Question #36, 1/15/19
Ry Brooks- “This year’s Christmas story got me wondering. I know Marcus Red Thunder is a resource for Cheyenne knowledge, and John Saunders was a help with railroad operations for ’The Western Star’, but how did you acquire so much information about the Basque culture, beginning with ‘Death Without Company’?”
I’m always interested in the other ethnicities that make up western American culture, and by other I mean besides cowboys and Indians. There are so many incredible stories concerning the different nationalities that I really can’t help but include them in my novels whether it be the Chinese Massacre of Rock Springs or the remittance men of Scotland, the Italian coal miners, or Norwegian farmers.
I just happen to live in an area that has a large Basque population that came here when sheep were an accepted part of the West. There are pockets of Basques in places like California, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Buffalo, the model for Durant in the books, has hosted the International and National Basque Festivals numerous times, which usually include the Running Of The Sheep, where residents get to run through the streets with sheep, a somewhat low impact version of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
The Basques are a curious lot with an amazing history, culture, and language all their own, and I have to admit that when I’m doing my foreign tours in France and Spain I really enjoy the Basque portions of both those countries. There’s a hardiness and an earthy quality to them that I like, and I think matches up well with Wyoming.
There are a lot of Basques around Buffalo, so it’s never much of a problem checking on the local history and lore, but I have other secret weapons including Ana Echavarri-Daily at the University of Miami for her Euskara language skills that even impressed the Basques back in the old country, “Nobody ever gets the language right, but you did—how?”
A lot of my information comes from reading a great deal about the Basques in books such as The Basque History of the World; Beltran, Basque Sheepman of the American West; and The Boss Dog by MFK Fisher with numerous others whenever I can find them.
One of my guilty pleasures is the Basque Block in Boise, Idaho. I always visit the museums, restaurants, and the Basque bar, Guernica—odd where you can find inspiration, huh?
All the best,