TAPE MINUTE SUMMARY OF CONTENTS
0-5:30 Virginia’s father was José Luis Argoitia Unamunzaga, from Jemin, Markina, Bizkaia, baserri Beñekua. He was the first in his family to come to America, and through browsing the internet, Virginia is sure that he must have worked his way over and jumped ship, since his name doesn’t appear on any ship manifest. He must have been young, since by the time he married in Boise, he was only 24 and already an established sheep man. José Luis sent for his brothers Juan, Antonio and José Andres (the only two to return to Euskadi). He had quite a few sheep, spread over much of Idaho, and although Virginia doesn’t remember her father very well, she recalls that he was always away from home delivering provisions.
5:30-9:30 Virginia’s mother is Tomasa Anacabe Ugalde—one of 10 children. Her older brother José Mari paid for Tomasa and sister Evarista to come to the USA, but there was only work for one girl at the boarding house in Mountain Home, so Evarista went to Twin Falls to work in another boarding house. The sisters never saw each other very often. The first words Tomasa learned in English were “ice cream”; she was only 19 when she came to the US to work for the Bideganetas. It was at this boarding house that Virginia’s parents met, and after only a few months, they were married in 1916 in St. John’s Cathedral.
9:30-14:00 Virginia relates the tale of one of her mother’s first experiences as a sheep camp cook. She made too many beans for the small pot, and was so ashamed that she buried them. Later that evening, the family dog was digging for the beans so animatedly that José Luis was sure he was mad and prepared to shoot it. At the last minute, Tomasa confessed to save the poor animal. Tomasa never spoke much English, and when her husband died of tick fever in 1929, her banker advised her not to sell the sheep. She was, however, unable to drive the provisions truck and carry out negotiations in English, so she sold the sheep to a Basque and kept the money out of the bank (not wanting to face the banker). As a result, when the stock market crashed a little while later, signaling the beginning of the Great Depression, Tomasa didn’t lose her money!
14-20:00 Virginia was born April 24, 1924, in Mountain Home, at which time the family was living next to the church there. Her siblings are José Andres and Juanita, both of whom are now deceased. Even though she loved the sheep camps, Tomasa decided to move to town once her son began school. The family had lived in Ogden, Utah, near Virginia’s godmother Cecilia Mendiola (where Tomasa quit at a boarding house because the bootleg operation there was too risky). For an uneducated woman, however, she was brilliant, and did a fine job raising her children. Joe and Juanita initially had problems adjusting to school in Mountain Home. Virginia describes what her mother did at the boarding house in Ogden.
20-25:00 Evarista had married Eugenio Orueta by this time, and owned the Commercial Hotel in Ely, Nevada, so Virginia and her family moved down there. She still remembers the trip vividly, including the going away basket they received. At the Commercial Hotel, there were frequent parties and dances, and Virginia learned to do the jota (even if she never performed in front of everyone). In school, Virginia not only got good grades, but also involved herself in many activities. These times were difficult for her brother, who had to take the place of his father.
25-30:00 Virginia shares good-naturedly that she was a bit spoiled as a child. At the boarding house, Tomasa did the cooking and Juanita served. She made extra money by doing laundry, but all this work was a great hardship for her. Virginia and her mother were always very close. When she was in high school, Virginia was sent to her uncle John’s and aunt Marie’s service station in Mountain Home during the summer to ease the work burden on her mother. The Commercial Hotel had a bar, and Basques there liked to play cards and sing together. There were many French Basques in Nevada, and Tomasa had a harder time communicating with the different dialect. Tomasa rented a house so she might take in laundry for extra money and for her children to have home life; she continued, however, working in hotels as a housekeeping maid.
0-5:00 Virginia continues describing the Commercial Hotel. The place had liquor, and she recalls her aunt and uncle being jailed for a while after a man called “Frenchie” had reported them to the “Prohibes” and the barrels were destroyed. Being a little “instigator”, Virginia at home, but was never caught. The family never took a bath in the bathtub, which was used to brew beer, and by the age of 7, Virginia was capping the beverage. The kids washed themselves—in order from cleanest to dirtiest—in a large tub in the kitchen. Virginia doesn’t recall the exact methods her mother used to bootleg, since she didn’t let her kids watch it all, but as a little girl, Virginia went to the store to buy yeast and other supplies. Tomasa was also an excellent chorizo-maker, and went from ranch to ranch making the tasty sausages. Virginia never helped out at home much except for basic housework, but filled her time with school activities.
5-10:00 Since her brother had helped her learn, Virginia had no problem adjusting to English at school. Today, she can speak a little Basque, but understands everything, and even took a Batua course at the University of Nevada many years ago. Virginia is a proud Basque, and recalls visiting Euskadi for the first time in 1964, with her sister, who was fluent in the language. On the next trip, however, Virginia managed all by herself. At home, Tomasa always spoke Basque, but the kids (mostly Virginia) answered back in English. Virginia graduated from Ely High School in 1942, and lists some of the Basque children who went to school with her, as well as their parents’ professions and nicknames.
10-16:00 Since Ely was a mining town, it was full of many different ethnic groups’ first generations. Participating in all these cultures probably began Virginia’s fascination with history. The fact that everyone was foreign made them all very close, and there was never any prejudice in Ely (although other towns had a few problems), a town of only a few thousand. There were also quite a few Basque sheepherders in town, who made up the bulk of the boarding house clientele. Virginia recalls that company towns in the mine industry often segregated the neighborhoods by ethnic group in order to assure harmony, but she enjoyed Ely’s more fraternal situation better. She can say “hello” in many different languages!
16-19:30 In addition to this hodgepodge of cultures, the Basques remained a tight-knit group through parties and dances, and unlike in Reno, there was little separation between French and Spanish Basques. Virginia learned to deal with different Euskera dialects at an early age. Many old sheepherders even retired together in the boarding houses. She recalls that in the basement of the boarding house was a large rack of clothes with all the herder’s names on them, so they would be ready when the herders came into town. Once they were washed up, one of the first things the herders would do was to visit the brothel since prostitution was legal in Ely.
19:30-26:00 Virginia was never afraid to walk down the street, even though there were many drunk single men of various nationalities—all these men were holed up in the brothel! She talks about the prostitutes and their habits (including regular medical check-ups), of which she learned when she worked in gaming in Ely. These young girls always had money, and spent a lot of it on shoes. Virginia details the layout of the brothel, as well as special cubicles set up in the bar. Prostitution thrived during the Depression, during the war, and even today!
26-30:00 When Virginia graduated from high school in 1942, she wanted to go to college, and though her mother paid for her first year, it was no fun. At the University of Nevada, Reno, most of the young men were off at war, and so there were no games (and Virginia was a cheerleader!), regular brownouts, and few Basques with which to socialize. Since she didn’t want to waste her mother’s money, she decided to begin working. Virginia suddenly recalls that when tried to join the San Francisco Basque Club in 1950, they didn’t not let her because only men could belong.
0-13:00 Between her first year of college and the year she moved to San Francisco, Virginia worked as a blackjack and roulette dealer in her uncle’s Copper Club, and she describes these few years. She remains excellent with cards until this day! The Commercial Hotel never had a club, and Eugenio sold it to open his new club. By this time, Tomasa was working elsewhere. Since Virginia was quite petite, she frequently flew to San Francisco to buy specialty clothes. She decided this wouldn’t be a bad place to live, and moved there in 1950. Virginia started out in a bowling alley, but moved on to employment in various Bay area cigar stores, where her club skills became invaluable in the high dice games. This type of work was too stressful for Virginia, and too many of the men there were sleazy and dishonest, so she began taking beauty courses, and at the first opportunity, became a beautician.
13-18:00 Virginia actually worked as a waitress for a little while to earn the money for beauty school, and worked very hard during this time. In 1953, she began work at Don’s Beauty House (owned by Don Mills), and quite quickly rose to the rank of manager! [At this point, she introduces friend Rita Pistone Huntsman, with whom she worked at the salon, and who has walked into the interview]. Virginia worked as a manager for Don—and even supervised a school—until her marriage in 1969, when she moved to Bend, Oregon.
18-23:00 In Bend, Virginia did very well at a paint store she opened with her husband, eventually buying him out and going solo. She describes the stressful and profitable years at the Bend Color Center, during which time she also took courses to become an interior decorator. In 1978, she retired and moved to Sparks, Nevada (her current home), but was soon bored only attending Basque festivals and picnics, so she found a job at a paint and wallpaper store. When her brother died in 1980, Virginia retired for good. Rita interjects to say that “they don’t make women like us anymore.” Bend was no better for Basque culture than San Francisco had been, since there were only two Basque families there (one of whom had changed his last name).
23-30:00 Virginia joined the Reno Basque club when it first started, and when she moved back to Nevada, she entered the scene in a very gung-ho manner. She has held just about every position the club has (except president), was a NABO delegate, and was instrumental in many initiatives. Virginia very much enjoyed all this activity. She is proud of helping to build camaraderie with different Basques in the club, and loved meeting many new people. Virginia has close ties with the Basque Museum in Boise, since this is where her roots are. She also supports the dance group at the University of Nevada, Reno and helps with Basque Studies Center mailings. She can never leave the culture completely, as it keeps drawing her back. Now armed with the Internet (which she credits to Patty Miller and her friend Rita, Virginia enjoys emailing relatives in the Basque country.
0-6:30 Referring to the computer, Virginia believes it is never too late to learn a new skill, and explains how grateful her Euskadi kin are when she sends them things like old photos. She also researches her roots with the Internet, reading the Basque Museum’s Oral History Project website and looking for ancestors on the Ellis Island site. Virginia has taken three trips to the Basque country, where her insatiable inquisitiveness could finally ask all the questions of which her mother grew weary, and she learned many new things. Her father had deposited little accounts for his kids in the Basque country, so that they would have to return to the homeland to get it, and Virginia enjoyed helping her Basque relatives pay for important medical expenses with this money. Virginia is so proud that she is Basque that she keeps her maiden name.
NAMES AND PLACES
Anacabe, Evarista: Virginia’s aunt
Anacabe, Tomasa Ugalde: Virginia’s mother
Bideganeta family: ran Mountain Home boarding house
Argoitia, Antonio: Virginia’s uncle
Argoitia, José Andres: Virginia’s brother
Argoitia, José Andres: Virginia’s uncle
Argoitia, José Luis Unamunzaga: Virginia’s father
Argoitia, Juan: Virginia’s uncle
Haas, Juanita Argoitia: Virginia’s sister
Mendiola, Cecilia: Virginia’s godmother
Miller, Patty: director of the Basque Museum and Cultural Center
Mills, Don: Virginia’s employer
North American Basque Associations (NABO)
Huntsman, Rita Pistone: Virginia’s friend
San Francisco Basque Club
Orueta, Eugenio: married Evarista
Basque Museum and Cultural Center (Boise)
Bend Color Center (OR)
Beñekua: Virginia’s father’s baserri
Commercial Hotel (Ely)
Copper Club (Ely)
Don’s Beauty House (San Francisco)
White Pine High School (Ely)
Mountain Home (ID)
Reno Basque Club
San Francisco, CA
St. John’s Cathedral (Boise)
Twin Falls, ID
University of Nevada, Reno