Teaching, ranching lore abides with 'Sister'

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 Historical Society'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," she explained.

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 schools.

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 heat.

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 and cactus.

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."