Juan Jose Uberuaga

Interviewer: Jeff Johns and Patty Miller
Location: Boise, ID
Interview Date: 07/15/2002
Interview Summary

See index summary below.

Interview Index

Tape 1

Side 1

0-6:00              Juan José was born in a farmhouse in Arbazegi.  The house had been in the farmhouse many generations.  Adela Garro Simplot’s aunt married a cousin of Juan José’s father.  He lists his father Pedro’s brothers, who all came to the US.  Juan José was one of eight children, and was born 26 December, 1924.  He never really went to school, since he worked at the baserri all the time (only two people in the whole town went to high school).  He milked cows, cut hay, and so on.  When he was 12, Juan José and a friend went to Gipuzkoa for 25 months; he made 100 pesetas a year (which isn’t much).  After this, he returned home, then began working at his aunt’s farmhouse.


6-11:30            Juan José was 28 when he came to the US in November of 1952.  He describes his flight itinerary, which went via Bilbao and Paris.  He came at the same time as Simon Achabal.  A friend had helped Juan José secure a job in Idaho.  He lists some of his friends.  At that time, there were no sheep contracts, so he came to the US on a green card.  Benito Ysursa met Juan José and his friends at the airport in Boise, and he spent his first night at the Valencia Hotel.


11:30-19:00     Juan José recalls the first time he entered the Uberuaga boarding house with his aunt.  He relates an incident that occurred at Christmas one year when he worked as a sheepherder: he traveled by boat down the Snake River, delivering supplies to and from the ranch where he was working.  Juan José describes working for the Achabal sheep outfit for 3 years.  He returned to the Uberuaga boarding house at vacations; Christmas typically was a 10-day break.  He stopped working for the Achabals in 1956, and went to work at the Richardson feedlot in Caldwell, owned by Simplot.  He quit after two years, spent a week at Hell’s Canyon Dam, then worked as a logger for Boise Cascade.  There were other Basques working there as well, and he lists them.


19-24:00          Juan José worked there until 1964, then went to Euskadi for several months before going to Grandview, ID.  He returned to the Basque Country for a short time, then worked for Wilbur Wilson’s ranch in Hammett for 1 month before moving to the plywood mill in Emmett.  He retired from there with disability after an accident, which he describes.  Juan José wrote letters to his brothers after he had come to the US in order to encourage them to come work in the US as well.  Times were hard in the Basque Country at the time, and there was little work.  His father passed away in 1974.


24-30:00          José Uberuaga, the owner of the Boise boarding house, was Juan José’s father’s brother.  Juan José was the first of his siblings to come to America, in order to make a little money.  He liked Boise; there was card playing every Sunday at the Basque Center.  There were only three people working at the boarding house at that time.  He lists a few of the boarders staying there.  He only stayed for short periods of time when he came to Boise.  Lunch cost around 50 cents, and the monthly lodging fee was about $30.  Juan José recalls where he slept in the boarding house, and describes what Hermengilda made for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Some people who lived elsewhere still came to the boarding house for lunch and dinner.


Side 2

0-6:30              Hermengilda never really knew for sure how many people were coming to eat at any given time, but she never minded making extra food.  Laundry was sent out, and the boarders paid for this service on their own.  Whiskey cost extra.  Juan José lists some of the other Basque boarding houses in the area during the 1950s.  He often socialized at the Valencia or the Letamendi place.  There was only one shower, but the herders had a system for using it.  There were people living in the apartment behind the boarding house, which he describes.


6:30-12:00       The boarding house was full at Christmas, and there was a stove to keep people warm.  Juan José lists some of the people who slept there.  There was a TV in the front room, and a couch, where the herders could watch shows and nap.  Hermengilda had help in the kitchen, especially with bringing in coal (which was stored below the ice house).  Juan José describes the process of bringing in the coal and where the stoves were.  There were no dances at the Uberuaga house, because the Basque Center next door had just been built for this purpose.  The family put a Christmas tree up every year.  Juan José mentions a few of his friends.


12-18:00          José Uberuaga was retired when Juan José was at the boarding house, but he helped out a lot at the boarding house, including sweeping and mopping.  Hermengilda did the shopping herself.  She was a very nice woman, like a mother.  There were few house rules to abide by, except that boarders could not bring girls upstairs.  She cooked special desserts at Christmas.  The Uberuagas didn’t have a car, while they owned the boarding house, but Juan did.  Juan José pauses to explain the Garate brothers’ taxi service; they also lived at the boarding house.


18-23:00          Juan José called Hermengilda tía.  Patty and Jeff propose that the trio go on a tour of the boarding house so that Juan José can describe how the house used to look for a video camera.  In the parlor, he points out where the television, sofa and armchair were located.  There was no hat tree in this room, and no coffee table.  The room was mostly for TV and chatting.  Very few people smoked inside the house; a few smoked on the porch.  They mention the floor and light fixtures.  There was a peach tree outside.  Juan José remembers the fence outside.


23-30:00          It seems there was a bedroom near the parlor, where Hermengilda slept; no one else went into this room.  Jeff and Juan José discuss card games.  They move into the covered porch, where the trashcans were kept.  People sat on the nearby bench to talk.  The walls inside the house were white, and there were also pictures hanging.  Juan José points out what used to be Juli’s room.  The boarders played Mus at the house, but mostly at the Basque Center. Juan José remembers occasionally going to church with the Uberuaga family.  He mentions where the phone used to be.  The group considers the staircase, and they move upstairs.  They enter room number 6, which used to contain 2 beds.  One was placed parallel to the window.  There were two closets for boarders to place their things.  Juan José didn’t bring all his herder things when he came to Boise, but brought nice clothes.  Hermengilda changed the sheets once a week, and she laid the towels out in the bathroom.  There were no chairs in room 6.


Tape 2

Side 1


0-4:30              Jeff, Patty and Juan José continue the tour of the house.  He can’t remember anyone staying in the tiny room at the top of the stairs.  They enter room 7, then room, where Juan José stayed.  He recounts where some of the other Basques slept; everyone had their own bed.  On a few occasions, he stayed in the room in the building behind the house.  Juan José doesn’t remember there being chairs in the rooms.  There was wallpaper.  He stayed at the Uberuaga house off and on between 1952 and 1970.


4:30-8:30         The group enters the dining room.  There was no couch in here, but there was a huge chair and a few benches.  Juan José remembers that there was a sewing machine in the room, where his aunt sewed.  There was never a door to block off the kitchen.  The stove and Dutch ovens were the same, but the sink has been changed.  Juan José recalls what the tile looked like in the bathroom off the kitchen.  In the basement, the family stored the fruits and other foods.  Despite all the cooking, the kitchen was rarely hot.  Hermengilda was never angry, and let Juan José come into the kitchen when she was cooking.


8:30-14:00       In the icehouse behind the boarding house, the Uberuagas stored coal and wood in the lower room.  There were a few beds upstairs  where herder sometimes slept when the house was full.  The doors were always open, but the boarders had their own keys.  Juan José recalls the people who lived in the contiguous apartment.  He points to where the peach tree used to be; it gave a lot of fruit.  Jeff explains that the house dates to 1864.  Whenever he thinks of the Uberuaga boarding house, he has good thoughts.  It was a very happy place.  His uncle died in 1954.  The house was a good place for people.  The group discusses the new buildings downtown.


14-15:00          Juan José remembers the fronton next door, run by the Anduiza family.  All the people he used to know here have gone, and things are different.





Achabal family: employed Juan José

Anduiza family: owned the Boise fronton

Boise Cascade: employed Juan José

Garate brothers: ran a Boise taxi services

Letamendi family: owned a Boise boarding house

Richardson family: owned a feedlot

Simplot, Adelia Garro: founded Basque Museum and Cultural Center

Simplot, J.R.: Boise entrepreneur

Uberuaga, Hermengilda: Juan José’s aunt

Uberuaga, José: Juan José’s uncle

Uberuaga, Pedro: Juan José’s father

Wilson, Wilbur: owned a ranch

Ysursa, Benito: ran the Valencia Hotel



Arbazegi, Bizkaia

Basque Center (Boise)

Bilbao, Bizkaia

Boise, ID

Caldwell, ID

Emmett, ID


Grandview, ID

Hammett, ID

Hell’s Canyon Dam (ID)

New York, NY

Paris, France

Snake River, ID

Uberuaga boarding house (Boise)

Valencia Hotel (Boise)



Boarding houses

Card games