The Basques came to the United States initially in search of gold. Moving north from the mining areas of Nevada, these pioneers from the western Pyrenees saw the livestock potential of the Oregon desert. Many of those men were younger sons, unable to inherit the family estate in the old country, but willing to work to build estates of their own. Many of them began their own flocks while still caring for the larger herds of their employers. Eventually those second generation herds grew large enough for sheepherders to go out on their own and hire their own herders.
Unfortunately, immigration quotas that began in 1924 brought an end to this heyday of the eastern Oregon sheep industry. Though there are still thousands of sheep in Malheur and Harney counties and the surrounding areas, their numbers are no longer growing exponentially as they did in the early twentieth century.
This image shows one of the many herds crossing the Owyhee River on a bridge built of juniper logs. The bridge was built by sheepherders Joe Navarro and Pasco Eiguren around 1920.