This article was translated by John R. Bopp
The Basque Museum and Cultural Center in Boise is an “old friend” of our regular readres. Really, it’s one of those miracles that proves the energy and vitality of the Basque community that’s sprinkled all over the world, and, especially, its determination to keep its roots strong.
Today, we’re bringing them up because they just published an online version of a fascinating book; “La Historia de los Vascongados en el Oeste (The History of the Basques in the West)”, written by Samuel “Sol” Silen, and published in 1917 by the Las Novedades, Inc. publishing group in New York, and in 1918 by Mountain States Publishing Co. in Boise.
This book is a true gem, which collects dozens and dozens of stories and biographies of the Basque communities in Boise, ID; Mountain Home, ID; Shoshone, ID; Jordan Valley, OR; Elko, NV; Winnemucca, NV; and McDermitt, NV. It also has an introduction which gives an amazing description of who and what the Basques are, as well as giving a great overview of the history of our Nation as a whole.
Strolling through its pages is like immersing yourself in an important part of the history of our People, discovering the stories of so many Basques who decided to emigrate to the US to make their future, starting in the 19th century.
Among their descriptions, we can find families from all parts of our land, but what still calls our attention now, over 100 years after the book was published, is the abundance of people who came from small towns—proof of the exodus that speaks clearly to the difficulties our country went through when the fueros were abolished.
We even loved the title: “The History of the Basques (Vascongados) in the West” takes us right to other New World Basques, those who, throughout the 16th century, emigrated to South America, and starting in the 17th century began to create mutual aid and defense groups among themselves. Specifically, we’re reminded of the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu in Lima, which was created in 1612 to bring together all the “sons of the Basque (Vascongado) nation” in that city.
The book was originally published in Spanish, but it’s also available online in English thanks to the work of Aintzane González, an intern at the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, working through the 2018 Basque Country Global Training Program.
Samuel “Sol” Silen, the author
The author, Samuel “Sol” Silen, himself deserves his own profile. It’s fascinating that this Jew, most likely of Russian origin, wrote such an amazing collection of stories of Basques in the western US. He never married a Basque, as is the case of Pat Bieter, the “German Catholic from Milwaukee” who became a key figure in the Basque Community of Idaho (and of the whole Western US) after marrying Eloisa Garmendia.
No one really knows why he decided to write this unlikely book, but in the introduction, when he discusses the Basque People and explains the work, he leaves behind a few clues. For example, he wrote it after no fewer than 14 years observing the Basques in that part of the world.
One thing really excited us in the introduction. Nobody who follows us will be surprised to discover we’re dedicated followers of Lehendakari Aguirre. On several occasions, he asked the Basques spread all over the world to be “among all, the best citizens” (an interview on Radio Splendid in Buenos Aires in 1955 at 3:40).
“Sol” Silen was already proving that was being done in 1917. He describes them as “loyal and patriotic citizens”, and states that:
“…they are the parents of children our homeland would be proud to have among the number of their best citizens, and I trust that the day is not far when the title of being the descendant of a Basque is a title in an of itself and a mark of general high esteem, as is already the case in the Argentine Republic.“
What a premonition of what has really been the case in the last century.
The Basque Museum and Cultural Center -1/2019 – USA
La Historia de los Vascongados en el Oeste
La Historia de los Vascongados en el Oeste is a valuable resource for those researching Basques in the American West at the turn of the 20th century. The book’s pages are filled with the histories and biographies of Basque communities and families in Boise, Idaho; Mountain Home, Idaho; Shoshone, Idaho; Jordan Valley, Oregon; Elko, Nevada; Winnemucca, Nevada; and McDermitt, Nevada.