Basques In America

Basques In America

 This is a bit of travelogue, as I mentioned previously I am on the road now at south end of Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side for the annual conference of the Society for the Advancement of Behavioral Economics (SABE). Earlier today I traveled east from the Tahoe area to Gardnerville, NV just east of the Sierra Nevada in the narrow area of the state where the first European settlers came in, a narrow strip that is not desert although pretty dry.  It is where Reno and the state capital, Carson City are, along with Genoa, the oldest town in the state. Gardnerville is near Genoa, just south of Carson City, along with Minden.  This is an agricultural area, green, but mostly given to grazing, cattle and sheep, with hay being grown.

The sheepherding brought Basque people from Spain and France in the late 19th century, and this little part of Nevada is one of the most intense concentrations of their population in the entire country, with Idaho, especially around Boise, its main rival. In Garnerville, where there is a monthly Basque picnic, I ate at what is considered to be the best Basque restaurant in Nevada and one of the best in the US, the J.T. Basque Bar and Dining Room. For $34.95 I had a family style lunch with soup, salad, beef stew with baked beans, sweetbreads, a small bottle of red Cal table wine, ice cream and coffee, and might good. This is a real country place, with dollar bills on the ceiling and cowboy hats on the walls along with all the pictures of Basque people wearing berets (they invented them) and pictures from the Basque lands. 

It is a super local place with local color. Most of the people who came in shook hands with most of the people who were there. I know a peculiarity about Basques: they almost all have straight noses, and everyone working there had those. The Basque language is distinct, unrelated to any other European languages, and they have nearly zero B blood type, showing little input from invaders out of Central Asia over the last 3000 years or so.

There are only about 57,000 Basques in the US officially  with 20,000 in California, but with Idaho and Nevada following and with greater concentrations. Downtown Boise has a “Basque block” with a museum and a cultural center. Winnemucca, NV has the highest percentage at 4.2%. In those two states the Basques are among the earliest of European settlers and certain families have become prominent, the Secretary of State of Idaho and the prominent Laxalt family in Nevada who have produced a governor and senator and the current GOP candidate for senate, Adam Laxalt. 

Anyway, this was a curious and most interesting in-depth run to Old Nevada and its roots, far from the gambling dens of Vegas or even Reno or Tahoe, to find remnants of an obscure group still persisting here in America. Oh, and the food at J.T. Basque is plenty good, especially for that price.

Barkley Rosser