The Sparks Museum, in partnership with the Basque Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, presents “The Comforts of Home: A Basque Sheep Camp.” The exhibit will be on display in the museum’s changing gallery this summer in conjunction with “Mountain Picassos: Basque Arborglyphs of the Great Basin,” which is showing in the Cultural Center.
Preparing a camp for themselves, the sheepherders had to be a jack-of-all-trades. Setting up the tent, hunting and fishing for food, cooking, and keeping track of supplies were the domestic side of their time outside of tending to the flock.
All they had to survive on for many weeks at a time were the supplies they carried with them. Pack mules or horses carried the building blocks of creature comforts. As time went on they would be resupplied by the ranch managers or owners. Early on this would be with other pack animals, then wagons, and finally trucks.
Improvised fishing poles from branches, pot racks from belts, and improvised gadgets were all pressed into service. Not just double duty, many of the materials they carried had to be multifunctional.
Alone for weeks at a time, Basque sheepherders sometimes only had their horses, dogs and sheep to talk to and took to leaving tree carvings to express themselves. Aspen trees scarred up beautifully to leave a lingering glimpse into their thoughts. Women, animals, home, their names and dates all feature as themes in the carvings.
Again as time went on more than one man would go out, as to not be so lonely.