People of Basque heritage originate from four provinces in Northern Spain and three adjacent regions in France. The Basque Country includes the regions around the Bay of Biscay and the Pyrenees Mountains. The origins of the Basque people are not entirely known. They speak a very unique language called Euskera. The Basque people began to immigrate to the western United States around 1850, drawn by the California Gold Rush. Many of these immigrants soon turned to running livestock, and became a prominent presence in the western range sheep industry. In fact, “Basque” has been closely correlated with the term “sheepherder.”
In no time at all, the Basque people began to be present throughout the Great Basin region, including the areas around Winnemucca. They were not only sheepherders, but also as cattlemen. They came to this country willing to work hard, and were found to be extremely dependable. Today, although most of the range sheep industry is gone, Basques continue to play a large role in the livestock industry. Descendents of the early Basque herders still live and thrive throughout the west not only as stockman, but also as business and community leaders.
In Winnemucca, the Basque culture is very prominent. The annual festival in June hosts a variety of traditional Basque games; including weight carrying, and Jota dancing. Groups of dancers from around the region gather to perform traditional dances that celebrate their culture and passion for life.
Winnemucca is home to the highest Basque dining opportunities per capita in the region. Meals are generally served family style with numerous side dishes. Don’t forget the famous Picon Punch, which is an alcoholic drink. It is not to be missed! Basque hotels can be found throughout Northern Nevada. Originally, many of these hotels served as winter homes for Basque herders. Today, they serve as social hot spots across the Great Basin, where Basque food and drink are a highlight for most travelers and locals alike.
For more information on the Basque culture, contact the Center of Basque Studies at the University of Nevada. They house a variety of information.