Basque SheepherderThe Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Psalm 23:1


The Elko, Nevada area is home to Basque immigrants from Spain who came here in the 19th century to work as sheep herders. When I played drums in a Hawaiian band, we spent time in Elko. Many of these herdsmen would come in to hear our band play. We learned from a Basque named Mercedes Hoyos that their life herding sheep was not easy. From my book, Perils of a Polynesian Percussionist:


“You don’t have to know anything about sheepherding to recognize one of the northern Basques who (had) spent about three months out on the range, all alone with his sheep, until somebody finally came and relieved him of his duties so he could go into town for a few days. He would usually stay at a Basque boarding house…where he would have a long bath while his clothes were being laundered. Then, he’d be ready for a home-cooked meal of marmitako (Basque tuna stew) and Chacoli wine, maybe a Catholic mass or two, and certainly a quick confession with one of the local priests, to relieve himself of the burden of his sins…He’d had a bath and put on clean clothes, (but) there was still a strange odor about this man. He wore a long-sleeved red wool shirt, even though it was warm outside. His brown pants, also wool, were tucked into work boots and held up by suspenders. A San Francisco Giants baseball cap graced his full head of grayish brown hair.


“’Those mountains are called mata hombres. “Man killers is what they are! I was pretty much ready for a visit to town,’ Mercedes said….(‘I tend) ‘bout nine hundred sheep, mostly ewes. A few rams…and the ewes have dropped their lambs, since it’s summertime ….I have to stay right by the sheep, especially at night. There are lots of coyotes….I really care about each one of ‘em. If I find a dead lamb, well, I just start to cry.’”


Images of a fluffy lamb in the arms of Jesus disappeared as I listened to Mercedes Hoyos describe his hard life. The image we carry of our Lord as our shepherd must include the hard work, deep caring and responsibility a sheep tender brings to the job.


Lord, we are Your lambs and You care for us as a Good Shepherd. Amen

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