ELKO – What is a McCarran sheepherder?
The term used in conversation among Vince Juaristi’s family and friends was a mystery to him until recently when he decided to explore the reference and unearthed a significant part of Nevada Basque history in the process.
Juaristi’s presentation, “America’s Deal: A New Basque Home on the Range” will explain the outcome of a little-known immigration policy in the United States and its effect on the Basque culture.
Juaristi said growing up, the term referred to Basque immigrants of the 1940s and 1950s, but he was unaware of what it meant.
“I had heard among the Basques periodically about ‘one of them McCarran sheepherders,’” Juaristi said. “I later found out it meant that Senator Pat McCarran was responsible for immigration in the West.”
Sen. McCarran was approached by western ranchers, who were suffering from a dip in wool prices after World War II, to bring in Basque migrants to work on the ranches in Nevada, California, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington.
“Very stealthily and astutely, Sen. McCarran went about bringing in more Basque immigrants, which helped the ranchers of our state and other states,” Juaristi said.
Thanks to the legislation, 1,135 Basque sheepherders came to the western United States, and another bill brought in an additional 250 immigrants every year until McCarran died in 1954 while in office.
“We now have 57,400 Basques in America today and many of them are the progeny of the McCarran sheepherders brought in by his efforts,” Juaristi said.
An Elko native, Juaristi lives in Washington, D.C., working in public policy, government and business, and has authored two books about Basque culture. He said as he researched the topic, he saw how the history fit in with the story of the Basque people in America.
“This was a wonderful overlap of politics and business” in connection with the Basques in the West, Juaristi said, explaining he will also discuss the ripple effect of that immigration policy from about seven decades ago.
“How have the Basque done in America? How have they thrived? Are they bumps on a log or are they making a positive contribution?”
Part of the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the discussion is open to the public and will be from 1-2 p.m. Feb. 1 at Great Basin College in the Greenhaw Technical Arts building, room 130 and is sponsored by the Nevada Humanities and Western Folklife Center. Admission is free.