"I want to be buried as cheap as possible in a plain pine box.
I do not want a funeral or any religious ceremony."
They said so long to Sister Bourne last Friday, following the instructions
she had left on a yellow legal pad.
It was a burial befitting an Arizona pioneer - up on a hill in Oracle
Cemetery, under the oaks and the hot midmorning sun, with a slight
breeze rattling the leaves and hidden birds chirping.
The folks who climbed the hill - forty or so, and many elderly - wore
cowboy hats of straw or felt, boots, jeans, everyday clothes. This
was a form of kinship, of respect for the woman they had come to remember.
They would have dressed up like dudes to bury most anyone else.
The ceremony, such as it was, would have pleased Sister Bourne - though
pine caskets are so expensive these days it was decided to go with
a cheaper cast-metal model. But the casket was gray and simple, nothing
fancy, nothing Sister would have found pretentious.
They used duct tape to attach a full-size American flag to the casket,
draping Sister in the red, white and blue she loved, and they laid
out copies of the four books that Sister had written, and old photographs
of Sister with Blackie, her favorite riding horse, dead some years
When it was time. Don Haines, a judge who drove down from Globe, began
to sing to Sister Bourne. Haines met Sister on a Saturday afternoon
30 years ago, when she ventured into a bar in Mammoth looking for
some stray men to help her brand some feisty cows. Haines has been
loyal to Sister ever since.
Haines stood by Sister's grave, in jeans, plain white shirt and silver-and-turquoise
belt buckle, and sang "Wayfaring Stranger" while a friend
slowly strummed a guitar at his side. "I'm just a poor, wayfaring
stranger," he began, "traveling through this world of woe
Sister Bourne was a school teacher, a cattle rancher and a writer,
and everything she did was done with spirit.
She came to Arizona in a wagon 70 years ago, riding all the way from
the Texas Panhandle, where she was born in a sod shanty.
Sister was 17 when she started teaching, in a one-room schoolhouse
on Beaver Creek in the Verde Valley. She settled in Southern Arizona,
and taught in ranch-house schools spread all over this region.
She taught at Redington on the San Pedro River, and at Sasco at the
north end of the Avra Valley. She taught at Sasabe on the Mexican
border, and at Poso Nuevo Ranch near Baboquivari, at Sopori school
on the Kinsley Ranch near Arivaca, and at Sierrita and Helvetia south
of Tucson. Many of the places are gone now, the adobe buildings fallen
down, the ranches broken up.
Eventually sister sought her formal education at the University of
Arizona, while teaching at Ochoa School in Tucson. She graduated with
honors, studied briefly at Columbia and Stanford before returning
for good to the desert land and the rural people she had chosen.
Frank Aros was in Sister's class from the second grade on, from 1933
to 1938 - or was it '39? Sister taught all the grades to all the students
from the ranches near Poso Nuevo.
"We were her kids," Aros said at Sister's burial.
Sister never let anyone call her by her given name, Eulalia. It was
too hard to pronounce. And besides, Sister - who married four more
times after her first husband died in a gunfight, but still had no
children of her own, no close blood relatives - was family to all
her people here.
José Luis Sánchez became part of Sister's family in
1944, when she began to pay his tuition at the San Fernando School
Sánchez lived in Mexico and walked across the border to school
every day, to be welcomed by Sister Bourne.
Sister filled out the tuition form for the state each month and paid
the $5 herself, for two years, while she speedily tutored the boy
through the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh grades and eased
him into this country. She did it for others, too.
"She helped me through the rest of my life. She was an inspiration,"
Sánchez, who works on a state highway crew, will tell you today.
Sister Bourne left a huge legacy, and her own legend. She was famous
for her trademarks - always wearing jeans, cowboy hat, bandanna around
her hair, except for the first day of every school year, when she
wore a new blue dress.
Even in St. Mary's Hospital in Tucson a few years ago, in bed with
a broken hip, she wore the hat and bandanna. She never did give in
much, to age or anything else.
Sister wrote books about her school and ranch life, after she "retired"
in 1957 to ranch cattle all day and bang away on her typewriter through
much of the night.
She died where she wanted to, at home, on her ranch six miles down
a rough dirt road in the Galiuro Mountains, where she lived alone
on Social Security and teachers retirement, which no telephone, with
firewood for heat and a generator recently installed for a modest
amount of electricity.
"I had splendid energy, and I spent it every day," she wrote
in one of her books. The passage was among those read at the burial.
With the guitar strumming again, her family sang together "My
Country 'Tis of Thee," just as Sister had requested. Many there
had learned the words in her classes.
Finally, a cowboy ballad - also chosen by Sister - was sung by Don
Haines, as he used to sing to her at her ranch.
When I die, take my saddle from the wall, put it on my
pony, lead him from the stall
That concluded the ceremony for Sister Bourne. It was just as she
had wanted it.