In Northern Nevada, sheepherders would "trail" their flocks of 1,000 to 2,000 sheep to an area where there would be adequate water and grass, and preferably some shade, during the summer months, keeping the band together and moving to fresh feed every day. Depending on the type of operation, a sheepherder might also lead his sheep to lower-altitude grazing lands in the autumn, spring, and even winter months. One herder (usually on horseback) and a good dog could manage a band of sheep this size, and most days there was time to spare, for sleeping or daydreaming or reading or making music or carving on aspens, but a herder was always on call to respond to predators or sheep in trouble. Most sheepherders in Nevada until the early 1980s were Basques.
I had to stay right by the sheep, especially at night. There were lots of coyotes and I wanted to save every lamb. I had almost one thousand, but I cared about each one. If I found a dead lamb, well I just started to cry.— Beltran Paris, Beltran: Basque Sheepman of the American West, p. 30
In the summer, a herder slept in a simple tent, near the sheep, carrying his gear and supplies on packhorses or mules. In the winter, a sheep wagon or trailer might be a sheepherder's home. A camp tender would bring fresh supplies every week or so. Most of the time on the range, though, a sheepherder spent alone with his animals.
Interviews and Oral Histories
- Ambrosio Arla came to Nevada from the Basque Country for his sister's wedding, and got a job as a sheepherder. He never went back. Joxe Mallea interviewed him in Basque. Excerpts are translated into English.
- The Sarratea brothers and Jesus Arriaga shared stories about their experiences as new sheepherders in Nevada in this video.
- Robert Laxalt described how sheepherding brought his father to Nevada, and how it sustained the Laxalt family through economic downturns in an oral history interview.
- Vicente Bilbao described his experiences with sheepherding and other occupations as a typical Basque immigrant in an oral history interview.
- Basque Sheepherders of the American West: A Photographic Essay. Photographs by Richard Lane, Text by William Douglass, presented in English, Basque, Spanish, and French. Published by the University of Nevada Press as part of the Basque Series in 1985.
- Kelley of the Triune- Biography of a Sheep Dog by Clel Georgetta tells the story of his faithful and highly intelligent dog, Kelley.
Online Articles and Excerpts
- Trouble in the Sweet Promised Land: Basques in Early Twentieth Century Northeastern Nevada. Richard Lane describes the mixed experiences of Basque sheepherders. Published in Anglo-American Contributions to Basque Studies: Essays in Honor of Jon Bilbao, published by the Desert Research Institute in 1977.
- Ethnic Industries for Migrants: Basque Sheepherding in the American West by Gloria Totoricagüena Egurrola, published in Euskonews & Media 212, June 30, 2003.
- The Sheepherder. A chapter from Clel Georgetta's book Golden Fleece in Nevada, published by Venture Press in 1972, expresses the author's personal impressions of the types of sheepherders found in Nevada.
- A Sheepherder's Diary. An article by Clel Georgetta about his own experiences herding sheep, written for his fraternity magazine, Delta Chi Quarterly, Volume 28, No. 4, May 1932. "Brother of our Badger Chapter writes from far-off Nevada, where sheep are as important as banks on Wall Street in New York."
- Chapter 6 of Nevada Nomads by Byrd Wall Sawyer relates the history of sheepherders in Nevada through the 1960s: Mexicans, Chinese, Scotsmen ("If the herder knits, he must be a Scot!"), Indians, and Basques. Published by Harlan-Young Press in 1971.
- Chapter 4 of Beltran: Basque Sheepman of the American West by Beltran Paris as told to William A. Douglass is entitled "From Herder to Camptender." University of Nevada, Press, 1985.
- Blizzard by Carolyn Dufurrena, photographs by Linda Dufurrena in Range Magazine, Spring 2002 is an excerpt from Fifty Miles From Home, Riding the Long Circle on a Nevada Family Ranch. Photos by Linda Dufurrena, text by Carolyn Dufurrena. University of Nevada Press, 2001.
More Information and Activities
- Basque Sheepherders
- Photographs of sheepherding life
- Sheep Dogs, sheepherders' best friends
- Sheep Industry of Northern Nevada resources
- Sheep in Nevada, a chronology
- Arborglyphs (tree carvings by sheepherders)