Of all the historic figures of the Old West, the Basque sheepherder is perhaps one of the least remembered and appreciated, but a group of Basques and Basque supporters is trying to change that.
Money is being raised to build a monument to the Basque sheepherder at a site just outside Reno.Thus far, a little over $185,000 of the needed $300,000 has been raised, and supporters hope to have the rest by April 15, said Janet Inda, co-coordinator and secretary-treasurer of the Basque Sheepherder Monument Committee.
Her cousin Bob Ithurralde, the local coordinator, said about 50 Basque families live in the Salt Lake area alone. Few still work as sheepherders.
"They've moved on and into the city like all the other immigrant groups."
But they remain conscious of the contribution their parents and grandparents made to the development of the West.
The monument will stand on a small foothill on the slopes of Peavine Mountain, once the summer range for several Basque sheep herds.
The monument will consist of a bronze monolith embossed with the solitary figure of a sheepherder carrying a lamb on his shoulders.
The bronze figure will rest on a raised platform flanked by 20 concrete columns representing the groves of aspens and cottonwoods where the herders used to camp, Inda said.
Impressed into the columns will be actual designs that Basque herders have carved into trees over the years as messages to each other and remembrances of their passage.
Inda said the designs have been preserved by Phillip Earl, a historian at the Nevada Historical Society, and his wife, Jean, who've spent about a decade searching the hills for the carvings.
Their work is "a preservation of our culture that in a very short time will no longer be around" as trees die or are cut down, Inda said.
The artist creating the monument is Nestor Basterretxea, a Basque sculptor from Spain. His design was selected from among 13 submitted. Basterretxea is currently working on the monument at a foundry outside Mexico City, Inda said.
The monument will be in place and ready for dedication on Aug. 27. Dignitaries from the three Basque governments in Europe will attend.
The land was provided by the Washoe County Parks and Recreation Department, and when the project is completed the property will be deeded back to the county "so it will always be a public county park," Inda said. It will become part of the Rancho San Rafael Park.
The monument is a project of the Society for Basque Studies in America. It has the support of the three European Basque governments as well as of the states of Nevada, California and Idaho, where the largest numbers of Basques in the United States settled.
Inda said people wishing to contribute to the monument should send their tax-deductible donations to Basque Sheepherder Monument, P.O. Box 20442, Reno, NV 89515.
For each $250 donation, a contributor can have a name engraved on a permanent plaque at the site. Contributors wishing to honor a deceased family member or friend can have the name listed on a memorial plaque. Those giving $5,000 or more will get a limited-edition bronze model of the sculpture and acknowledgment on the special donors' plaque.