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The Pyrenees aren’t high in the Basque country, less than 6,000 feet at the peaks, but they’re rugged, with no broad river valleys or fertile plains, and thus no great estates of the sort that produce aristocrats.
Instead, there were small farmers and craftsmen with a long tradition of hard physical labor and egalitarian independence.
These Basque arborglyphs, found wherever sheep and trees came together, date back to the 19th century and record the names and obsessions of the men who carved them.
These images were carved by herder Etienne Maizcorene in the 1930s in Humboldt County, Nevada.
By the nineteenth century, the decline in the fortunes of Spain and greater global competition had eliminated many of the advantages the Basque had held.
Another blow arrived with a series of of civil wars fought between Spanish traditionalists and progressives, known as the Carlist Wars.
Enough of them went mad that there were common terms for it, “sheeped” or “sagebrushed”.
Likewise, the deserts of the Basin and Range were nothing like the Basque country, the greenest and wettest part of Iberia. In the mountains, they carved images and words in to aspen trees.
Present day is about the size of New Hampshire and straddles the border of France and Spain, half on one side, half on the other.
In 1848, the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill diverted this stream of emigres northward from Latin America to California, where some of them found they could make money providing wool, leather and meat to the miners in the Sierra Nevada.
Others had the same idea, and herds of cattle and sheep filled the state and spilled over the mountains into Nevada and northward into Oregon and Idaho.
And because their rocky land has never provided enough food to feed them, the Basque fished, whaled, soldiered, built boats, traded goods and smelted iron, sending their second sons away from the farm into the wider world.
In the twelfth century it was easier for the kings of Castile to bribe the Basque into union than conquer them, and so for centuries whenever a new king succeeded to the throne, he rode northward, stood beneath the Oak of Guernica and pledged to respect the traditional laws of the Basque.
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