The Basques are an enigmatic ethnic group who mostly live on the border between France and Spain, around the Pyrenees Mountains. There are between two and three million of them worldwide. Their literally unique language is covered in depth HERE.

Most evidence points to the Basque people as having lived in the same area for a truly vast amount of time. There are archaeological sites dating back to Cro-Magnon times on Basque turf, and while there isn't any direct evidence of continuity on that scale, there isn't much against it, either.

The general region the Basques live in has been owned at one time or another by the Romans, the Visigoths, Charlemange, the Moors, the Castillians, France, and Spain, both under Francisco Franco and the newer, non-bloodthirsty-dictator regime. The Basques fought, traded, or both with all of these people and were never fully conquered or assimilated. Nutty, huh?

The big news in Basqueland lately is the terrorist organization that started up under Franco and continues to blow shit up and shoot people to this day. The IRA - yes, that's the Irish Republican Army - helped them reorganize in the early eighties into a bipolar militant / political setup, just like IRA and Sinn Féin. They want Basque independence. To make things more complicated, the Basque provinces in Spain and France have a high degree of autonomy, collecting their own taxes and holding their own parliament. I leave the moral issues to others.

Some crap I forgot. Recent genetic studies show that the Basques are most closely related to Celts. Considering the amorphous linege of the Celtic people, and the 10k+ years since they split, it don't say much. Basques are probably the oldest surviving ethnicity in Europe.

During the late 1800's many young Basque men came to the United States looking for better economic opportunity than was offered in their homelands. By sheer coincidence, the sheep industry was booming in the American West, and sheepherders were badly needed. Most of the sheepherders were European immigrants, especially young unmarried Basque and Irish men. Most of these young men intended to return home eventually, but ended up staying for the rest of their lives.

By 1900, there were large Basque populations in many Western States, and special Basque Boarding Houses even existed to serve the herders when they came in off the range. These hotels were a second home for the sheep men, and gave the herders a place to rest, socialize and learn the latest news from home. Along with the comfort of a bed, the sheepherders were served generous meals that usually included beef and lamb steaks, soup, crisp salad, beans, spaghetti, bread and wine, plenty of wine. The Basque tradition of excellent food, warm hospitality and unique atmosphere still can be found in some Western towns with Basque restaurants

An interesting hobby that some Basque sheepherders took up was tree carving. As a way to remember their past and record the present, many sheepherders carved their names, hometowns, and dates on the plentiful Aspen trees. Ultimately, this practice became a way of communicating with other herders who would visit the same places years later. Recently these carvings, known as Arborglyphs have become the focus of several studies by archeologists, specifically on Steens Mountain in Eastern Oregon and near Flagstaff, Arizona. The names, places, and thoughts expressed there help re-create the life of a sheepherder.

The Taylor Grazing Act, passed in the mid-1930's effectively ended the day of sheepherder. The 1960s marked the last of the Basque sheepherders, although many Basque families remain in the west.

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