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Therése Alpetche Laxalt

At a glance:

Born: 1891 
Died: May 11, 1978 
Maiden name: Alpetche 
Race/nationality/ethnic background: Basque (French) 
Married: Dominique Laxalt 
Children: six (two daughters, four sons) 
Primary city and county of residence and work: Carson City (Ormsby Co.), ranch near Yerington (Lyon Co.) 
Major fields of work: business (Basque hotel/restaurant owner and manager)
Other role identities: wife, mother, ranch cook  

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Biography:

Therése Alpetche was born in 1891 in the Germiette quarter of St. Etienne de Baigorry, in the Basque province of Basse Navarre in France. She spent her latter youth in Bordeaux, France, where her family operated the Hotel Amerika and one of the early travel agencies from Europe to the Americas. 

She was a graduate of the Cordon Blue in Paris, and came to the United States after World War I to take home her brother, Michel, who was dying from the lingering effects of a poison gas attack as a soldier in the French army. He died in Reno in 1920, and Therese chose to remain in the United States. 

In 1921, Therése was married in Reno to Dominique Laxalt, who was born in 1887 in Tardets, Soule province, France, and emigrated from the Basque country in 1906. At the time of their marriage, he was part owner of the Allied Land and Livestock Company, with sheep and cattle holdings in Nevada and California. The company raised crops on five ranches and farms with headquarters at the old Fallon ranch near Yerington. 

After the livestock crash of 1922, Dominique trailed what was left of his herds of sheep to northern Washoe County hoping to make a new start, but a heavy winter and freeze decimated his remaining bands. In the following year, Therese accompanied her husband as he worked as sheepherder and ranch hand for various ranching outfits in California and Nevada. She also worked, cooking three meals a day for as many as thirty ranch hands. 

Therése and Dominique had six children. The picture below shows five of them in 1967 with their mother. In upper right is John, currently an attorney in Las Vegas; Suzanne, a retired nun with the Holy Family Order, and Peter, an attorney in Reno. Laxalt imageLower left is Paul, former Nevada Governor and later to be U.S. Senator; lower right is Robert, author and former director of the University of Nevada Press. Not shown is Marie Bini, a former school teacher in Santa Clara, CA. 
 
The Laxalts moved to Carson City in 1926, where they operated the French Hotel and owned the original Ormsby House. When Dominique Laxalt went back to the sheep business, ranging his own herds in the Carson City, Dayton, and Marlette Lake areas, Therese tended to their joint business interests and assumed much of the task of raising their family of six children. (Dominique retired in 1947, but after a visit to the "old country" poignantly described in Sweet Promised Land, he grew increasingly restless and returned to his beloved hills as a herder. After a long illness, he died in Carson City in 1971.) 

Therése's dream was that, somehow, they could give to all their children a college education that they might earn their livelihoods with their minds rather than their hands, as had most of their Basque ancestors before them. They would grow to manhood and womanhood as fine examples of the opportunities for successful careers that America gives those who are willing to work and make the sacrifices necessary to that end. 

In 1967, the Leisure Hour Club of Carson City nominated Therése Laxalt to be "Mother of the Year." In the nominating letter, Mrs. W. MacDonald Smith said: 

"It is not often that one individual can be found who so well embodies the many traits of character which have come to be highly regarded in mothers; our nominee ... exemplifies to a rare degree the qualities of courage, cheerfulness, patience, affection, understanding and homemaking ability...Because the entire Laxalt family has shown such appreciation for home, church and country, their example is a blessing to the community and state in which we live."

This nomination led to her being called Mother of the State of Nevada for 1967 by the Nevada Committee of the American Mothers Committee, Inc., the official sponsor of National Mothers Day. Mrs. Clarence K. Bath of Reno chaired the Nevada Committee that year. 

The Nevada Appeal of April 23, 1967 carried a large feature of Therése, including numerous testimonials from members of the community lauding her exemplary work. One of the letters, from Mrs. Milton Badt of Carson City, said: 

"...What more could a mother be? Unselfish enough to give up all worldly satisfactions for her children, brave enough to face adversity, capable enough to operate a business in order to provide for her family, and determined enough to instill honesty, ambition, love of family and the love of God into each of them...Therése Laxalt is the ideal candidate to be Mother of the Year."

In 1976 Therése Laxalt was again honored as one of twelve Nevada Mothers Of Achievement in a national publication issued by the American Mothers Committee, Inc. entitled Mothers of Achievement in American History, 1776-1976. Chairing the Nevada selection committee was Mrs. Mary B. Lowman of Las Vegas. 

In later life, Therése lived in a private residence in Santa Clara, CA with her daughter, Sister Mary Robert (Suzanne), a nun with the Holy Family Order. She died in Santa Clara on May 11, 1978. A Requiem Mass was held at St. Theresa of Avilla Catholic Church in Carson City and burial was in the family plot in the Lone Mountain Cemetery, also in Carson City. 

(Biographical sketch by Jean Ford)

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At the time of Therése's death, the Nevada State Journal published the following excerpt from Robert Laxalt's book, Sweet Promised Land, which dealt with the life of his mother:

 "A Son's Tribute to His Mother"  

 It took courage all right for a woman to live in the sheepcamps. And it took courage not to keep on living that way, to make her own opportunity and come to Carson City as she did, out of an old brown board cabin in the desert, with four children and a hundred dollars, to start another life in the little hotel, doing all the cooking for the workingmen boarders, on her feet from four o'clock in the morning until midnight, and with only half enough sleep at night. And it took courage for a pretty woman to watch slender legs become purple veins forever from standing on her feet until the last day of the ninth month, and then deliver her child and go back to work. 

 Even after we left the hotel and my father had gone back to the hills with his sheep, it took courage to face a life with six children who could have gone one way or another, and do it with an iron rule, without fear every once showing, and with a love that was there in little things like a touch of the hand or an unguarded glance, because if she had every shown fear or weakness or too much love, she would have been lost. 

 It took courage, all right, but it took something else, too. It had to do with forty mornings of Lent, up when the sky was still dark and the snow was piled high on the ground, trudging a narrow path to the church, with her brood strung out behind her, little dark patches moving slowly through the white snow, huddled deep in their coats, shivering, and with eyes still stuck with sleep. 

 It had to do with winter nights when the big trees outside the house moaned fearfully with blizzards, and long after the children had gone to bed, a single candle burned in the living room, and a wife prayed for her husband in the hills. 

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Sources of Information:

Laxalt, Robert. Sweet Promised Land. New York: Harper & Row, 1957.

Nylen, Robert. Kit Carson Trail Inventory. Carson City, 1995.

Nevada Appeal, March 23, 1967.

Nevada Appeal, April 23, 1967.

Obituary, Nevada Appeal, May 11, 1978.

Reno Evening Gazette, November 19, 1971.

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