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June, 2017
The Kitchen Sisters Present Ep #73: The Sheepherder’s Ball

The Kitchen Sisters Present Ep #73: The Sheepherder’s Ball

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In the 1930s and 40s, hundreds of Basques were brought to the western United States to do the desolate work that no one else would do—herding sheep. Alone for months at a time with hundreds of sheep the Basque’s improvised songs, baked bread in underground ovens, carved poetry and drawings into the Aspen trees, and listened to the Basque Radio Hour beaming to Idaho, Washington, Colorado, California, traditional music and messages between the herders out in the isolated countryside.

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“You say Basque to a Westerner and you think sheepherder,” said Mark Kurlansky, author of The Basque History of the World. “In Basque country very few people were shepherds. The seven provinces of Basque country are about the size of New Hampshire. No one has huge expanses of land there.”

“Teenagers were ripped up out of their communities back home, brought to a foreign land, with a foreign language, put up on top of a mountain … crying themselves to sleep at night during the first year on the range,” says William Douglass, Former director of the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada.

Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator who repressively ruled the country for nearly 40 years, made life miserable for the Basque people, suppressing their language, culture and possibilities. The result was a massive exodus, and the only way to come to the United States for many Basques was to contract as sheepherders. There was a shortage of shepherds in the American West, and legislation was crafted in 1950 that allowed Basque men to take up this lonely and difficult job.

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Francisco and Joaquin Lasarte came to America in 1964 from Basque country in northern Spain. Each Lasarte brother had his own flock, and they rarely saw each other or anyone else for months on end. Mostly they ate lamb and bread cooked in a Dutch oven in a hole they dug in the ground.

Hotels like the Noriega in Bakersfield, CA were home in the winter months for these isolated men. They piled into these Basque boarding houses that sprung up in Elko and Winnemucca, Nevada, and Boise, Idaho. The men ate family style — big bottles of red wine, accordion music, conversation and card games.

For 25 years, the voice of the Basque was Espe Alegria. Every Sunday night, sheepherders across the mountains of the American West would tune in to listen to her radio show on KBOI in Boise. Dedications, birthday greetings, suggestions of where to find good pasture, the soccer scores that her husband got off the shortwave from Spain, and the hit tunes from Spain and the Basque region. She would help the sheepherders with immigration issues, with buying plane tickets home, with doctor’s appointments. She did her show for free, but once or twice a year the owners of the sheep camps would give her a lamb. The family would take it home, throw it on the kitchen table, cut it up and put in the freezer.

The Sheepherder’s Ball was the highlight of the year in Boise. The men wore denim, the women wore simple house dresses. Lambs were auctioned off and proceeds given to a charity. Huge platters of chorizo and stew and pork sandwiches were served. The ball continues to this day every December at the Euzkaldunak Club’s Basque Center.

Podcast Episode #72: Warriors vs Warriors

Podcast Episode #72: Warriors vs Warriors

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For the last five years The Golden State Warriors have been going inside San Quentin, the legendary maximum security California State prison, to take on The San Quentin Warriors, the prison’s notorious basketball team. The Kitchen Sisters Present team up with Life of the Law to take us to a recent showdown between these two mighty Bay Area teams. Featuring Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Bob Myers, and Golden State Warriors’ support staff — and San Quentin Warriors players, inmate spectators and prison officials. Everybody say, “Warriors!”

We produced this podcast to welcome the newest member of the Radiotopia collective, Ear Hustle, produced by Earlonne Woods & Antwan Williams, currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, and Bay Area artist Nigel Poor. To honor the launch, all Radiotopia shows are producing episodes around the theme “Doing Time.

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All photos by Nancy Mullane.

Warriors vs Warriors: Listen Today on NPR’s All Things Considered

Warriors vs Warriors: Listen Today on NPR’s All Things Considered

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For the 3rd year in a row The Golden State Warriors are battling the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA Championship. But that’s not the only annual battle The Warriors are locked in. For the last five years Golden State has been going inside San Quentin, the legendary California prison, to take on The San Quentin Warriors, the prison’s notorious basketball team.

Life of the Law and The Kitchen Sisters team up to take you to the most recent showdown between these two mighty Bay Area teams.

Listen at npr.org


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Special thanks: Draymond Green, Kevin Durant & The Golden State Warriors, The San Quentin Warriors, Sam Robinson: Public Information Officer, San Quentin State Prison, Louis Scott: Reporter with the San Quentin Radio Project, Ear Hustle & PRX’s Radiotopia

Music: About a Bird/Fantastic Negrito, Free Your Mind/En Vogue, Oh My God/A Tribe Called Quest, Blow the Whistle/Too $hort, The Warriors/E-40, David Jassy/San Quentin Media, Choices (Yup) (Golden State Warriors Remix)/E-40

Warriors was produced by the Life of the Law podcast (Nancy Mullane & Tony Gannon) and The Kitchen Sisters (Nikki Silva & Davia Nelson) with Nathan Dalton and Brandi Howell. Mixed by Jim McKee. More of our stories can be heard on our Webby Award-Winning podcast The Kitchen Sisters Present. Please subscribe!

Funding for The Kitchen Sisters comes from Cowgirl Creamery, The Sillins Family Foundation & Listener Contributions to The Kitchen Sisters Productions. Thank you for your support. You too can support our stories with a tax-deductible contribution.