Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Basques

So I was watching Gunsmoke again (TVLand, check local listings), an episode called "Manolo." In a settlement of sheep-raisers just outside Dodge City, a young man refuses to fight his father in order to establish his (the young man's) manhood, as is the custom in their culture. As a result, the young man is effectively banished (indeed, with his consent) from the community and finds a job sweeping up at the Long Branch. (This is one of the rare post-Amanda Blake episodes, so the bar is owned by a woman named Hannah--played by Fran Ryan).

What Indian tribe are we talking about? None--the people here are Basques.

The Basque people's homeland is in the Pyrenees region between France and Spain. They speak a language called Euskara. They are largely Roman Catholic; both Francis Xavier and Ignatius Loyola were Basques. The Basque culture is strongly patrilineal.

Basques came to the Americas in the 15th century during the Age of Exploration. Their numbers in the United States increased rapidly during the gold fever of the 1840's and 1850's. Boise, Idaho, today has the largest concentration of Basques in the USA, while there are significant Basque populations in the Reno, Nevada area, and Californi's Central Valley and Gold Country. (The TV show notwithstanding, there seem to be very few Basques in Kansas today. A site called asserts that there 146 persons of Basque descent in Kansas, out of a total U.S. population of 57, 793 Basques on the 2000 census. The largest state population of Basques on the census was in California with 20,868. West Virginia had 8 Basque descendants on the 2000 census ).

I live in the Central Valley near Gold Country. I have a friend here of Basque ancestry (aalthough I don't recall him ever saying he had to fight his father).

When gold mining failed to make most people rich, the Basques began ranching and raising sheep. They have become significant contributors to the communities in which they live. Prominent Basque Americans include the composer Jose Iturbi, California Lt Governor John Garamendi, former U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt of Nevada, and explorer Jedediah Smith.

There are a number of Basque resources of genealogical value on the Internet. At the University of Nevada, Reno, there is the Center for Basque Studies.

Basque on-line resources:

Basque Museum and Cultural Center (Boise, Idaho)

North American Basque Organizations, Inc.

Basque Heritage

Basque Genealogy Home Page

Basque Ranching Culture

Kern County Basque Club

Buber's Basque Page

Cyndi's List has a number of Basque resources cataloged.

1 comment:

JCP said...

I am watching that very same episode of "Gunsmoke" on my DVR. It was nice to see a young Robert Urich as the Manolo character of the episode title. However, this episode made me curious about my own genealogy. Although I was born in Colombia, South America, I can't help but wonder if my Spanish ancestors may have had a touch of Basque too.