'Sister': Eulalia Bourne, still at home in the San Pedro Valley

'Sister': Eulalia Bourne, still at home in the San Pedro Valley
Bob Dalton, San Manuel Miner, April 4, 1984

[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.

Eulalia "Sister" Bourne has been a mainstay in the San Pedro Valley for nearly 50 years now.

In the 1930s, she traveled the 75 miles from Tucson to Redington and began teaching school there. She continued teaching at Redington, and later at Baboquivari, and in the meanwhile began ranching, homesteading land in Pepper Sauce Canyon and later moved operations to Copper Creek in the Galiuro Mountains, where she continues to live.

Her experiences as a pioneer school teacher and female rancher spawned four novels, including the acclaimed "Woman in Levi's."

Today, sister lives alone on the Copper Creek ranch she moved into in 1954. She is old and can't do a lot of the things she used to.

She can't rope or ride any more. Nor can she write because of the arthritis in her hands - hands that still look hard and strong, like all true rancher's hands.

She stays on the ranch because that's her home. Her longtime friends - like Loney and Cecilia Pettit, Harry and Edna Hendrickson, Jeff McCord and Dave McGee, among others - know this and do all they can to help her with the chores.

She's been told plenty of times that life would be simpler if she'd just move to the city, but she could never do that. As she says in "Woman in Levi's:" living on the ranch she "can still her a cow bawl," and to her that's more important than all the "doctors and hospitals" in the world.

She rises early each day and gets a fire started. She wears straw hats, bandanas and wool shirts, just like she always has. Her eyes dance and she smiles easily.

Because she can't write, these days much of her time is spent reading. Her ranch house is cluttered with Magazines and newspapers and the walls are line with stuffed bookshelves. She looked forward with glee to plunging into the morning newspaper Cecilia Pettit brought her.

But backing up a bit, Sister's life began many years ago, no one around here really knows how many, in a dugout in West Texas, where she was born.

The oldest of five girls, she was dubbed "Sister" by a younger sibling who couldn't spit out the name Eulalia.

There were no schools in that part of Texas, so she learned to read by studying cans of coffee, baking soda and lard.

At her mother's urging, the family moved to New Mexico and she started school there as a fourth grader, never having been in a school house before.

Despite the lack of prior schooling she excelled, and was asked by the county school superintendent there if she would like to go to college. She said yes, "but I didn't really know what college was," she said.

But off she went anyway to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Actually, what was referred to as "college" in those days would probably be called prepatory school today. She studied English, history, Latin and geometry her first year there.

Her mother had given her $5 for the year to cover school expenses, which she lost shortly after arriving. It took a year of babysitting before she had repaid a benevolent professor who lent her the money for books.

It was in Albuquerque that she got her first taste of civilization. The first night in town she stayed in a hotel room and was fascinated by the electric light, the first she'd ever seen, but she didn't know how to turn it off.

Finally, in desperation, she stuffed the bulb, which was attached to a long cord, into a dresser drawer and shut the drawer.

She married her first husband, William Bourne, in Albuquerque and the couple moved to the Beaver Creek near Prescott around 1910.

It was there that she first began to teach. She was able to get a teaching degree because she had memorized the names of all 102 bones in the human body and was able to recall the names, in order, of all the U.S. presidents. "Those were my credentials. That's how I qualified to teacher," she said with a chuckle.

Her teaching career lasted some 30 years and she loved every minute of it. "If I ever come back in a second life, I hope I'm a teacher," she said.

But her first stint in the Beaver Creek ended rather inauspiciously when she was fired during her second year there for dancing to jazz music. "Jazz was a dirty word then, but I couldn't see anything wrong with the dance."

She eventually was hired as the teacher at a mining camp in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson.

None of her students spoke English, nor did the Sister speak Spanish. And, at that time, the state had a law forbidding the use of Spanish in school. "It was the silliest rule I ever heard of in my life," she said.

Determined to speak to her pupils in their own language, Sister sent away for Spanish grammar books. From then on, the last five minutes of each day were set aside for the students to teach her Spanish.

From there, she spent nine years in Tucson, studying at the University of Arizona and tutoring Spanish-speaking children.

She earned an English major and Spanish minor at the UA but then asked to be transferred as far away from Tucson as she could get.

"I had five supervisors above me and couldn't do a thing with my students without their permission," she said.

Her request was granted and she was sent to the most rural school in Pima County - Redington.

While teaching in Redington, she homesteaded some landing Pepper Sauce and began her dual existence as a teacher/rancher.

If there was any water at all in the San Pedro River, she was forced to make the daily trip from Pepper Sauce to Redington via Tucson and Benson.

Later she began teaching at another rural school in Baboquivari, located about 50 miles southeast of Tucson. She would generally stay at the school during the week and return to Pepper Sauce on the weekends to catch up on ranch chores.

Many of her former students still visit regularly, and until recently, she kept up correspondence with nearly 50 of them every month.

A visitor reminded her of one of her students at Baboquivari, Pete Aros, and her eyes lighted up. "Oh, Peety, how I loved him," she said. She entered Pete Aros in the county spelling bee and prepared him for the event by teaching him 6,000 words in two weeks. "And he won! The first student from a rural school ever to win!" she said, laughing and clapping her hands together.

As a rancher, Sister learned from experience. Once established, she began writing a monthly column for the Arizona Cattlemen's Association newsletter and those columns were eventually the basis for "Woman in Levi's."

Life on the ranch was never easy. Sister endured years of drought, hardship, and toil. In "Woman in Levi's" she recounts some of the injuries she incurred while doing ranch work, which include a broken hip, cracked ribs, two broken arms, a pair of broken wrists and perhaps the worst of all, a dislodged kidney.

Those injuries have nearly crippled Sister in her later years, but she steadfastedly remains on the ranch.

She truly is home on the range.