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"Like the classic three-act play or the ideal essay, the history of Basque sheepherding in the American West has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The story commences in the 1850s when a few Basque Argonauts in the California gold fields became disillusioned with the miner's lot and turned their hand to sheep raising. The middle period began in the 1870s as Basque sheepmen spread throughout the American West; this period lasted into the early twentieth century, when crowding on the range and federal legislation controlling access to it effectively halted the expansion. The final phase was ushered in by the Taylor Grazing Act (1934) which banished the itinerant sheepman fromthe western scene and converted herding into a low-paid, dead-end occupation rather than an avenue of opportunity for an entrepreneur aspiring to build his own sheep outfit."

— William A. Douglass, 1985, Past Perspectives, Basque Sheepherders of the American West: A Photographic Documentary

Featured Photographer

"Anthropologist-photographer Richard Lane began photographing life in the sheep camps of northeastern Nevada in 1969. He dedicated himself to filming this disappearing way of life in all its complexity, including lambing, trailing, shearing, docking, shipping, and both winter and summer herding. It was apparent that the Basque herder's existence is finely attuned to changing seasons and circumstances — a natural rhythm that is played out in yearly cycle. Furthermore, this cycle differs from region to region (and even from outfit to outfit within a single area). Consequently, Lane extended his efforts to southern Idaho, Wyoming, and California's Central Valley."

William A. Douglass, 1985, Preface, Basque Sheepherders of the American West: A Photographic Documentary

The Collection

The Basque Studies Library's Digital Collection is composed of images from a multitude of photographers showcasing the Basque Experience both in the American West and Europe.

We are pleased to share with you a small sampling from our photo archives that span from 1870 to the present. They include images of life in the Basque Country and the diaspora; sheepherding, arborglyphs, dancers, and Basque festivals in the American West; and important occasions in Nevada's history. Politics, art exhibits, games, restaurants, and monuments to family memories are also represented in the collection.

Site Information

University of Nevada, Reno Libraries  ·  Basque Studies Library  ·  Contact: Shannon Sisco