Carving out history: the basque aspens
Forest History Today
Aspen tree carvings or arborglyphs are ubiquitous to the American West, yet most people have never heard of them. They are a phantom by-product that something that covers so much of the western geography can be so unfamiliar. In this age of Internet and paper documents, they represent a strange way of recording history. Finding in the mountains a stately aspen with a name carved in 1900 is some- how more valuable and exciting than seeing that same name writ- ten on a piece of paper. The carvings provide the closest thing to a compressed auto- biography of sheepherders, who are one of the most forgotten social groups in American history. But during the development of the West, sheepherding was a major and critical industry.1 Many ranchers ran both cattle and sheep and they provided meat for the early mining camps throughout the West. People ate a lot more mutton than we perceive they did. Fred Fulstone, member of a pioneer Nevada ranching family, is convinced that the early miners could not have endured the harsh working conditions in the mines without the high quality protein of mutton.2 The Basques are the “Indians” of Europe, the original Europeans that we know of, and the likely descendants of the Paleolithic peoples who lived in the Pyrenees.3 We can say this for the following two reasons: 1) the Basques speak a language that is unrelated to any other on earth,4 and 2) their blood type shows the highest incidence of Rh-negative and lowest B-type in Europe.5 Clearly, they stand out as a unique group, and recent studies on human genes confirm that.6 After thousands of years, the Basques are still in their original homeland in the Pyrenees Mountains, straddling the modern nations of France and Spain, and are clinging fast to their own identity.7 Today, fewer than three million people live in the Basque country and about half a million are Euskaldunak (speakers of Euskara, the Basque language), which is how the Basques define and call themselves.
Olaetxe, J. Mallea, "Carving out history: the basque aspens" (2001). Aspen Bibliography. Paper 557.