So long, Sister Bourne --- it's been a blessing to share your strength
Commentary by R. H. Ring
[note: this typescript was created in February 2004 from a newspaper clipping contained in the Oracle Historical Society's collection of artifacts from and about Eulalia Bourne. We are guessing that the original article appeared in the San Manuel Miner at the time of her death in 1984]
"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 now.
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 in Sasabe.
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.