Teaching, ranching lore abides with 'Sister'
Ric Volante, Arizona Daily Star
[note: this typescript was created in February 2004
from a newspaper clipping contained in the Oracle
's collection of artifacts from and about
Eulalia Bourne. We are guessing that the original article appeared
in the early 1980s.]
MAMMOTH - Behind the padlocked door of a small, metal shed in the
foothills of the Galiuro Mountains, Eulalia "Sister" Bourne
keeps her treasure.
Books, photographs, documents, notes and other papers - a wealth of
information about her years of ranching and teaching school - are
stored at her ranch east of here.
Bourne taught in back-country Arizona schools from 1914 to 1957, branching
into the cattle business along the way. The small, white-haired woman
calls herself "an old gal who still likes kids and cows."
To everyone else, she is simply "Sister." The childhood
nickname came from her younger sisters, who found Eulalia to be too
much of a mouthful.
The storage shed's contents are stacked under sheets of plastic go
guard against the leaky roof. After a fire destroyed much of the ranch
in the1960s, she bought the metal shed to protect her documents, which
go to the Arizona Historical Society someday, Bourne said.
"You keep them 50 or 100 years, and then someone will want to
write about education and schools in Arizona in the early days,"
That's exactly what Bourne wrote about - along with the joys and trials
of cowpunching - in three semiautobiographical books published since
1967 by the University of Arizona Press.
The author of "Woman in Levi's" was named the Arizona Press
Woman of the Year in 1973. In 1980, she received a Service Recognition
Award from the University of Arizona department of reading.
But she had drawn attention in Tucson several decades earlier.
She charmed and impressed Tucsonans with The Little Cowpuncher, a
school newspaper written by her rural students. Borne cranked it out
on a salvaged mimeograph machine at Redington and, later, Baboquivari
A 1939 article in The Arizona Daily Star lauded her inspiring students
in ways that were "as difficult to explain as the things a Toscanini
or a Stokowski does with 85 orchestral musicians."
In more recent years, Bourne has slowed her pace.
Her arthritic hands prevent her from writing now, and an unfinished
manuscript for a fourth book is among the items in storage. Her hearing
is nearly gone. She tires easily.
But though age has left its mark, she's still as full of vinegar and
as tough in spirit as the pioneer rancher-schoolteacher portrayed
in her books.
"Don't worry about me," she said as she leaned on a staff
fashioned from a saguaro rib and walked out of her house to get something.
"I stagger around all the time. If I fall, I'll holler."
A fall in 1973 broke her hip - for the second time - and she dragged
herself into the house, where she lay in the floor most of the day
until a geologist working in the area came by.
"Those were the best years of my life," she said of the
10-year period when workers from a copper-leaching operation at nearby
Copper Creek made daily checks on her welfare. Before the copper work
ended, they also provided a temporary water line to her ranch and
helped with chores.
These days, visitors come less frequently. "I'm like Queen Elizabeth,"
Bourne said. "I had a strange man walk in my bedroom one night."
Unlike the queen, Bourne fed the man - who apparently thought the
place was unoccupied - and sent him on his way.
It's a jarring ride on a winding, rock-strewn road from Mammoth to
Bourne's GF Bar ranch.
A frayed American flag flies over the place, recalling the countless
times Bourne led students in the Pledge of Allegiance.
From a wooden shed beside the house comes the uneven hum of a gas-powered
generator that provides electricity for lights and a television. There
is no telephone service and no mail directory. A fireplaces gives
Bourne likes to keep a supply of dead cholla for kindling, because
the light wood can be broken despite her ailing hands. Yet, as on
a recent wood-gathering trip, those hands can still jockey her full-size
pickup truck through a narrow canyon, the rear tires spitting rocks
She keeps up on the rest of the world though television, newspapers
and magazines, including the refined, dignified New Yorker.
"It's ridiculous, a woman a hundred years old living way off
in a lonely canyon is reading the New Yorker," she said, laughing.
Bourne is actually about a dozen years shy of the century mark, but
she won't reveal her exact age, which was become something of a local
mystery. One friend admitted having tried to learn Bourne's age by
searching her pocketbook when she wasn't looking.
Whatever her actual age, Bourne is finally easing toward true retirement.
This year she had a friend round up and sell her cattle. Only two
horses - "They're retired, like me," she said - and two
dogs share the ranch now.
"I've lived here for thirty years and I have lots of friends,"
Bourne said. "And they still come around and help me."