Basques - Settlements

Basque involvement in sheepherding is limited to the arid and semiarid open-range districts of the American West, where sheep husbandry entails transhumance—that is, the herds are wintered on the valley floors and then trailed into adjacent or distant mountain ranges for summer pasturage. The annual trek might involve covering as much as five hundred miles on foot, although today the animals are more likely to be trucked if the distance between the summer and winter ranges is considerable. For the herder, while on the winter range, home is a sheep wagon containing little more than a bunk, table, and stove. The wagon is moved about the desert winter range with either horses or a four-wheel drive vehicle. In the summer months the herder lives in a tipi camped along streambeds in high mountain canyons. He is visited every several days by a camptender who brings him supplies on muleback or by pickup truck. The herder's life is characterized by extreme isolation, the loneliness being relieved only by the camptender's brief visit, the portable radio, a few magazines and books, and the occasional letter from a fiancée or family. Some former sheepherders acquired their own ranch properties. These were established holdings and therefore have no architectural features that might be regarded as uniquely Basque. Most small towns of the open-range districts have one or more Basque hotels, which are likely located within sight of the railroad station (to facilitate the travel of newly arrived herders from Europe). Again, they tend to be Purchased rather than constructed by their proprietors and are therefore largely consonant with western American smalltown architecture, although some of the hotels have added a fronton or handball court. The typical hotel contains a bar; a dining room where meals are served family-style at long tables to boarders and casual guests alike; and a second floor of sleeping rooms usually reserved for permanent boarders, sheepherders in town for a brief visit, vacation, or employment layoff, and herders in transit to an employer.

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