Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mysterious Tree Carvings of America’s Basque Sheepherders

Some Americans, to learn about their ancestors, can dig through documents detailing when they passed through Ellis Island or flew in or got married, or where they lived at the time of a census. But for some Basque families in the United States, the only record they have of their immigrant ancestors is carved into trees in secluded aspen groves throughout the West. Names, dates, hometowns, and other messages and art scar the pale bark of aspens where Basque men watched over herds of hundreds of sheep from the 1850s to the 1930s.

The Basque are a genetically and linguistically distinct people from a region of the western Pyrenees straddling France and Spain. They speak Euskara and are believed to be the oldest indigenous group in Europe. Many came to the United States in the 19th century in search of opportunity—often in the form of gold or jobs—and ended up in parts of the Great Basin—Southeastern Oregon, central Idaho, and Nevada. Some started ranches, while others found themselves in sagebrush-covered hills and mountains, alone but for hundreds of sheep, a donkey, and some dogs to keep them company.
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