Lucas Gatica is an Argentine living in Bilbao. A graduate in Psychology from the National University of Córdoba, he is currently studying at the University of Deusto, and collaborates with several newspapers and magazines.
He’s shared his story of Basques in the US with us.
This article was translated by John R. Bopp
Lucas Gatica, an Argentine who resides in Bilbao, writes articles for several newspapers and magazines. They are all highly interesting, and you can check them out further on his Facebook page.
He wrote an article about Beltrán París, a Northern Basque who emigrated to Wyoming, the state that has a county whose flag is the ikurriña!
Beltrán París must have been rather extraordinary, because William Douglass, the anthropologist the University of Nevada named its “William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies” after, dedicated a book to him. Today, we get to know that book thanks to Lucas Gatica.
The Basque Man of Wyoming
An article by Lucas Gatica
There are tons of stories about Basques around the world. The Basque diaspora is widespread and multicolored. In that context, the story of Beltrán París has its peculiarities.
This gentleman was a Basque shepherd who emigrated to Wyoming in 1912, and made the Basque-speaking population of the American west a little larger. His story is that of a champion, of one who reaches the promised land, works hard, and thanks to his hard work and will of iron, prospers in his affairs.
The life of this good man was made known to us thanks to anthropologist and Basque expert William Douglass, who interviewed him and wrote a book about him, co-authored with Beltrán himself, telling his life story, step by step. Douglass was obsessed with contacting people of a certain age who would allow him to rebuild the “olden days” thanks to their stories. Douglass met Beltrán in Ely, Nevada, during a Basque festival held there in the 1960s. The first thing that caught the anthropologist’s attention was the man’s strength, and his incredible magnetism at the age of 78. He was captivated.
Later, he would pay him a visit at his ranch in Cherry Creek, where he lived with his sons, Bert and Pete. They years went by, and Beltrán París came to trust Douglass enough to tell him his life story. Together, they would dig into his family’s origins, his memories, and the landscapes recorded in his mind. As was the case with so many Basque émigrés, his family was from a rural area, and the formal education level in that environment was quite low.
Beltrán was born in 1888, and his formative years at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries passed by in the Basque countryside. They had a tiny farm in the Pyrenees which, according to the stories, had to be very hard to live on. His childhood was marked by austerity.
In his young years, he was a shepherd, in charge of the camp, foreman at the ranch, itinerant shepherd, farmer. He saved up quite a bit, and was eventually able to buy a ranch that stretched into four Nevada counties. Everything was going well until the drought came, with the huge losses in cattle brought on by the blizzard of 1948 and the still-noticeable aftereffects of the Great Depression, and it all went to pot. Nevertheless, despite his misfortune, the Basque from Wyoming was a captivating narrator, able to laugh at himself and his bad luck, as can be seen in the book he wrote with Douglass.
According to the researcher, the turning points in Beltrán’s life, such as emigrating or getting married, were marked by economic concerns. These considerations were the echo of Beltrán’s childhood, where he was instilled with the idea that the value or price of a person had to be measured by their economic success.
It was at the age of twenty-three that he reached Wyoming. There, he applied his knowledge of work and his will to succeed to the world of shepherding, a job that was poorly valued due to its roughness and the fact that it required skill, strength, and solitude from the worker, as the shepherd lived in the great plains of the American West, all by himself. That was how he came to herd sheep, since it didn’t require him to speak English, and it meant that he had the possibility to make money quickly, and invest it in acquiring cattle to make up his own herd.
The No Return
For Douglass, emigration was a kind of purgatory for the migrants, an impasse, that would allow them to go back and have a better life in the land they had left behind. But that was not the case for Beltrán.
What usually happened when the shepherds had saved up enough dollars was to return to the Basque Country, which they had never really left behind, at least in their hearts. That was also the case for many Basques in Argentina, my homeland. However, during those years he spent shepherding, Beltrán started putting down roots, feeling that he had come to stay, and that his return to the Basque Country was ever more distant. That’s how Douglass tells it in his book, stating, “Beltrán, little by little, began to see his future in American terms.”
In the last chapter in the book, “Final Reflections”, Beltrán jokes that he went to the land of Uncle Sam to make about ten thousand francs, in order to go back to the Basque Country to buy a farmhouse and get married. However, he stayed at his ranch in Wyoming, at peace, calm, feeling that he had fulfilled his destiny.
He grew old surrounded by family, friends, and neighbors in the land he had emigrated to as a young man.
Beltran: Basque Sheepman of the American West
by Beltran Paris and William A. Douglass