Josh Wigger & Mike Howe Mural
The Basque Hotel (1922) served as a boarding house and haven for newly arrived Basque immigrants. Today, the Basque Hotel remains a testament to the unique ethnic groups that called Chinatown home.
The Basque are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the European continent, their exact origin remains unknown, but it is speculated that they are direct descendants of hunter-gatherers from Europe 35,000 years ago. Basque Country is not an independent state but a region in the western Pyrenees that straddles the border between France and Spain.
The Basque enjoyed their independence for 1,200 years until 1512 when Castilian (Spanish) forces conquered and occupied the kingdom. Political turmoil in France and Spain during the late 18th century forced the Basque to flee the country and travel to Spain’s colonies in America. The California Gold Rush brought the first waves of Basque immigrants to the United States. Basque immigrants were not successful with mining and soon migrated from the gold fields to the ranchlands of southern California. Familiar with the South American style of ranching, the Basques quickly began to establish themselves in the area as herders.
The Basque were the only group in America associated exclusively with one business, sheepherding. They spent long months alone on the range moving from place to place and at the end of the season they rented rooms at Basque boarding houses, like the Basque Hotel. These boarding houses/hotels were homes for immigrant sheepherders, stretching from Southern California all the way to Boise, Idaho. The hotels were social centers which provided Basque men an opportunity to socialize with their countrymen, speak their native language, enjoy Basque food, drink and find potential wives (Hotels tended to be staffed by young female immigrants).
1102 F St,
Fresno, CA 93706
The Basque were unique because they were known exclusively as sheepherders. The first Basque immigrants in the United States came because of the California Gold Rush. Since sheepherding was an isolating activity, the job typically attracted single men particularly those between the ages of 16 and 30. Once the men became financially stable, they were able to send for their wives back in Europe.
This first wave of immigration came from Basques who had immigrated earlier to Spanish colonies in South America. Basques were welcomed in Argentina where they were able to raise sheep in unused rangeland. This is where they learned the ranching and herding skills that they brought to North America. Their success in sheepherding caused significant conflict especially with cattle ranchers. Settled ranchers began harassing and spreading anti-Basque sentiment.
In 1934, the Taylor Grazing Act threatened the livelihood of Basque Americans by privatizing mountain rangelands in the West and denying rights to aliens and herders who did not own ranch property; a practice that targeted Basques. This resulted in severe economic hardship to the Basque community and as a result many of them returned to Europe