Euskal Artzainak Ameriketan is an association established in 2011 with headquarters in Navarra. Its main objective is to disseminate the way of life and the working conditions of those known in the US as “Basque pastors”. That is, make known how those who stayed in the US have lived, worked, how they have returned... what their personal and professional development has been.

To do this, the association has made a series of photographic panels where it is intended to show their way of life, this being a very important part of our history.


The largest migratory flow occurred in the 50-60s of the 20th century. It can be said that practically in every house in the Pyrenees, Baztan-Malerreka-Bidasoa, Basaburua, Ultzama, Iparralde etc... there was someone who emigrated.

Most of them emigrated to the western part of the country.

Most of them emigrated to the western part of the country.

At this time, the shepherds traveled by plane and arrived linked to a work contract that established the period they had to remain in the country. These contracts usually had a duration of about three and a half years, extendable for another 6 months. For its extension, the pastors had to return home and later return to the United States.

The job of shepherd

The aforementioned “Basque shepherds” in the West were mainly shepherds. They were known as hard-working, honest people and above all, they kept their word; so they were very loved. The main task being to care for and monitor the flock of sheep, as can be seen in many photographs. They used a stick or a hook as a tool to grab the animal.

The emigration

Emigration to the United States to earn a living began in the mid-late 19th century, and this was a massive emigration. This phenomenon began with the gold rush in California and later spread to other states such as Nevada, Idaho, etc. The first arrived by boat and registered at Ellis Island (where there is a searchable record). During the 19th century and early 20th century, some women also emigrated, arriving freely in the United States.

The Basques were one of the first to work with sheep to support the miners, due to food shortages.


The duties of the shepherds, in addition to caring for the sheep, consisted of castrating lambs, helping with lambing, loading trucks, shearing... There was a great sense of brotherhood; Therefore, they helped each other in everyday life. Shepherds who had been there for many years could be promoted to “camperos”, they were in charge of bringing food and other necessary services to their companions so that they could carry out their activities as normally as possible.

When these people were free (once the contract ended) they went on to work in dairies, gardeners, mines, construction...


The shepherds also had to deal with the wild animals that lived there and it is common to hear them tell stories of hunting bears, pumas, coyotes, as well as stories about rattlesnakes, very common in the area and very dangerous.


Due to this small transhumance and depending on the areas, the shepherds used to live and sleep on different types of roofs: paqueburro, wagon or directly on the open milling.

In addition, they used donkeys or horses to transport their belongings. Another animal that always accompanied them was the dog, which was of great help in their work.


Although the way of life was hard, they also found time to enjoy themselves, visit other companions, play cards; and thus, being able to entertain yourself and distract yourself from loneliness by playing the accordion, playing paddle...

In your honor, Basque shepherd

Many of these young people returned, others stayed to live in the US and settled there, raising their families, some of them created companies mostly related to the primary sector (agriculture-livestock) and which served to employ people from here, etc. …but everyone remembers that time when they had to emigrate to be able to help at home or simply have a better job.

Young people who had the courage to embark on an adventure in an unknown country, in hard work, with a language they did not understand; Yes, with great enthusiasm and hope. THANK YOU to all of them for contributing to our history and for teaching us so many things.

This exhibition is dedicated to all of them: to those who went and returned, to those who stayed, to those who are and to those who have gone.

© EUSKAL ARTZAINAK AMERIKETAN ELKARTEA | Errota/Molino, Elgorriaga (Nafarroa) +34 618 96 00 16 | E-mail