You may think of Basques as sheepherders because in this country they often were. For most of them it wasn’t a way of life they had known in the Old Country. It was simply a job that they could learn quickly and one that didn’t require them to take on a new language immediately. The sheep didn’t care what language they spoke.
With themselves for company Basque Sheepherders got along fine during the warm months of the year. But what to do come winter? Their solution was to come together in Basque boarding houses where they could speak the language they knew, eat familiar food, and socialize with their own people. At the same time, the boarding houses were in towns where English was common and they could learn more about their adopted country.
During much of the Twentieth Century you could find Basque boarding houses, or ostatuak, in Boise, Caldwell, Cascade, Emmett, Gooding, Hailey, Jerome, Mackay, Mountain Home, Mullan, Nampa, Pocatello, Rupert, Shoshone, and Twin Falls. There were more than 50 of them in Boise, alone, including one at the city’s oldest standing brick building, the Jacobs-Uberuaga House (photo), built in 1864. It became a Basque boarding house in 1910. The house is now the physical and historical center of Boise’s Basque Block.