Ranching in the West meant more than cowboys and cattle drives, writes Dr. Iker Saitua, and assistant professor of public policy and economic history at the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain. Dr. Saitua’s new book, Basque Immigrants and Nevada’s Sheep Industry: Geopolitics and the Making of an Agricultural Workforce, 1880-1954 (University of Nevada Press, 2019), offers insight into the sheep herding industry in the American West through the lens of Basque immigration. Along with other European and Asian immigrants in the nineteenth century, Basques traveled from their homeland to the American West looking to make new lives and new fortunes for themselves. American racial stereotypes and immigration politics pushed many Basque immigrants to the high desert of Nevada, where they encountered very different conditions, and very different forms of ranching, than was typical back home in the Basque Country. Saitua traces their story through the end of the nineteenth century through the tumultuous years of the Spanish Civil War and World War II, up through the campaign by Nevada Senator Patrick McCarren to normalize relations between the United States and Franco’s Spain. Basque Immigrants and Nevada’s Sheep Industry offers a narrative that runs counter to many of the well-worn stories of who populated the American West, and how those people made their lives.
Dr. Stephen R. Hausmann is an assistant professor of history at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.