In addition to running sheep, and more sheep, he built the Bengoechea Hotel in 1910 in Mountain Home, ordering the best furnishings available. It first served as a Basque boarding house, as well as the residence of Jose and his family. Other residents often received help from Bengoechea when they needed it.
Bengoechea got his first car in 1900, when there were only about 14,000 cars in the country. Joe didn’t drive, but that didn’t stop him from getting around. He hired drivers. As one of the few people who had a lot of experience with cars he was often asked which car was best. He would always give the same answer: “A new one.”
By 1917, Jose Bengoechea was the richest man in Idaho. He owned several ranches, the hotel, and interests in many banks. He had five high-powered cars. His young wife had a large selection of furs and jewelry. Nothing was too expensive for his family and his friends.
That was when his good fortune ran out. Bengoechea had been selling sheep at high prices to the Army during the war. As the fighting came to an end, he envisioned even more profits ahead because of the need to feed a hungry Europe. He and other investors kept buying and buying. The bottom dropped out of the sheep and wool markets and suddenly the richest man in Idaho was bankrupt. His bankruptcy was pivotal in bringing down 27 banks in the state.
In 1921, the headlines read, “Richest Man in Idaho Only Four Years Ago, Basque Dies Broke.” He was 60.
Bengoechea’s hotel still stands as a symbol of his legacy at 195 North Second West in Mountain Home. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
Thanks to Patty Miller, director of Boise’s Basque Museum and Cultural Center for linking me to some of the information for this post.