1. One Hundred Miles To School


Up: Contents Previous: Foreword Next: 2. A Family of Vaqueros


[page 1]

"Miles to Remember (Pinal and Pima Counties)"

IT OCCURRED TO ME all at once as I was driving down from my homestead this morning that at last I am contented here at this little school at a lonely “water” on a remote cattle ranch in Southern Arizona. The fact that it is one of the biggest ranches in the state makes its isolation complete, for there are no close neighbors.

When a new teacher and a group of country pupils of assorted ages and grades meet at the beginning of a term in a far-off one-room school there are many adjustments to make, and teacher will make most of them. There must be a long period of strenuous effort—not only to instruct the children, but to win them. It is not easy. Last year, and even into my second term with the same bunch, I used to cross off days on the calendar,


[page 2]

rushing the week to Friday when I could shut the school-room door, and my door, and leave the noise and dust and contentions of Pozo Nuevo to go back to my homestead in Pepper Sauce Canyon, two hours' drive from Tucson, in the San Pedro Valley.

Already it is March; time has rushed by—proof that the old homesickness and worry that troubled me for so long are past. This is my place now, and I am honestly glad that tomorrow is only Tuesday, for my interest in the kids and the school makes time fly. This Monday morning I left the cabin at Pepper Sauce at 4:30 a.m. and drove my old car at top speed the hundred miles down here—mostly over Arizona dirt roads—before 9 o'clock. After such a long day I am naturally tired, but not lonely or low-spirited I had a happy weekend working at the little ranch, and school will pleasantly fill the days until I can return.

My situation is out of the ordinary in several respects. There can't be many schools like this one left in America. Here it is—an organized county school, but there are no pròspects for its development. It is located amid a scattering of ranch homes far from any settlement and there is no prospect of money for a school building. Sessions are held in whatever temporary quarters may be convenient for the two landholders in the six-township district, neither of whom is a patron. The one-room school is maintained by Pima County and the state of Arizona for children of the vaqueros who work the cattle on these large ranches. Now and then there are part-time pupils from the camps of temporary prospectors or assessment workers, and occasionally some children from Las Carpas, the road camp.


[page 3]

My bus-riding pupils are worse off than I, for they have to get up before daylight five days a week instead of one, and travel over rough, unimproved roads in a rickety, unheated beat-up old panel truck, never meant for a schoolbus. Even in the Far West, still wild in its rangelands, this is a strange situation for a county school. And I am by no means a typical teacher.

I understood the curious stares of the dudes from “La Osa,” a guest ranch on the Mexican border twenty miles south of us, as they passed me on the road this morning. Probably no woman holding a teaching position ever cut a stranger figure. I had got out to look at the tires. The unscraped corduroy on the dirt road was so bad that I was afraid I was driving on a flat. They were in an open car and had a good look at me. They saw a thin, leggy woman neither young nor old, dressed in men's ranch wear. My brown Stetson was bought for a larger head. My leather jacket needed cleaning. My blue shirt and faded Levi's were freshly washed and ironed and I had polished my boots before they were covered by the dust.

To pioneer women, even at mid-twentieth-century, clothes must be chiefly covering. When you sit alone in a semi-desert wilderness to eat your evening meal it will not help your morale to be clad in soiled Levi's. But if the engine that runs the pump over the well down in the canyon goes to popping and you must dash down a steep rocky trail to wrestle with greasy machinery, it does help your morale to know you aren't ruining good clothes.

The first months of school I did wear dresses. Hot weather, as much as convention, demanded it. At the beginning of each school year I buy a new dress to pep


[page 4]

up opening day and to be in style with the school girls whose new dresses are meant to impress me and the other pupils.

On a cold November morning my chance came as I'd hoped it would before winter set in. Ramón and Pancho, returning from their traps, came riding into the square in front of the long building just as I was passing from my room to the school. I admired Pancho's horse—a small chunky bay—and he jumped off and invited me to mount. I ran back into my room to don boots and Levi's for a dash up the road with Ramón, my oldest schoolboy. We galloped back to meet the school bus and there was no time to change. The ice was broken, my washing and ironing were reduced considerably, and my skinny frame protected from the chilling winds.

It was not personal appearance alone that caused the dudes to stare; they wear western clothes, but with a difference. My bug-splashed old car seemed to sit on its haunches with its heavy load, making a ramshackle introduction to the long line of trailing dust stirred up for miles behind. The ridiculous cargo could offer no explanation of my haste or destination. The car was piled hit or miss with bags and cartons of a week's provisions, personal stuff, library books, bedding, various odds and ends including a new broom; and it was topped off with Cherry and Honey, my two little dogs, poking their noses out to see what was going on. Immediately behind the seat perched the green cages housing the distressed canaries Tommy Tucker and Little Roy—always miserable while motoring. With every stop they cease clinging for their lives and start rapidly picking at their seeds. I


[page 5]

must take these pets with me each Friday and Monday on the long, uncomfortable journey because they are my dependents. Once we arrive, they are assets. The children like them. The little birds hang in the south windows and sing when we sing, and when we don't. The children vie for a chance to give them drinking water and fill their baths. The small fry, apt to be neglected in a school of such varied activity, spend pleasant time watching the birds. Cherry, a fox terrier, usually lies under my desk. She barks at intruders, even personages, and sometimes growls when she thinks somebody may be giving me a bad time. Honey, a timid beige Chihuahua, stays curled up on my bed.

If the dudes meet Pascual of a morning they have no trouble figuring him out. He packs fourteen children, luckily thin ones, into his beat-up vehicle with the home-made sign, SCHOOL BUS. Pascual wakes up his son and three daughters at five every morning, gathers the other ten riders at stations miles apart along side roads, and makes seventy-two miles round trip a day over dirt roads, some of them perilous cuts in steep-sided canyons. Three groups he brings from the Sierritas, the long mountain range that forms the eastern rim of the wide Altar Valley; then he swings across sloping distances to the Baboquívaris on the west to pick up another group, and turns back seven miles due east to the middle of the flatlands bordering the drainage arroyo.

As for me, I come from beyond the Catalina Mountains, the faint blue range far to the north, and on the far slopes, fifty miles the other side of Tucson, the burgeoning city halfway between my home ranch and the


[page 6]

ranch school. We meet here at Pozo Nuevo, an obscure “water” on the dusty plain along the banks of the long arroyo (dry except in flood time) that is a drainage spine for the vast area between the mountain ranges along the border of Mexico.

In the whole United States there may not be another school district as extensive as ours. From Pozo Nuevo you can go five miles north, seven west, ten south, and twenty east, without encountering a human habitation: an area encompassing about four hundred square miles, its residents just one family and me, for the bus riders live outside its fringes. But Prieto Aros' family is a small colony: himself, his wife, and their eighteen children, and a homeless young man they call cousin. Prieto is the vaquero in charge of the water and livestock in this wide corner of the Quarter-Circle DV Bar ranch which takes in about 300 sections. Prieto is a colorful individual who came to the U.S.A. from Chihuahua so long ago that no passport was necessary. He has been on this job for twelve years. In two marriages he has fathered sixteen children and stepfathered two, and has shouldered the responsibility of feeding and caring for them single-handed on a salary of $50 a month. From the state and county comes only schooling (which Prieto doesn't believe really necessary so the older boys are kept out now and then to help him with his work) and the services that go with it.

Pozo (or Poso as I'll spell it phonetically as we do here) Nuevo means New Well. This one is six hundred feet deep; it gives soft pure water via the power of a giant engine whose flywheel is taller than I. When


[page 7]

it is running, the whole place vibrates with its deep steady throb. In desert regions any pump is a pleasure to hear for it means water, precious and rare, insuring life for many animals and a few trees and plants. But the well is no longer new, and maybe should be called Poso Bueno (Good Well) now. Everything here looks old except the little tamarisks and Doña Lupe's garden back of the kitchen. The patched roof, crumbling adobe walls, and gray shrunken corrals show the weathering of many years. Even the gates, made of heavy timbers, originally painted green, and hung on massive home-forged hinges, are faded and sagging. Five pastures corner at this water so there are three gates to open as you drive up. In daytime the Aros kids run out and swing on them at the sound of an approaching car. If it is the teacher they know she will hand out a candy sucker or stick of gum (not to be chewed during school) for this service. At night, in the cold weather, all the in-and-out of opening and closing gates is a hateful chore.

The building at Poso Nuevo is a long string of rooms like barracks, running east and west for over a hundred feet. The west room (originally two) is the school. Next is the teacher's room which joins the one where the ranch boys—seven of them at present—and their guests sleep. I've often wondered how they all crowd into so small a space. Once I peeked in and saw only two narrow iron cots. Bedding is scarce. In cold weather the door and small window remain closed, and the boys sleep in their jeans. There is a fireplace, the only one on the ranch, and I sometimes hear quarrels about the wood-getting. Usually the lot falls to Pancho who is bigger than


[page 8]

the younger boys, and smaller than the older ones. The fire furnishes their evening light, just as it did for Abe Lincoln. Beyond the boys' room is the one where the girls sleep. It has no window, but connects with the floorless shed used as the kitchen and also with the “front” room which contains two or three chairs, a small shrine decorated with drawn-work runners and paper flowers, and a big white bed where the father and mother and baby sleep. After that comes the drafty space where they store hay and saddles. Then the biggest room of all, the pumphouse over the well, with its tall, peaked roof surmounted by a headframe, used when pulling the pipes. The saddle room and pumphouse form one side of the big corral used for horses and the milk cows. A vaquero asks little more of a dwelling than a roof and walls. He is not worried by having the horse corral backed up against his home. Flies and odors are looked upon as necessary evils. And water from six hundred feet underground is not likely to be polluted.

The only plumbing in the ranchhouse is the little sink under the half-window in my room. Bill, clerk of the board, put it in last year, and this year the small lavatory in the corner of the schoolroom because of all our messes with clay and water colors and printers ink. Our big water tanks, holding nearly thirty thousand gallons, are set on low cement platforms. Consequently the pressure is so poor that neither faucet will give water when any of the outside taps are open. But it is wonderful to have even part-time water indoors. And I am pleased with the new ceiling and cement baseboards that keep out all kinds of little pests. Last year I squashed


[page 9]

a centipede on the little rug by my bed, and trapped forty-four mice in the six shelves that serve as pantry and dish cupboard. But the rats that scamper over the ceiling disturb my dogs and me only four nights a week. The other three we are at home at our ranch in the San Pedro Valley. The most disturbing thing there is the 3:30 a.m. rising on Monday mornings.

“You don't drive,” Pascual said. “You fly” (he's thinking of the big clouds of dust that boil up under my wheels).

I have to go fast; that is, relatively. On these roads forty miles an hour is speeding and you can easily bounce into a dip and break a spring. The trouble is that Old Father Time hasn't noticed that I try to live in two places and hold down two jobs at once. The pressure on Monday morning comes from the hour I spend in the city doing errands. What a rush! Have the car serviced; leave the laundry; get the kerosene and the chunk of ice; and shop for five days' groceries for myself and the dogs and cat and birds, and the hot lunches for the school.

When I parked in front of the market this morning I could see the dark-eyed young man buttoning on his green smock and likely saying to himself: “Here is that lunatic wanting to buy twelve dozen oranges before daylight. On Monday, too; just when I'm ordering my vegetables.”

“Two dozen beets,” he called over his shoulder to the produce man. “And a crate of mustard greens.”

When I leave the city just after dawn the road is mine alone and I really split the breeze. The eighteen miles of oiled road is easy, but for the cattle that hang


[page 10]

about the highway and cross suddenly in front of the swerving car. Friday night I had a near disaster. It had been raining which made it hard to hurry on account of the mud and the wet dips on the dirt road. I had to turn on my lights before I hit the blacktop. At last relieved of bad roads, I stepped on it. Suddenly a few yards ahead I saw the bobbing rumps of a little bunch of cattle up the road. They had been drinking from the puddles made by the rain. I was not going over fifty-five, but the brakes were wet. In the wild careening I may have knocked the hair off a yearling or two, but no real harm was done. In the two years I have been burning up this road I have hit one. It was at 1:30 a.m. returning from a trip to Phoenix. All at once a big heifer popped up from a side ditch and stood broadside for the impact. I had almost stopped when I hit her, but she went down bawling piteously. How was I to put a quick end to her misery? That was the only time I have wished for a gun in spite of all the warnings about desperadoes and escaped convicts trying to get across the border. When I forced myself to get out I could see that she was lying flat, the bumper pushing into her belly. I got back into the car and reversed and was happy to see her jump up and trot slowly but capably out of sight.

After daybreak I can see far enough ahead to take precautions. This morning I was ten minutes late at Robles, where the road right-angles toward Sasabe. With disregard for nervous tension and damaging dips (off the pavement now), I was only seven minutes late at King's cattleguard, and four minutes late at Palo Alto in spite of the momentary pause when I met the dudes.


[page 11]

At the bridge I was right on schedule, banging over the iron runways with the dogs clinging to me in fright. With minutes to spare I swirled up to the gates—Pancho waiting at the first, Pili at the second, Víctor at the third—and had time to revive the birds and wash my hands while the boys were unloading the car, which they like to do because it gives them a chance to see what I've bought. And I spoil them by handling out bits of cookies, or crackerjack. It will make it harder on their next teacher, but their pleasure is my pleasure.

When the kids come hurrying in at the jangle of the bell—a small brass one meant to hang on the neck of a caponera (boss mare of the remuda)—it is a satisfaction to see their friendly eager faces and their fresh Monday clothes as they line up, salute the flag, and pass by my desk—their hands spread out for fingernail inspection, grins on their faces to show they have washed their teeth with the brushes the school gave them. Individual charts are kept, and annual prizes awarded, courtesy of the teacher.

Herlinda and Lolita, pale delicate sisters, twelve and eight, have a shining spotless look every morning. Dainty Francisca has a perfect record, too, but she has the advantage of being the only child in the house of an adoring aunt. The snaggle-toothed, chopped-nailed smaller ones give proof that cleanliness is not a natural human attribute. Allowances must be made. I wrote a note about a little girl's habit of biting her nails. The grandmother in charge of the home sent me word to light a match and burn the culprit's fingers. This was effective. It cured me of writing notes.


[page 12]

My baby girl Teresa, now half past six, can seldom pass muster in personal neatness. Her light brown hair won't lie in place unless her mother has time to curl it with the iron heated over a kerosene lamp. Her nails are long and short, clean and otherwise. Her stockings are wrinkled, one often slumped over her untied shoe. Her little red sweater is likely to be wrong side out for she dresses in the dark.

“Teddy,” I said, “there is breakfast on your teeth.”

She smiled good-naturedly. “The toot' brush lost,” she piped in her baby voice.

“Too bad. Make me remember after school to give you another.”

“All right.”

She sighed contentedly, skipped around my desk, snatched a piece of prized white drawing paper as she passed, humped up in her uncomfortable old desk, and began to draw. She is a happy little girl, a joy to be around.

Being plump, she doesn't have to line up at the call “Cod liver oil” (made tolerable by a chaser of half an orange). Many of the young drylanders that come unwrapping spoons for their morning doses seem to like the taste of the gooey mess of vitamins that smells up the room, splashes the floor, and smears my Levi's.

“Dr. Bourne,” they call me, particularly if I am wearing sun glasses. Indeed it is a rare day that I don't have to treat cuts, sores, vaccinations, impetigo, or infections, along with headaches and stomach aches. I keep a young drugstore in my room.

A country school, exerting the only social, hygenic,


[page 13]

and moral influences outside the home on young people who might be content to be barbarians, cannot set schedules that are inviolate. Our morning session on Monday, at least up to recess, is an orientation and organization period; we catch up on what has happened, and survey what is ahead. Today we had new library books (causing a noisy stampede for choices) to list and distribute, the weekend to talk over, and the mail, which Socorro had saved from Saturday when Arturo and Víctor rode four miles to the highway mailbox. Our rural free delivery functions on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This morning there were two fan letters for Little Cowpuncher, the school monthly magazine we put out by means of a used mimeograph donated by Constance Smith, our county school superintendent.

There was a letter from a Tucson subscriber asking us to send a copy to the president of the National Federation of Women's Clubs in Washington, D.C. The other letter was from a lady in Illinois enclosing a dollar to help with expenses, and wanting us to send her a copy of the September issue so that her set for the year might be complete. When Socorro, in charge of back files, brought out the September number we looked it over and were amused to see how slight it was: only four pages. Now we print eight. It has no fiction, poems, jokes, or book reviews. Its stories make us laugh—already part of our outgrown past. They do give graphic ideas of our locality and personalities.

Of all the innovations school has made in the lives of these back country children, Little Cowpuncher is best. It has brought direct contact with the wonderful world the


[page 14]

other side of the mountains. Little Cowpuncher did not originate in this community. It began with the Valdez, Moreno, and Bingham children at Redington—away off in the San Pedro River Valley. I brought it with me here so that this group of isolated Mexican-American children could be presented to readers gracious enough to help bridge the chasm dividing these youngsters from their heritage of citizenship of America and of the world. Closer at hand, publishing Little Cowpuncher is a group enterprise binding us together in a common purpose, and sometimes thrilling us with tokens of success. Also, it gives immediate reasons for studying spelling, punctuation, and English, although I print the children's stories as they are finally turned in, for they make better reading in original forms, true and uncorrected.

People laughed at Victor's story about our new equipment in the September issue because he said the clock could “walk” eight days without winding. Literally, in Spanish, a clock walks instead of runs.

Ramón's story telling how he helped his father and brothers round up thirty-four bulls to be tested was striking. He said: “The bulls have to be seen by a doctor to see if they are all right. They vaccinate them by the government to prove that they don't get t.b.”

Edward's story was a bit of local color: ‘‘

Yesterday Father and I killed a large snake. She took two hours to die and was strong and healthy at the very last. It even made my father nervous because she was so hard to kill. People said she was the biggest rattlesnake they ever saw. She was six feet from head to rattle and when I skinned her after taking off the head she measured eight inches wide.

’’

Ysidra, in the title story “School Begins Again at Baboquívari,” was inspired to summarize our social function


[page 15]

in one line: “We have a few pupils—not very many as we had last year. And now we have seen each other.”

Far off here where loneliness flourishes in the isolation of space, school's choicest lure is the opportunity for fellowship. Just to see each other is something!


[page 16]

THE AROSES
This father, another mother This mother, another father This father & this mother
José (Joe) Socorro Arturo
Concepción (Chato) Francisco (Franqui) Víctor
Consuelo (Chelo)
Catalina (Katie) Pedro (Pili)
Ramón María (Meli)
Pancho Mercedes (Mercy)
Ysidra Evangelina (Eva)

Up: Contents Previous: Foreword Next: 2. A Family of Vaqueros




© Arizona Board of Regents