In early 20th century, Idaho saw a growing Basque community
Idaho’s Basque pioneers were never called anything but “Spanish” by the Idaho Statesman and other newspapers in their early years here. We found this item of Oct. 23, 1902, especially interesting:
“Citizenship. The following persons signed declarations yesterday of their intention to become citizens of the United States: Julian Erquinaga foreswore allegiance to the king of Spain; James S. Stuart renounced allegiance to King Edward of England, and Nels Anderson quit King Oscar of Sweden.”
The 1900 United States census takers had found 77 Spanish-born people in Idaho, almost surely Basques. By 1910 the census listed 1,179 “Spanish,” probably all Basque.
Although most Basque men would find employment as sheepherders when they arrived in Idaho, tending their flocks in remote and lonely parts of the state, they came into town for the winter, creating a need for boarding houses and restaurants. The earliest reference we have to these appeared in the Statesman on the day before Christmas in 1893: “R. J. Luark has sold the City Restaurant, on Ninth Street between Main and Idaho, to two Spaniards, Yturraspe & Uberuaga, who will take charge on January 1 1894, and conduct a first class place. Mr. Luark has been proprietor of the City Restaurant for twelve consecutive years. He contemplates moving east shortly to locate.”
We learn that the new Basque owners had acquired a lodging house as part of the deal from their ad in the Statesman on Dec. 31, 1893: “They will run the restaurant in first class style in every respect. Meals will be furnished for 25 cents; beds for 25 cents.”
That herding sheep could be a dangerous, as well as lonesome, way to make a living, we learn from several news items in the early years of the 20th century. In July 1907: “Sheep Camp Tender Shot in Owyhee. J. Arietta by Frank Coats on the morning of the fourth.” The Idaho
World reported on May 18, 1908: “Sheep Herder Killed: Domingo Evesenna by Thomas R. Arrate with a 30-30. Arrate claims gun discharged by accident. Roman Aldecoa was the only witness.”
When the body of Simon Balasteguer was found near the head of Sheep Creek in Owyhee County in September 1914, the prime suspects were two brothers named Willameger: “It is said that the herder and the Willamegers quarreled Sunday afternoon, and that the miners chased him off their claim after beating him and taking his gun away from him.”
Idaho’s Basque history is rich and colorful, with only a few tragic episodes like this one. We’ll tell more of it next week.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email hist[email protected]
This young Basque sheepherder far from his homeland had his portrait taken by an Idaho photo studio.