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University of Nevada, Reno

Western Range Association

A shortage of agricultural labor during and after World War II created a crisis situation in the sheep industry of the American West, causing some sheepmen to drastically reduce the size of their grazing operations. Ranchers organized to get immigration laws changed so they could hire sheepherders from the Basque Country. The California Range Association was the largest such organization of sheep ranchers. After successfully lobbying in the 1950s on behalf of ranchers throughout the West to pass the "sheepherder bills" that allowed ranchers to sponsor herders from the Basque Country, the name of the organization was changed to the Western Range Association (WRA). The WRA was not only active in national politics, but also played an international role in negotiating with the government of Spain and setting up a sheepherder recruiting office in Bilbao. Back in the United States, the biggest challenge for the WRA was to keep members in compliance with Federal regulations governing the importation of herders. Sponsored sheepherders were required to be deported if they left the sheep industry, but they did not always leave a forwarding address.

In 1966, 1,283 herders were under contract to the Western Range Association. When the improvement of economic conditions in the Basque Country in the 1970s made it more difficult to recruit herders, the WRA redirected its recruiting efforts to Mexico and Peru. The Western Range Association collection in Basque Studies Library at the University of Nevada, Reno documents the organization's activities relating to Basque sheepherders. The following documents are samples from the collection: