Not just sheepherders

  • Book cover of "A Travel Guide to Basque America"

  A Travel Guide to Basque America - Families, Feasts and Festivals, by journalist Nancy Zubiri, is a passionate and well-researched guide to the Great Basin country of the West.

Zubiri traces Basque culture from its origins in the Pyrenees to strongholds today in southern Idaho, northern Nevada and California's Central Valley and Sierra Nevada. Along the way she gives us deft sketches of Basque communities and lively sidebars that feature interviews with memorable people.

Zubiri points out that the first influx of Basques in the United States were immigrants who had originally settled in South America before moving on to Los Angeles in 1849, chasing the Gold Rush.

European Basques soon started to arrive in the West after the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, and quickly became a mainstay of the sheep industry. While many people still picture Basque-Americans as shepherds, they have moved on to other professions, including governor of Montana and secretary of state of Idaho.

Zubiri writes about efforts to preserve the culture through festivals, formation of folk dance companies and the teaching of Euskara, the Basque language. Elko, Nev., which has gained a reputation for the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, also hosts the National Basque Festival.

Reno is home to the University of Nevada's Basque Studies Program and Basque library, University of Nevada Press Basque book series and a 25-foot-high Basque Sheepherder Monument. Boise, Idaho, has over 10,000 Basque-Americans along with the only Basque museum in the United States.

Zubiri's guide contains historical and present-day photos, easy-to-read maps and references at the end of each chapter.

* John Rosapepe

High Country News Classifieds