My grandfather, William Odus Burch, was born in 1890 Sonora state in Mexico, about 30 miles southwest of Naco, on the old Burch hacienda. His mother, Sarah Elisabeth Carpintier, was a Sioux whose father, Blue Eagle or-his English name, George Carpintier-had been killed in the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
William Burch grew up among Hopi, Sioux, Navajo, Ute, Supai and Havasupai. His father, James Thomas Burch, of English descent, was a wealthy man with considerable political influence. When a boy, William Burch ran cattle with his father on the reluctant land around Farmington, New Mexico. He attended Princeton University, but did not fit in, and quit to join the Texas Rangers where, on border patrol, he chased Pancho Villa around for a few years.
He joined the army on May 17, 1917 and was mustered out on January 16, 1919. Of the two hundred sixty-two boys who marched off to the Great War in "L" Company of Major General "Black Jack" Pershing's Sixteenth Infantry, only two came home. Neither was marching. William Burch returned from France with a purple heart, battle ribbons for Montdider-Noyen, Aisne Marne, St. Michel and the defensive sector, the Croix de Guerre with two palms and four stars, the French military medal of honor, the Silver Star with clusters, a pension of two pounds sterling a year from the Crown of England, a total disability pension of $36 a month from a grateful American people, a wealth of terrible memories and silver plates in both his hands.
While convalescing in La Porte, Indiana, he met and married my grandmother, Enid Peters. They had three daughters, two of whom died young. My mother, Wanda Burch, was born in 1923 in Dade City, Florida.
In 1968, my mother tape-recorded his reminiscences of a childhood among the Indians and of his cowboy days before the Great War. This story takes place about the same time as the Wright brothers were experimenting with airplanes. William Odus Burch, the cowboy, died in 1971, three years after men had first walked on the moon.
WHILE I was still in high school, we had a senator, Mr. Chambers, lived over east of Santa Fe. Of course, y'know, Dad played politics a lot, so we went over to Santa Fe, Dad and I did-I was fourteen, that was my second year in high school. I never associated the Senator with some of the kids that were goin' there. One of the girls there was named Ivil. That was his daughter.
So he says to me, "You a pretty good cowhand?"
"Well, I can ride," I said, "trail 'em a little bit."
"Well all right. How'd you like to help me out."
"Why, fine." I said, "If it's all right with Dad."
"Oh, yeah." Dad says, "What is it . . . go ahead."
Well, about sixty miles east of there he had a ranch, a mule ranch, where he raised mules.
So he says, "You get over there, and you be there tomorrow, don't try to make it today, it's too late. This here's a letter. You give it to my foreman, and you help 'em out with that drive."
Well, all right. I got started right away. I got me some cheese and some crackers and some coffee, and a can to make my coffee in, and away I went. Camped that night, but I didn't sleep too long. I was in there real early next morning, 'fore anybody else had got up.
He'd told me right where they was, and what the house looked like, so I rode into the yard and went up to the house, and a girl about nineteen years old she come out, and she says, "Where are you a'goin, kid?"
So I said, "I'm a'huntin' for the foreman."
She says, "I'm the foreman."
And I just handed her that letter.
"Hmm," she says, "All right. You better get breakfast now."
So there was her mother in the house, she had pie ready for breakfast. I thought I was gonna eat with the hands.
"Did Paw tell ye what we was gonna do?"
"Nope. Just told me to help the foreman out, here." And I said, "Where's the other hands?"
"They're all here," she says.
Well, there was Ivil-I knew her, she was in high school with me-then there was a twelve year old girl there. Three girls.
She says, "We're gonna move a hundred eighty mules a hundred miles south of here, down towards Socorro, and deliver 'em to a construction camp down there." They was buildin' a railroad.
Well. I'd never handled mules. We come out, and we all had lunch in our saddlebags with us. I turned my horse loose in the corral there, and got on one of theirs. There was four horses apiece, that's twelve horses, and oh, they was gooduns, and a hundred and eighty head of the biggest mules I ever saw: I swear their heads was three feet long.
So she says, "Now here. Ivil, you take the right flank; you, Bill, you take the left flank." I forget that little one's name, that twelve-year-old's-and she says to her, "You ride drag."
Drag is the tail end of it. She got away up there, and she told Ivil, "Now, when I wave my hat, you open that gate and turn them mules out."
I noticed that the time when she waved her hat, she wheeled and spurred her horse and started down the road. Them mules took after her and y'know, for fifty miles them mules never stopped runnin'. Oh, man, my horse was just drippin' wet with sweat and so was Ivil's, and the little one come up there. I should say it was about six hours. We was about to fall out of the saddle.
There was a crick, and she corralled 'em, stopped 'em, and they was drinkin', and all as wild as they could be, and big, oh, you had to look up at 'em. And that little girl, the twelve-year-old, she went up to the oldest one, and she put her hands on her hips and I never heard a woman get such a cussin' as she got from that twelve-year-old. She called her everything-man, I've heard ugly talk, I've heard cussin'-but I've never heard anything in my life that compared to that little twelve-year-old. She was mad 'cause she'd put her in the drag.
The oldest girl was just standin' there a'lookin' at her and lookin' down and listenin' to that kid, and she patted her on the shoulder and said, "You are a good muleskinner."
That's all that there was to it. Then we changed horses, we saddled us up some fresh ones, although they was run down almost.
So she took out a rope and she caught one of them big mules. She put her saddle on one of them big mules, and I said to Ivil, "Has he been skinned out? Or is that the first time a rope's ever been on 'im?"
She says, "No, it ain't the first time a rope's ever been on 'im, they's all horse mules."
Wasn't a mare mule in the bunch, there. So, she says. "He's had a rope on him before, but he's never had a bridle or a saddle on 'im."
Well, she tied a string over the mule's head, the bridle was-Lord, it was that much too short-and saddled that mule up. And I eared 'im down over my saddle, an' Good Lord, he had ears as long as my arm. She got the saddle and the bridle on that dude there and I was bitin' his ears, just a'chewing those ears with my teeth. It cooled 'im down, cooled 'im down right now-when you got their ears like that they can't jerk nor anything. Then that girl got into that saddle, "All right, turn 'im loose and follow me."
And, boy! She just hooked that mule with them spurs and she got him to goin', he was scared 'til he didn't buck. And down the road she went with that mule and all the rest of 'em took right after her. She took the mule, 'cause her horse couldn't hardly outrun them mules. She was on this one, and that left us to do the best we could.
We got down the road there, I guess it was gettin on about eight o'clock-it wasn't dark-and I saw her wave her hat at me, so I digged my horse and cut into her and I got up to where she was at-they was slowin' down by that time, they was gettin' run down-got up ahead of her there an' she says, "Now, head 'em off when you come to that road; it's about five miles down the road and turns to the right, head 'em off there."
Well, OK. I took off in front of 'em, by that time they was slowin' down to beat the band, and so was our horses. I got down there, and saw that road turn off. I could see where the construction was over there, and I could see over there about two miles a kind of a camp. Well, she knew what she was a'doin; she knew them mules. When I got down there, I just fell back, just a little ways, and begin a'crowdin' them mules just so they'd start down that road. When we got down there, there was a man posted about ever two or three hundred feet-there musta' been fifty men posted along that road, just to guide 'em into the corral. They saw us comin' with them mules. When the mules got started down that line, well, we was all right.
When they'd got into that gate, she hollered, "All of ye's lay down there and rest 'til I get back. I'll get this receipt signed. Dad's already collected for 'em."
Well, away she went. She wasn't gone twenty minutes, and she come back up and says, "In yer saddles, let's go!"
Oh, hungry. Man, we was hungry. We went back about ten miles, to a little draw over there and some water. Talk about cookin' a meal. Man, I don't know how in the world anyone could fry as much bacon as she did. We had bread, we had our packs just stuffed full of food. Ivil and me took all the horses out and pegged 'em out, hobbled 'em and turned 'em loose. Then I went to get my saddle blanket, so's I could sleep out there and watch 'em. When we got up there and camped, it was 'way past midnight. The next morning, just at daylight, I caught the horses and saddled 'em up, and took 'em down there. There the girls was, just spraddled out an' every doggone one of 'em was just in their panties, just layin' on their doggone blankets. Well, I was embarrassed.
We was eatin' our breakfast an' coffee, an' Ivil lit into me an' she give me just as good a cussin' as the little 'un had give the oldest. An' I said, "Well, what have I done?"
"If you haven't got sense enough to know, you ought not to be told."
Lord, I didn't know what I'd done. The oldest one says, "Just switch the saddle off that piebald cayuse, there, it isn't worth a dollar and a half. That's her private horse." And I had my saddle on 'im, that was all there was to it.
Well, I just went over there, and just switched saddles, went back an' told Ivil, "Now, you want me to ride 'im for ye? Do yuh think you can ride 'im?" I got up some nerve that time, there.
"Hmph." She says. That's all there was to it.
We all took our time goin' back, it took us two days. One day goin' there-you haven't wrangled mules-when they get goin' you might as well go with 'em; that's the only thing you can do. If you stop, you'll scatter 'em. They had horses that could take it. Every horse we had was a buckskin. Oh, they could run forever.
On the two days comin' back-Oh, boy, them girls just sang, man they could sing all the cowboy songs, the three of 'em. The oldest one was married. Her and her husband was bossing the range that had the brood mares on it. Boy, they musta had thousands of brood mares. Well, you think a hundred and eighty horse mules, how many mare mules, and how many other mules must there be that wouldn't stand up to specifications. Boy, them was the biggest mules I ever see; they was for construction work.
When we got up to the ranch I said, "I'll be headin' on back to Santa Fe."
"Oh, no you won't! You won't do any such thing! You're a'goin ta eat."
So, oh no. I had to eat. Well, there was this whole pie for each one of us. An' them girls eat all their whole pies along after they'd eat their meals, and the ol' woman says to me-I forget what she called the little one-"I hope she hasn't contaminated you with her vulgar language."
I said, "Well, I'll go back home and practice some of it on the cowhands, when I get back there. There's some I never heard before."
An' the ol' woman says, "If you stay around, you'll probably hear a lot."
I left that night after we'd eat, an' I went on back to Santa Fe. I got in about daylight; I made that sixty miles, an' my horse was fresh. When I got to Santa Fe, well, Dad's still there. I knew where he always stayed over there at the Collins Hotel. Ever so often we had to go in and always stayed there. I went up to his room, and I just got a little bit of sleep, and the old man got up, and it woke me up. I got up an' dressed. I was hungry again.
We went down an' eat an' Mr. Chambers was down there. He says, "Well, you're back."
I says, "Yessir, I got back."
"Well, you made a quick trip." He says.
"Any trouble or anything?"
"Mules didn't get away from yuh or anything?"
"Nossir. We had a good foreman." Now, I hadn't told Dad that, I hadn't had a chance to talk to him, tell him the tale of it, there.
"Yeah, makes out all right." He says. "Been my foreman now, oh, for about six years."
An' I says, "We shore done all right."
He says, "Well, I hope"-I forget that little one's name-"she didn't use too much bad language."
I said, "Well, I heard things I never heard before."
He give me two twenty-dollar gold pieces for that run. Forty bucks. Man, that was almost two months and-a-half's pay. Fifteen dollars a month. "Hey," I said, "I don't deserve all this."
"Mor'n that you deserves. I'm sorry I cain't give you more."
When we got away from there I said, "Paw, I don't talk ugly in front of you, but I got to tell you somethin'."
"Well yeah. Go ahead, man to man." Just like that.
Well, I didn't like to say anything ugly in front of Dad, but I told him the whole doggone tale. Just what that little girl said and what she'd called her sister, I repeated that, as I remembered that ever so right.
The old man pulled his ol' long mustache an' said, "I wisht I knew how much of that was true."
"Well, it's all true, Paw."
He says, "I got a few things we gotta buy, an' then we're gonna head out for home. We're goin' to the river over there, we'll camp and you'll get a good sleep." He knew I was sleepy, I hadn't had much and was tired. Well, he just hauls off an' goes over to the court house. That was the State House then. He come back, "Well, ya all ready ta go?"
I said, "Yes." I got the stuff that we wanted; ribbons and thread, just little things. We didn't need anything extra or anything like that. I bought me some extra tobacco.
So we got out down the road, maybe five miles, just a'ridin' along. I don't know; ye cain't ride alongside a' Dad's horse-a big ol' black stallion. I'd just stay behind him, just a little bit there.
Ol' man turned around in his saddle and says, "You know, I didn't believe you. That oughtn't be possible for a girl to talk that way. So I just went right straight over there an' asked Charley, an' he said that I had never heard words that little kid cain't use. So, I'll believe anything now. But I just want ta make one request of you, Bill."
"Awright, Paw, what is it."
"Never tell anybody as long as them girls is alive."
It wasn't long 'til school started, and when I got back to school, Ivil was friendly. She hadn't been friendly with me before. We'd worked together, an' that proved my metal, an' I knew what she could do. When a kid, fourteen years old, specially a girl, could sit in that saddle an' ride like she could, an' take that dust.And that little one, boy! She was gettin' all that dust an' about a mile behind. An' she just had her horses' side a'bleedin, tryin' to make him keep up. Little devil had big spurs on her. She could talk just as dirty-she knew the book. But, you know, you can forgive her for this reason: she was a rider. I'm not kiddin' you. And every one of them girls had a pair of .38-40 shooters on 'em. I had my two with me, and you know, I bet that would have been pretty doggone tough for anybody if they'd interfered. I know darn well that they was trained to shoot guns from the time they could hold 'em in both hands. I'd run across some tough hombres in the army, but nobody as tough as them kids was.
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