TAPE MINUTE SUMMARY OF CONTENTS
0-3:45 His parents were Domingo Aguirre and Juanita Urquidi. They were from Mallabi and Aulesti, respectively. His father was born in 1881 and passed away in 1966. His mother was born in 1895 and passed away in 1972. They married at St. John’s Cathedral in Boise in 1918. Felipe talks about his parents’ immigration to the United States. Domingo arrived in 1905 and wheeled cement during the construction of Barber Dam. He decided that carrying cement was not much of a way to make a living, so he moved to Mountain Home to herd sheep. Before long he began trading sheep and did very well. He met his wife, married, and settled in Mountain Home. He and Juanita bought a new house and had their first son, Richard in 1919. Their next son, Domingo, was born 23 February 1921. Felipe came along 14 May 1931. He gives more details about how his father and mother met at a hotel in Boise. His parents did not talk much about how they met, but Felipe knows that his father was herding sheep for Ross Bennett around Bennett Creek, close to Mountain Home. The company went down to Bruneau, Idaho in the winter and returned to Bennett Creek for lambing.
3:45-4:45 Once he got married, Domingo Sr. realized that trading sheep was too risky. He decided to start buying them instead. When he bought enough to start, he began trailing his sheep up through Prairie, Idaho. He liked the country, so he started buying land and homesteading up there. When the Depression hit the price of land fell. Domingo used some of his savings to buy about 8,000 acres of land around Prairie. Felipe says that his father was pretty lucky to be in such a good position. His father leased another 8,000 acres. Many years later when his sons were old enough to join the business, he advised them not to leave that area but to stay there, growing from that piece of land. Felipe says it was good advice.
4:45-5:30 Felipe’s parents did not talk much about why they left the Basque country. Boise was pretty small when they arrived.
5:30-7:30 He guesses that his father started buying sheep to build his own company around 1925. By saving all of his money and staying out of debt, his father was able to buy a great deal of land and expand his business during the Great Depression instead of going bankrupt like other sheep owners. Back when he was working as a sheep trader, he bought and sold yearlings in Oregon, transported them to Idaho, raised them until fall, put the bucks in with the ewes, then turned around and sold them. He sold about 3,000 head at a time. The sheep industry was booming at the time. Laughing about it now, Felipe remembers his father as being a thrifty man, especially when he would ask him for money to go into town to see a movie.
7:30-9:45 Felipe remembers his childhood. The years during World War II were difficult. Children had to go to school in shifts; half of them in the morning and half in the afternoon. Teachers rotated as well, and since many came from the air base there was little continuity of instruction for students. There was a lot of money in town because of the construction of Anderson Dam and Mountain Home Air Force Base. Children from families working at the dam and base all went to school in Mountain Home, making for a tremendously overcrowded school and necessitating that classes be held in two shifts. The first shift was 7:00 am to noon, and the second was held in the afternoon. People were willing to sacrifice to contribute to the war effort.
9:45-11:45 Since most able-bodied men, including his older brother Richard were enlisting to fight in the war, good workers were hard to come by. His father’s sheep company was short of workers. Richard, a B-17 navigator, was killed in the South Pacific. There was only one survivor after his plane was shot down. The man sent word to the Aguirres that he had something to tell them but died in a hospital before he had the chance. The family never found out what happened to Richard.
11:45-14:30 Felipe’s mother rolled bandages during the war to send overseas. The older ladies in town all helped roll bandages. The family moved to their farm in Prairie as soon as school was out for the summer, where Juanita help cooked for her family and the workers. The house was always full. He tells a story about how his mother crossed herself every time she heard thunder. When Felipe asked her why she did that, she explained that she was losing chicks with each thunderclap. She and Felipe checked the eggs under the hens later to see how many had dead chicks inside. Sure enough, there were as many dead chicks as thunderclaps. To this day, Felipe cannot explain it.
14:30-16:30 The Aguirre sheep company had about eight to ten workers at any given time. He mentions Pascual Totorica, Francisco Loyola, Hilario Guerricabeitia, and Sabino Pagoaga just to name a few. Most of their workers were Basque immigrants. He noticed that the younger Basque workers looked to his mother as a mother figure since they had left their own mothers in the old country. One boy, a carpenter named Fidel Arangüena, was particularly sad and lonely. He had left his bride in the Basque country, but drowned while swimming in a lake here before he could return home to marry her. He was a very good worker, going out of his way to put screens up in the kitchen to keep the flies out when Juanita Aguirre complained about them.
16:30-18:30 Felipe’s family spoke English and Basque at home. He learned most of his Basque from young herders who immigrated after 1946. By the time he was born his parents were trying to focus more on speaking English, so they did not speak much Basque at home. Felipe enjoyed his time with the herders. When the war started, Domingo came home from the University of Washington and Richard left to fight. His parents were trying to teach him both English and Basque, but it was difficult to teach both languages.
18:30-19:30 Classes at school were overcrowded. Many of the teachers were wives of military personnel or construction workers.
19:30-23:30 He describes what the Basque community in Mountain Home was like in those days. There were four boarding houses: Pedro Anchustegui’s, the Bideganetas’, the Yturris’ [and the Bengoechea Hotel]. Basque herders stayed at the boarding houses. The Christmas holiday was the best time to be at the boarding houses. His aunt used to grab others by the hand and lead the snake dance through town. There was very little automobile traffic through town, even though Main Street was part of the highway. People came to town on Saturdays to shop, have a picnic in the park and dance to John Guisasola singing in the park’s gazebo. A band played behind him. He describes the butcher shop with its meat hanging in the window. When Felipe’s mother came to town, she would often visit with the Yrazabals, Bideganetas, and other friends.
23:30-25:30 In those days, there were enough Basques in the area that social gatherings were largely informal. Since everyone was already at the park or at a boarding house, there was no need to organize a gathering. The Basque population thinned out during the war. Everybody was busy during the war: young Basque men went to the sheep camps, enlisted in the Army or went off to work in factories. It was difficult for sheep companies to find workers, and even the building of Anderson Dam had to be suspended in 1947 for lack of workers and material. Resources went to building the air base instead. All of his father’s employees were Basque.
25:30-27:00 He remembers an accordionist nicknamed Arrieta “Soinolari”. He played accordion and repaired watches in the winter, but herded sheep in the summer. He was jeweler by trade. In an interesting side note, Felipe explains that while many Basque herders previous years had the habit of spending most (or all) of their year’s wages at boarding houses in the winter, by the 1940s and 1950s most were saving more of their money.
27:00-28:00 World War II did not affect relations between Basques and non-Basques in the surrounding community. If anything, Felipe says that the war drew people closer. News from the war came on the radio and movie theatres showed news releases from the war. He remembers that much of the news and scenes were depressing, and often found himself wondering if the US was winning or losing the war.
28:00-28:45 News from the Basque country came in the mail. His mother corresponded with family in Euskadi, but his father was too busy with the sheep company to write. Basques going back and forth between America and the Basque country also brought news.
28:45-30:00 Felipe and his friends played football, basketball and other sports for fun in high school. He also had responsibilities at home, chopping wood, packing coal, and help on the ranch. During the war the US Government rationed gasoline. Children helped their families by wheel-barrowing certain things. Each ration ticket (there were 4 or 5 of them) was worth about 10 gallons of gasoline, about a month’s worth. If someone wanted to drive to Boise they had to save their tickets. Farmers were given a higher ration. Tires were rationed as well. As a result of the ration, Felipe’s family did not go to Boise very often. If they did it was for business. Back when he was single Felipe’s father owned an eight-passenger car, which would always be full of Basques when he drove to Boise and back.
0-2:00 His father eventually traded the large car for a smaller one. When Felipe finished high school he went to work for his father as a camp tender. He came home from school to find that his father had already set out a bedroll, rifle, and new clothes. Felipe went directly to the sheep camp. He worked with his cousin, Dionisio Aguirre. It was a great life. Felipe never missed town, enjoying his life outdoors. His mother would visit him every now and then to give him a cooking lesson. In 1951, after a year as a camp tender, his father decided to move him onto the farm. (He had graduated from high school in 1949). From that point on, Felipe ran the farming side of the operation.
2:00-4:45 Felipe managed the farming part of Aguirre & Sons while his brother Domingo ran the livestock part. Their father oversaw the entire operation, hiring and firing workers. The arrangement worked well. His father retired at the age of 83 or 84. He left his sons in charge. Felipe enjoyed the responsibility. He wishes he could relive his life just the way it was. He describes his job. They took three cuttings of hay a year, and Felipe remembers what it was like to manage the farms in Prairie and Mountain Home. They raised some of what they needed for the sheep since the sheep ate a great deal, but were able to raise all of what they needed to feed the cattle.
4:45-6:30 The new freeway came right through their new lambing sheds in 1970-71, so Aguirre & Sons sold their sheep to Mitchell Quintana and shifted their focus to cattle. They kept their Basque sheepherders, finding that they made the best cowboys. He remembers the workers fondly, all of whom are now back in the Basque country. He wishes they were back here.
6:30-7:45 Very few Basques are coming to the United States anymore. Immigration slowed in the 1980s. Felipe retired around 1994-95 when he and his brother sold the business.
7:45-13:00 Felipe has not visited the Basque country. He would like to go and visit his uncle, Felix Urquidi, in Donosti. After he married and started raising his four children, he found himself with little time to take a trip overseas. Felipe explains how he met his wife, Mary Fran Johnson. They married in 1969. They settled in Mountain Home. He did not feel much pressure to marry another Basque. His children are Richard, Jeannie, Carmen, and Felipe. Although she was not Basque, his wife took great interest in the culture, driving to Boise for Basque language lessons and took part in Basque organizations. She and Felipe made the rule that their children had to count to 100 in Basque when it came time for them to get a bicycle. Felipe supposes that his wife became interested in Basque culture because of her interactions with the Basque workers on the ranch. He remembers them fondly, calling them the “best crew in the world.” One of them owns a winery in Gernika now. All the workers were from Bizkaia except for Matthew Guerry [American spelling], who was French Basque.
13:00-17:30 His two older children, Richard and Jeannie, danced with the Oinkari Basque Dancers in Boise. Laughing, he says that they were the town kids, while the younger two were farm kids. His wife tried to get the family to speak Basque at home, but it did not work. Once she learned enough, she was able to speak with the workers on the Aguirre ranch. His family was involved in Basque organizations in Boise more than in Mountain Home. He explains how the community’s interest in Mountain Home’s Basque club has risen, fallen, and risen again in the last few years. Felipe joined the club to be a part of what was going on. His cousin, Joe Aguirre, and brother Domingo were good organizers, drawing Basques in Mountain Home together to form a club. They used to meet at Joe’s Club and Adrian’s Club. Anchustegui’s boarding house was still around at the time (it burned down in later years) and meetings were held there as well.
17:30-22:30 Felipe is optimistic about the future of Euskal Lagunak, the Basque club in Mountain Home. Even though the older Basques are dying, the younger generation is doing a good job of keeping the community together. He gives the fronton and tile ikurrina as examples. Felipe has also been a member of the Basque Center in Boise on and off since its inception. He and his brother donated money to help build it. In those days the Miramar was a popular dance hall. Like other young Basque men, Felipe used to spend a good deal of time at Basque and American dances in Boise. Like others, he wanted to meet and marry a Basque girl.
22:30-24:45 Felipe is proud of his heritage and his ability to speak Basque. He speaks the language at every opportunity just to keep in practice, but wishes that some of the old Basques and boarding houses were back again. He would like to replay his life again just as it was. Felipe remembers the old Basques fondly, remembering how many of them had been sailors before coming to America. Some had jumped ship in New York and come to Idaho by train. The sheep company would legalize them after they had been in the US long enough. They were a lot of fun to have around.
24:45-29:00 Felipe remembers visits from immigration officials. By the time the agent arrived, any men who had jumped ship would be gone. Seeing him coming, they would leave their dinner plates and take off. The official was a particularly nasty man. He grabbed the cook, Ignacio Lekue, by the throat one day to squeeze information out of him. Ignacio had been in the French Foreign Legion, so he did not crack under pressure. The agent would question the workers about what they had been thinking about on the way to America, and whether or not they were fascists. One of the herders had not completed his military service in Spain, so he was deported. A couple of herders were drafted during the war.
29:00-30:00 In his observation, it did not take very long for Basque immigrants to adjust to life in the United States. Dolores Aguirre, Felipe’s sister-in-law, used to take their letters to the post office to mail to the Basque country. Felipe and Domingo used to take their workers to town and help them with errands. John Bideganeta was their dentist. He fixed teeth for Basques in Mountain Home, Grandview, and Bruneau.
NAMES AND PLACES
Aguirre, Dionisio – cousin.
Aguirre, Dolores – sister-in-law.
Aguirre, Domingo – older brother.
Aguirre, Domingo Sr. – father.
Aguirre, Felipe – son.
Aguirre, Joe – cousin.
Aguirre, Richard – older brother.
Aguirre, Richard – son.
Arangüena, Fidel – one of Aguirre & Sons’ employees.
Arrieta “Sonolari” – a musician in Mountain Home.
Bauchman, Carmen – daughter.
Bennett, Ross – owned Bennett Sheep Company. One of his father’s former employers.
Bideganeta, John – a dentist for much of the Basque community in Mountain Home.
French Foreign Legion
Guerricabeitia, Hilario – one of Aguirre & Sons’ employees.
Guerry, Matthew (American spelling) – a French Basque, one of Aguirre & Sons former employees.
Guisasola, John – Felipe remembers him singing at Basque picnics.
Johnson, Mary Fran – wife.
Kiel, Jeannie – daughter.
Lekue, Ignacio – cooked for Aguirre & Sons.
Loyola, Francisco – one of Aguirre & Sons’ employees.
Oinkari Basque Dancers, Boise, Idaho – two of his children danced with the Oinkaris.
Pagoaga, Sabino – one of Aguirre & Sons’ employees.
Quintana, Mitchell – the Aguirres sold their sheep to Mr. Quintana.
Totorica, Pascual – one of Aguirre & Sons’ employees.
Urquidi, Felix – uncle.
Urquidi, Juanita – mother.
Aguirre & Sons, Mountain Home, Idaho – the Aguirre family’s sheep and cattle company.
Anchustegui boarding house, Mountain Home, Idaho – one of the boarding houses in Mountain Home.
Anderson Dam, Idaho – Felipe remembers the construction of the dam.
Aulesti, Bizkaia – mother’s birthplace.
Barber Dam, Barber, Idaho – father wheeled cement here when he first arrived in the United States.
Basque Center, Boise, Idaho – Felipe mentions his involvement with Boise’s Basque Center.
Bennett Creek, Idaho
Bideganeta boarding house, Mountain Home, Idaho – one of the boarding houses in Mountain Home.
Boise, Idaho – Felipe talks about his involvement in the Basque community here.
Bruneau, Idaho – mentioned in connection to sheep herding and ranches.
Cathedral of Saint John, Boise, Idaho – parents were married here.
Donosti, Gipuzkoa – one of Felipe’s uncles lives here.
Euskal Lagunak, Mountain Home, Idaho – Mountain Home’s Basque organization.
Mallabi, Bizkaia – father’s birthplace.
Mountain Home Air Force Base, Mountain Home, Idaho – Felipe remembers its construction.
Mountain Home, Idaho – mentioned in several contexts. Felipe’s hometown.
Oregon – father bought yearlings here.
Prairie, Idaho – Aguirre & Sons owned farm and land here.
South Pacific – Richard Aguirre was shot down here.
University of Washington, Seattle, Washington – Felipe’s older brothers attended school here.
Yturri boarding house, Mountain Home, Idaho – one of the boarding houses in Mountain Home.
Non-Boise Basque communities
World War II