Palace on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Clark County recount votes in commission’s District E primary
Clark County staff begin the recount requested by candidate Marco Hernandez in the democratic primary for the County Commission's District E seat on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Long-running local hip hop producer wants Vegas rappers to shine
Las Vegas Hip Hop producer and co-owner of Digital Insight Recording Studios Tiger Stylz reflects on 30 years of music production in the city. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
"Pawn Stars" fans visit Richard Harrison's memorial at Gold & Silver Pawn
"Pawn Stars" fans from around the world visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas following the passing of Richard "Old Man" Harrison on Monday, June 25, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Entertainment
Jason Aldean talks about the possibility of a Las Vegas residency
Country superstar Jason Aldean discusses his feelings about playing in Las Vegas and says he'd be interested in a Las Vegas residency when the time is right at the iHeart Radio Music Festival in Las Vegas on September 21, 2018.(John Katsilometes/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Block 16 Urban Food Hall Serves Favorite Foods From Across The US
Block 16 Urban Food Hall Serves Favorite Foods From Across The US (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Benny the Skating Dog could be the next Golden Knights on-ice entertainment
Benny the Skating Dog could be the next Golden Knights on-ice entertainment (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who To Watch At Life Is Beautiful
Life Is Beautiful Setup
Workers preparing Fremont street for this weekend's Life is Beautiful festival, on Wednesday, September 19, 2018. Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal
The 46th annual Greek Food Festival will feed 25,000 people in Las Vegas
Madame Tussauds Has The Newest VR Experience On The Strip
Madame Tussauds Has The Newest VR Experience On The Strip. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Zia Records Move
Zias Records is moving from its Sahara Avenue and Arville Street location to a bigger store. (Mat Luscheck/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Students At The International Contortion Convention In Las Vegas Learn How To Bend And Twist Their Bodies
Students At The International Contortion Convention In Las Vegas Learn How To Bend And Twist Their Bodies. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Video from Fertitta wedding Sep. 1
video from @wedstagrams of Fertitta wedding at Red Rock Resort
You Can Get Vegan Unicorn Toast In Downtown Las Vegas
You Can Get Vegan Unicorn Toast In Downtown Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Five must-see bands at Psycho Las Vegas 2018
Five must-see bands at Psycho Las Vegas 2018
Zuma's Ice Cube Carving Is Satisfying To Watch
Zuma's Ice Cube Carving Is Satisfying To Watch (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Therapy In Downtown Las Vegas Serves Cast Iron S'mores
Therapy In Downtown Las Vegas Serves Cast Iron S'mores. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Brunch Spot The Stove Makes Unicorn Hot Chocolate And Bananas Foster Pancakes
New Brunch Spot The Stove Makes Unicorn Hot Chocolate And Bananas Foster Pancakes. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Octopus On The Las Vegas Strip Predicted The Winner Of The World Cup
The Octopus On The Las Vegas Strip Predicted The Winner Of The World Cup. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-journal)
TLC by the Numbers
Watch Ruthless! at Las Vegas Little Theatre
The musical Ruthless! will be playing at Las Vegas Little Theatre from July 13-29. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
How to feel like a kid again in Las Vegas
How to feel like a kid again in Las Vegas
People Lined Up For Over 5 Hours For Build-a-bear's "Pay Your Age" Promotion At Galleria Mall
People Lined Up For Over 5 Hours For Build-a-bear's "Pay Your Age" Promotion At Galleria Mall. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cadaver art and sword swallowing at The Dark Arts Market
Curator Erin Emrie talks about her inspiration for The Dark Arts Market at Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Over 40,000 People Attend The 4th Of July Parade In Summerlin In Las Vegas
Over 40,000 People Attend The 4th Of July Parade In Summerlin In Las Vegas. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Pawn Stars' Richard Harrison honored at memorial service
A memorial service was conducted for Richard "Old Man" Harrison at Palm Mortuary in Las Vegas on Sunday, July 1, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Tourists and locals enjoy Independence Day fireworks at Caesars Palace
Hundreds of tourists and locals gaze at the Independence Day fireworks show at Caesars Palace on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
5 must-see bands at Warped Tour 2018
Five must-see bands at Warped Tour 2018
This Banana Split In Las Vegas Is Made With Fire And Liquid Nitrogen Right At Your Table.
This Banana Split In Las Vegas Is Made With Fire And Liquid Nitrogen Right At Your Table. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pixar Pier At Disneyland Is Open With New Food And A New Roller Coaster
Pixar Pier At Disneyland Is Open With New Food And A New Roller Coaster (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Here's What It's Like To Ride The New Incredicoaster At Disneyland
Here's What It's Like To Ride The New Incredicoaster At Disneyland (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
"Pawn Stars" fans visit Richard Harrison's memorial at Gold & Silver Pawn
"Pawn Stars" fans from around the world visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas following the passing of Richard "Old Man" Harrison on Monday, June 25, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like