Basques in America: They got far on foot

From The Westerner Blog

Elko is gearing up for its annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering — the highlight of the year for the city. This is one of the biggest cultural festivals in the American West that celebrates its extensive ranching heritage.

Festival visitors may partake in a series of events that feature cowboy poetry, storytelling, and western music. This year’s theme pays tribute to the sheepherders of the West and particularly to the Basque immigrants who worked in the western sheep industry.

In this way, Basque sheepherders will be getting recognition from the cowboy culture, many years after the end of the range wars between cattle and sheep interests that marked life in the West. By the late 1880s, though their numbers were relatively few, a handful of Basque immigrant families, such as the Altubes, had created an ethnic economic niche based largely on the open-range sheep industry.

Taking advantage of the free and open range, these Basque pioneers built up quickly thriving sheep operations which opened a floodgate for further Basque immigration. This resulted in an expanding process of chain migration, which channeled Basque newcomers into the bottom ranks of the sheep industry and promoted the development of kindred networks. Thereof, an occupational concentration process occurred with the arrival of more Basque immigrants who settled near and worked as sheepherders along with their countrymen in the American West. But they came late to the party…

 

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