Jean Cinquambre

Jean Cinquambre was born on October 19, 1921 in Erratzu, Spain, to Antonio and Maria (Mindegea) Cinquambre. He went to school in Spain and moved to France in 1940 where he farmed. He joined the French Army and served from 1947 until 1949. In April of 1960, at the age of 39, he moved to the U.S. and went to work in Kaycee, Wyoming on the Blue Creek Ranch. He worked on various ranches in Wyoming throughout his life.

In 1968, Jean began volunteering as a commentator on Radio KBBS for the weekly Basque radio program.  He assisted with the program over a period of three decades.

Jean loved animals, dancing and being with his family and friends. He enjoyed hard work, good times and was thankful to the U.S.A. and Johnson County for the life he had in this country. He loved the Lord and was a devoted member of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, the Big Horn Polka Club and the Basque Club for 35 years.  He passed away on March 9, 2014.

This article is courtesy of the Buffalo Bulletin by Jennifer Burden:

NOTE:  Ms. Burden recalls the following from the day in July, 2011 that they went to interview Jean Cinquambre:

Jean was a pretty amazing guy. We went to his house for this interview, and he got out his accordion and started playing. Then we drank some wine. Then we took a ride in his truck to feed his cows. He actually hand-fed his cows hotdog buns. He would call them and they would come to him like dogs.” 

A Familiar Sound

Basque radio station gave a sense of home for 40 years

It was December 1956. Sheep wagons dotted the plains and mountains of Johnson County. Loneliness settled in as the sheepherders, many of whom were Basque, hunkered down, and the wind blew in another storm.

The only source of communication for the herders was a radio. The Basques were thousands of miles from home; thousands of miles from familiarity, but that absence of a connection to their home was soon to be filled.

A familiar language came through the speakers.

“Kaixo,” said a voice, proceeded by a list of birthdays, anniversaries, music and sheep and cattle sales, all about and for the Basques of Johnson County.

“It was for the herders,” said Domingo Martirena, who was a key component in the inception of the Basque radio hour. “They had radios, and we wanted to talk to them. Being a sheepherder is a pretty lonely life.”

For one hour every Sunday, KBBS was filled with Basque music, news, jokes and stories. It was a connection to home for those so far from it, and that hour continued for 40 years.

“Everything was in Basque,” said Martirena. “They didn’t speak English and neither did I at that time.”

Martirena himself immigrated to Wyoming when he was only 23. He knew that loneliness was the only companion for a sheepherder.

“I was talking with Jeanette (Esponda) Maxwell, who had the station. We thought, ‘why not have a program for the Basque people?’” said Martirena. “Especially for the herders. It was big for the herders. They sure liked it.”

Another Johnson County Basque, Jean Cinquambre, was a part of the radio station for over 30 years.

Cinquambre said it cost $900 a year for that one-hour program.

“That was a long time ago,” said Cinquambre. “That used to be a lot of money.”

Cinquambre was an announcer for the program. He said the show had to be taped on Thursday, even though it wouldn’t air until Sunday.

“First, I say hello to everyone,” said Cinquambre. “I would play the first tune and wish one nice week for everyone. The music would finish, and I would say who was in the hospital. Someone had a baby. Someone selling a lamb or cattle.”

For those 40 years, Basques tuned in to hear their native language, but after 40 years, interest faded for the show.

“The idea was to talk to sheepherders,” said Martirena. “After 40 years, there was not enough interest. There were no sheepherders. The Basque community was shrinking as there were no more coming from the old country.”

In the early and mid 1900s, Basques were drawn to Johnson County for sheep herding because of the potential income. Large sheep outfits were formed, but as time went on, the industry started to die out.

“It’s a heck of a life, a sheepherders life,” said Martirena. “What they did is build fences to keep the sheep in the pastures, so there is no sheepherders.”

Martirena said the younger generations of Basque don’t know the life in a sheep wagon because they never experienced it.

“They have to ask us what it was like to live in a sheep wagon,” said Martirena. “All of the Basque sheepherder traditions will fade away. The next generation will be less interested, then less and less.”

When the Basque radio station began, Martirena said there were probably 200 Basques in the community.

“That is dying out,” said Martirena. “Now, there is only about 10 Basques born in the Basque country that live here. That’s about all.”

Martirena said in the next ten years, those ten could be gone and the traditions and culture of the Basque could go with then.

“I hope that doesn’t happen,” said Martirena. 

2011 - Cinquambre in his house.