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Man-Made Monuments Rich in Basque History

Dallas Henrichsen

At the Nevada Commission on Tourism, we’re always appreciative of thoughtful letters sent to us by our readers. Dallas Henrichsen of Mesquite mailed us this striking image in early April. “These stone boys were made by Basque sheepherders, and many of them still dot the eastern Oregon, Northern Nevada, and Wyoming landscape,” he wrote. “This particular one is located just off [State Route] 140 west of Denio.”

Henrichsen also informed us that the Basque name for these rock piles is harri mutilak. Since he has only taken up reading our magazine since he moved to Mesquite in 2011, he wondered if we had ever covered the subject. Well, Dallas, a search came up empty in our archives, unfortunately, so we did a little research of our own.

According to Alissa Peterson, author of Traditions in Transition: Basques in America, "Because herders built many of these stone boys on mountaintops or in places that did not need a physical marker, some scholars speculate that herders built them for similar purposes as aspen tree carvings: to leave a physical reminder of their presence in the wilderness.”

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