Theft of Basque Sheepherder Plaques Helps Prompt New Bill


José Ramón Cengotitabengoa was the driving force behind the Basque Sheepherder Monument

Robert Lopez, Writer

The high-profile theft of bronze plaques from the National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder in 2011 has helped prompt a new bill by Nevada lawmakers that would stiffen penalties for stealing scrap metal.

The theft of the five plaques, which took place in early January 2011, shocked members of the Basque community.

The plaques were engraved with the names of hundreds of sheepherders and were anchored next to the towering statue called “Bakardade,” or Solitude, which is the centerpiece of the monument erected in 1989 on a scrubby hill outside of Reno.

The crime underscored what has become a growing problem across Nevada, where thieves have stolen tens of thousands of dollars worth of scrap metal, according to officials.

“These problems are an indication of our times,” Reno Asst. City Manager Cadence Matijevich told the Reno-Gazette Journal. “People are desperate and looking for materials they can turn and sell for a quick profit.”

Typically, scrap metal thieves face misdemeanor prosecution in Nevada if the stolen material is valued at less than $650. If the value is more than $650 but under $3,500, the crime can be charged as  a felony that would be punishable by up to five years in state prison.

The bill under consideration by the Nevada Assembly would require those found guilty  to serve 100 hours of community service for a first offense, 200 hours for a second offense, and 300 hours for third and subsequent violations.

In the case of the Sheepherder Monument, police said they suspected that the thieves removed the bronze tablets with a pry bar and sold them to recyclers. No arrests were made.

The new plaques are anchored more solidly and are made of steel, which is less valuable to potential thieves, according to officials involved in the effort.

Hundreds of names that are engraved on the new plaques were gathered by University of Nevada Reno Professor Carmelo Urza, author of “Solitude,” a book about the monument that contains the names. The original list of names was generated from the many individual donors who gave money for the monument and wanted their fathers and grandfathers who had been sheepherders to be remembered.

Related Euskal Kazeta reports:
Vandals Steal Sheepherder Monument Plaques
Sheepherder Monument in Disrepair on 20th Anniversary

Cement walls at Basque Sheeperder Monument after bronze plaques were stolen
Wall at the Basque Sheepherder Monument after plaques were stolen in 2001. Photo: Andy Mink/Washoe County Regional Parks

The cost of replacing the plaques was covered by the insurance carrier for the Washoe County Regional Parks system, which oversees San Rafael Park where the monument is located.

The 22-foot statue that overlooks the monument was created by acclaimed Basque artist Nestor Basterretxea. The abstract work of art features a shepherd carrying a lamb over his shoulders under a full moon.

The monument was built to represent not only the sheepherder but his descendants in the American West and Basques everywhere.

In August 2009, as the monument neared its 20th anniversary, Euskal Kazeta reported that vandals had scarred the statue with graffiti and that interactive signs designed to guide visitors through the site had been marred by vandals or weather. The report noted that the monument’s isolated location made it a relatively easy target for crime and vandalism.

Walls with names on plaques at Basque Sheepherder Monument, Reno, Nev.
The new plaques with herders’ names are made from steel. Photo: Jillian Stenzel