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Back to the Far West: 81 former sheepherders will travel in September from the Basque Country to visit the places where they worked


Historic photo of Fernando Goñi's dad, more than 50 years ago in the US (photoargazkai FGoñi/Euskal Artzainak Ameriketan)
Historic photo of Fernando Goñi's dad, more than 50 years ago in the US (photoargazkai FGoñi/Euskal Artzainak Ameriketan)


This time, this year 81 members of the Basque Country based Euskal Artzainak Ameriketan Association are making a dream come true. The majority worked as sheepherders years ago in the US and now, despite their advanced age, they have decided to revisit those places and show their children what life was like there. “Many wanted to return, but didn’t dare make the trip alone. But since everything is organized and they are traveling with friends they are happy to go accompanied by their spouses, and children…,” Laura Igantzi explained to They will leave on August 31 for California where they will visit Chino, Bakersfield, Fresno and San Francisco.

Lesaka, Nafarroa.  The Euskal Artzinak Ameriketan Association usually celebrates a large annual gathering of Basque sheepherders that worked for years in the US.  This year there will be a reunion --Sep 21st in Donibane Garazi, Lower Navarre-- but some of the herders will fulfill before a dream that they have had for a long time, they will travel to California to meet friends, places and memories that they left there and that, in many cases, have not seen since.

According to Laura Igantzi from the Euskal Artzainak Ameriketan Association members are very excited for the trip:  “It is really marvelous.  So exiting, so joyful, so proud! We should remind you that the majority has wanted to return but just didn’t dare to travel alone.”

Chino, Bakersfield, Fresno, SF…

The tour was organized by Angie Otxandorena, born in the US but who is a Doneztebe, Navarre resident. She organized visits and Basque club get-togethers.  The trip will begin on August 31 in Los Angeles and on September 1 the expedition has been invited to join in the annual Basque festivities at Chino’s Basque club in southern California. 

Next they will visit places like the Cucamonga Ranch, Bakersfield, Fresno, Pleasanton and San Francisco, meeting with old friends and Basque communities in each locale.

With open arms

Basques in the US were very enthusiastic when they heard about the idea of a return trip and many Basque clubs have invited the participants to attend their fiestas, Basque picnics and other celebrations.  “For example, we got a phone call from Pierro Etcharren last week telling us that he had heard about our trip and inviting us to the Marin-Sonoma picnic on September 8.  A few weeks ago, a Basque-American herder who was visiting in Erro told us that he was already signed up for a dinner with us,” Igantzi said. She was also born in the US even though her family returned to Navarre when she was small. 

Organizers know that the trip will be very exciting, for the herders as well as for their family members.  “We will witness some incredible moments…Getting together again after so many years, having the opportunity to tell stories to their children about what their lives were like there and returning to those places…We are very excited, and have packed a lot of handkerchiefs just in case,” Igantzi jokes. 

List of Participants

The 81 participants will be accompanied by a team from Euskal Telebista who will record the most emotional and interesting moments of the trip.  Here is the complete list of participants:

-Felipe Arozamena, Elena Etxegarai, Lesaka

-Juan Felipe Vicente, Angeles Mitxelena, Irurita

-Juan Lucio Teletxea, Araceli Garro, Oitz

-Jose Mª Cordoba Rekarte and wife, Erratzu

-Fermin Ciganda, Teresa Txokarro, Iruña-Pamplona

-Fco. Javier Iñarrea, Maria Elarda, Irurita

-Tomas Ibarra, Arantxa Oteiza, Zubieta

-Eugenio Villanueva, Rosario Osacar, Iruña-Pamplona

-Beñardo Villanueva, Juan Mª Arteaga, Iruña-Pamplona

-Angel Oroz, Jaione Oroz, Nati Torrea, Villava-Atarrabia

-Fermin Barazabal, Rosario Erasun, Azpilkueta

-Candido Etxarte, Carmen Iriarte, Iruña-Pamplona

-Jose Antonio Abaurrea, Arrieta

-Elias Mandacen, Milagros and  Angel Luis, Garralda

-Guillermo Etxenike, Rosario Iñarrea, Irurita

-Alejandro Cordoba, Azpilkueta

-Carlos Borda, Carmen Redin, Huarte

-Antonio Retegui, Ana Mª Guembe, Barañain

-Julian Arretxea, Asuncion Irigoien, Irurita

-Emeterio Guerendiain, Galar

-Daniel Iparaguirre, Teresa Iparaguirre, Burlata

-Juan Bautista Oteiza and Ana Oteiza, Arraioz

-Esteban Alzuguren, Ana Mª Irigoien, Bera

-Lucio Irisarri, Fermina Goienetxe, Elgorriaga

-Fco. Javier Zubieta, Mª Cruz Andueza, Etxalar

-Julian Irisarri, Pilar Goienetxe, Elgorriaga

-Santi Hualde, Mª Carmen Elizalde, Zubieta

-Martin Barrenetxe, Urdazubi

-Jose Luis Arretxea, Gloria Maya, Etxalar

-Angel Iparraguirre, Mº Teresa Zubieta, Etxalar

-Pablo Olaizola, Mª Luisa Zaldainena, Urdazubi

-Laura Igantzi, Lesaka

-Angie Otxandorena, Juanito Estanga, Doneztebe

-Carlos Overtrails, Iruña-Pamplona

-Jose Aguas Sevilla, Unzue

-Mercedes Zabalza, Olaz

-Vicente Vidaurreta, Iruña-Pamplona

-Ignacio Marmaun, Mª Jose Juanena, Adriana, Erro

-Paula Huarte Arregi, Arizkun

-Bernardo Bazterrika, Sunbilla

-Juan Cruz Balda Arruti, Donostia

-Felipe Barberena Retegui, Aria

-Nicanor Ancho and Maite Ancho, Hiriberri

-Juan Sein and Jaione Sein, Igantzi

-Angel Apeceche and Martin Apeceche, Erratzu

-Felix Almirantearena, Orbaitzeta



  • Basque Sheepherders' Schedule

    The proposed schedule was: 1-2/09 Chino 3-4/09 Bakersfield 5/09 Fresno 6-8/09 Pleasanton 09/09 San Francisco. You can contact them through Facebook (Euskal Artzainak Ameriketan)., 09/06/2013 12:37



    RAQUEL IBILCIETA, 09/06/2013 03:17

  • Manuel Laraneta Sr.

    Does anyone remember him. He was in Los Angeles but went up to the Bakersfield area etc in the 1930's and 40's He was a great Jai Lai player in the Basdque area in France He also was a sheep herder here.

    ron laraneta, 09/05/2013 18:32

  • Back to the far west

    What a fantastic opportunity not only for the folks coming to the US but for those of us here involved in the Basque community to meet and greet these exceptional individuals. I know we are really looking forward to their visit, especially to Bakersfield.

    Steve Bass, 08/16/2013 07:49

  • Excitement!!!!!!

    Count down has begun........

    Angie Otxandorena, 08/16/2013 00:33

  • Back to the far west

    This is truly a great provision for these old timers. We will only have them around for so long and then they are gone but not forgotten. I wish my uncles were still around so I can further tap into their life's experiences and connection to my aitaxti and amatxti and the old country. We need to take advantage of the gifts of heritage they bequeath upon us and carry it on to the next generation. Our lives have been so enriched by our connection to these past generations.

    Antonio Verdiny, 08/15/2013 20:44

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