Reward Offered in Basque Sheepherder Monument Theft

As authorities continue their investigation of the theft of bronze plaques from the National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder in Reno, a reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.

José Ramón Cengotitabengoa was the driving force behind the Basque Sheepherder Monument
The Basque Sheepherder Monument had been vandalized in recent years. Photo: Euskal Kazeta.

The nonprofit organization Secret Witness is sponsoring the reward. The amount will be determined based on the quality and value of the information that comes in, Secret Witness spokesman Dayle Edwards said. Tipsters can call (775) 322-4900.

“Once we get some calls, if it leads to an arrest and prosecution, we’ll come up with a specific figure,” Edwards told Euskal Kazeta.

Related Euskal Kazeta Reports:
Plaques Stolen From Sheepherder Monument
Vandals Scar Sheepherder Monument With Graffiti

For the international Basque community, the theft of the five plaques is a devastating loss of priceless pieces of cultural artifacts. Four of the plaques bore the names of hundreds of Basque sheepherders who roamed the American West. Another featured a short explanation of the Basque diaspora.

Plaques with herders' names were stolen from this wall. Photo: My 4 News.
Plaques with herders' names were stolen from this wall. Photo: My 4 News.

The monument is at Rancho San Rafael Park, which is run by Washoe County. University of Nevada Reno Professor Carmelo Urza said that park officials are determining the financial value of the plaques and will be checking to see how much of that cost will be covered by the park’s insurance carrier.

“Right now, we’re in a fact-finding mode,” he told Euskal Kazeta.

He said that all the names of the sheepherders listed on the pieces are in his book, “Solitude,” which is about the monument. “I think we’re OK in terms of the names,” said Urza, who was a member of the project’s original organizing committee.

About half of the $350,000 for the project came in small checks from across the United States from family members who wanted to see their fathers and grandfathers’ names memorialized on the bronze tablets. More than 1,000 members of the Basque community attended the dedication of the monument at the park in August 1989.

Authorities said it appears that several people were involved in the theft. The pieces, some of which weighed up to 20 pounds, were pried off a wall near the monument’s centerpiece — a 22-foot-foot bronze statue titled “Bakardade,” or Solitude. The abstract work of art features a shepherd carrying a lamb over his shoulders under a full moon. The five-ton statue was created by acclaimed Basque artist Nestor Basterretxea.

The tablets were likely stolen so that they could be sold to recyclers, according to law enforcement authorities. Bronze can be sold for anywhere from $2 to $9 a pound, according to Reno news reports.

Letters have fallen off the sign.
The wall with bronze plaques listing herders' names in August 2009. Photo: Euskal Kazeta.

“It’s devastating,” Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley said of the crime. “The national monument honors all Basque ancestors who came here as sheepherders. It was built for the public to view and appreciate, not to be ruined.”

In recent years, the monument had fallen into disrepair and become the target of vandals. In August 2009, as the monument neared its 20th anniversary, a report in Euskal Kazeta noted that the statue had been scarred with graffiit. Vandals had also pried off several letters above the plaques (The letters were replaced after the report.) and stolen interactive signs that guided visitors around the scrubby hillside area.

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office at (775) 832-WCSO or Secret Witness at (775) 322-4900.