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
North Las Vegas Water Meters
Randy DeVaul shows off the new water meters that the city is installing.
Project 150 Thanksgiving 2018
About 100 volunteers for Project 150 box Thanksgiving meals for high school students and their families in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Nov. 14.
Three Square’s Maurice Johnson Talks About Food Waste
Three Square’s director of operations Maurice Johnson talks about food waste.
Parade preparation nears completion
Downtown Summerlin prepares for its annual holiday parade.
Clark County Wetlands promotes 2019 Wetland Walker Program
This year the park will be celebrating the Northern Flicker. The program is designed to teach about that bird, and encourage people to visit the Wetlands and walk the same distance the bird migrates each year.
Poet’s Walk Henderson introduces storytelling
Residents enjoy a storytelling activity.
Downtown Summerlin hosts its annual Festival of Arts
People crowd to Downtown Summerlin for the 23rd annual Summerlin Festival of Arts in Las Vegas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County educators debate alternative grading systems
Spring Valley High School principal Tam Larnerd, Spring Valley High School IB coordinator Tony Gebbia and retired high school teacher Joyce O'Day discuss alternative grading systems. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Grandparents on the fire that killed three family members
Charles and Doris Smith talk about the night an apartment fire took the lives of three of their family members. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
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
Entertainment
Glittering Lights dazzles Las Vegas
The Glittering Lights holiday display is shining at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Mat Luschek/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Skybar at Waldorf Astoria lets you sip your way through Las Vegas history
Skybar At Waldorf Astoria Lets You Sip Your Way Through Las Vegas History (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stan Lee in Las Vegas for Madame Tussauds unveiling
Stan Lee Las Vegas speaks with the Review-Journal's Chris Lawrence about his love for his fans and shared universes. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ultimate Belgium Waffle Sundae at Lavo
Lavo at the Palazzo serves a 16-scoop ice cream sundae that costs $800. (Rochelle Ricahrds, Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
A New Zip Line Is Opening On The Las Vegas Strip
A New Zip Line Is Opening On The Las Vegas Strip (Janna Karel lLas Vegas Review-Journal)
You'll need a keen eye to find this secret bar on the Las Vegas Strip
You'll need a keen eye to find this secret bar on the Las Vegas Strip (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
"The Lion King" roars into Las Vegas
New music club 172 brings loud luxury to Las Vegas
New music venue at the Rio brings rock ’n’ roll and food together at intimate club. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Fans fear for Zak Bagans’ safety in Las Vegas Halloween TV special
Fly Linq zip line time lapse
Fly Linq zip line timelapse
Shaq opens Las Vegas restaurant, Big Chicken
Shaq opens Las Vegas restaurant, Big Chicken
Robert Deniro And Chef Nobu Talk About The Success Of Nobu
Robert Deniro And Chef Nobu Talk About The Success Of Nobu (Al Mancini Las Vegas Review-journal)
Nevada Ballet Theatre rehearses for "Dracula" at The Smith Center
Nevada Ballet Theatre rehearses for "Dracula" at The Smith Center (Janna Karel/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Downtown Summerlin hosts its annual Festival of Arts
People crowd to Downtown Summerlin for the 23rd annual Summerlin Festival of Arts in Las Vegas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio, MGM Resorts International’s luxury hotel turns 20
The more than 3,000-room Bellagio hotel is situated on the site of the former Dunes Hotel. The Dunes was imploded in 1993, and construction of the Bellagio started in 1996. It cost $1.6 billion to build, making it the most expensive hotel in the world at the time. The Bellagio was former Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman and CEO Steve Wynn’s second major casino on the Strip after The Mirage. MGM Resorts International acquired the property from Steve Wynn in 2000. (Tara Mack/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Recycled Art and Cute Dogs at Summerlin Festival Of Arts
Recycled Art, Cute Dogs Abound At Summerlin Festival Of Arts (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio Patisserie Creates Life-size Sculpture Of 20th Anniversary Of Cirque Du Soleil Show
Bellagio Patisserie Creates Life-size Sculpture Of 20th Anniversary Of Cirque Du Soleil Show (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
10 Most Iconic Moments At The Bellagio Fountains
10 Most Iconic Moments At The Bellagio Fountains (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
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)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like