Daily Sun “100 Years Ago.”

In the Daily Sun, Flagstaff, Sunday, September 24, 2020, a partial article appeared for what happened 100 years ago.  Researching that article from the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, 9-24-1920, there was more to the article and there were several other interesting sheep articles too hidden in its pages. These will be explored in future posts. With today being the last day of September 2020, let’s just look at this one article as it leaves some interesting questions that need to be researched.

In their column of the happenings for 100 years ago, the Daily Sun wrote about the article titled: “Local Forest Service Has Revoked Alien Sheep Grazing Rights.”  From the Daily Sun, they wrote:

“1920: All 1921 sheep grazing permits in the Coconino National Forest held by the Basque aliens were recently revoked by the local forest service office, and it is understood here, the action of the local office has been endorsed by the Secretary of Agriculture. There are five of these permits and 13,000 sheep involved. This action had been anticipated for some time since it had become necessary to reduce the number of sheep grazing in the forest exceeds the grazing available. This action was originally proposed in 1903 but was modified by the action of the Wool Growers Association until the forests became overcrowded.”

Information obtained from the original article states that the permits belonged or were held by Bernardo Bedegain, Mike Ohaco, Echeverria, & Co., Pete Espiel (Espil) and Julio Saucet.  These men were Basque. The men owned a total of 13,100 sheep.  

Bernardo and Jesusa Bidegain Wedding Picture

Seventeen years earlier, in 1903, as the forest became more crowded with livestock and especially sheep, a regulation denying aliens the right to graze their animals in the national forests. Because the Basque had been determined to keep their grazing rights, they appealed to ambassadors and the noise from the Basque and the ambassadors forced the department of agriculture to modify the regulation. The new regulation called for the aliens to lose their grazing rights when the forest became to crowded, which was what happened in 1920 and thus the men were losing their grazing abilities starting in 1921. 

A law firm had been retained by the five sheep men.  The firm, Stockton, Townsend and Drake wrote a brief and presented it to the secretary of agriculture in which they stated that the actions of the forest service were “cowardly, unfair and un-American.”  The men lost their appeal this time and were given temporary permits to use until the end of the year. They now had only three months to procure grazing rights for the following year.  Of the five men, Mike Ohaca was thought to be negotiating with another sheep men of Ash Fork, Charlie Burton, who might be able to obtain grazing rights on public domain.

In the back part of the Coconino Sun for this date, a little article was placed that related to this story.  It read, “Deputy Forest Supervisor K. C. Kartchner got back Wednesday from a two-weeks trip to the Morman Lake and Anderson Mesa country, where he was checking up on the new sheep allotment lines established for 1921 as a result of the revocation of alien licenses.” 

This leaves three unanswered questions:

1. When was the date that these men were told that their grazing rights had been revoked? 

2.  Were these men aware of the 1903 resolution that if overgrazing occurred, aliens would be the first to lose their grazing permits? Of the five men, dates can be somewhat accurately given for Pete Espil (early 1890s) and Mike Ohaca (1898) arrivals in Arizona and thus both should have known about the resolution that would affect them in the future.  Bernardo Bidegain came to Arizona in 1906 and may have not been aware of the 1903 decision. The Echeverrias, Miguel, Matias and Fermin, arrived in Arizona in 1903, 1906 and 1910, respectfully, and they too may not have known about the regulation.  That leaves Julio Saucet.  It is unclear as to when he arrived in the United States. It is known that in the 1920s he was partnering with another sheep man.  More research will need to be undertaken to determine his arrival date and other pertinent information.

As for Bernardo Bidegain, a family member said that not only did he lose grazing permits, but the house he had built for his family.  Did any of the other men loose buildings and improvements that they had made to the land?  This is really another unanswered question.

3. Finally, why did these men not obtain citizenship by 1920?  It would have been the prudent thing to do. More research will be needed to ascertain naturalization of these men.

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