Friday, September 17, 2010

No Life for a Lady

No Life for a Lady, by Agnes Morley Cleaveland. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941.

Litte Buckaroo

The whole time I was reading this old New Mexico classic, I was thinking, "Oh, this is the life I was meant to live!" I had been a little misplaced buckaroo, living out my early years in San Francisco, playing cowboys and Indians on sidewalks. Agnes Morley, some 70 years before, was the cowgirl I might have been, if not for the fact that I lived in the wrong time and place.

Agnes was born in New Mexico in 1874. She tells of her life on the family ranch near Datil, and what a life it was. Outlaws and six-shooters and horses and bears. Stage coaches and log cabins and cattle and long, lonesome trails. Here are a few of the chapter titles from the book, just to give you the flavor: While Clay Allison Shot Up the Town; A Fatherless Swiss Family Robinson; Cows Were Our Universe; Twelve Pupils: From Six to Six-Shooter; and Cowpuncher on a Sidesaddle.

In these modern days when children aren't allowed to play outside unsupervised, it just livened me up to read the chapter called "Put a Kid on a Horse," which tells of communication between far-flung ranches in the days before telephones. If a message or some letters or most anything else needed to be delivered over the next mountain, these early ranchers did, indeed, put a kid on a horse to deliver what needed to be sent. Starting when she was 11-years old, Agnes and her younger brother, Ray, made a twenty-mile round trip singly or together every week to Baldwin's (later Datil) to carry the mail bag to and from their ranch.

Much later, Agnes was driving a wagon to the town and back, all alone. Here is what happened:
Once, when I had stopped to 'noon' on a trip to town and my team was feeding, I climbed back into the high seat of the wagon and picked up a book [CZ note: She's a cowgirl and she loves to read, no wonder she's my heroine!]. I did not hear the silent footfall of a horse and was startled when one of the team snorted. I looked up to see a horseman beside the wagon. He was a Mexican, swarthy and begrimed. He looked at me curiously. 
'You all alone?' he asked in his own tongue. I told him I was. 
I could read puzzlement in his face. Mexican girls did not go about alone, even in our country. 
'Why you all alone?' he persisted.
          'Have to,' I told him.
This seemed to puzzle him all the more. He sat looking at me intently. 
'You not afraid?' he asked finally. 
'Why you not afraid?'
I reached under the edge of the Navajo blanket that covered the sea and pulled out my little thirty-two.
He nodded approvingly. 
'Bueno,' he said, and rode on.
If you can find a copy of this book (which is still being reprinted), I would highly recommend that you spend some time with it, dreaming about old-time New Mexico and the life that should have been mine.

No life for a cowgirl!


Anonymous said...

You sound like my twins. They are cowgirls through and through. I will tell them about this book. They are just like their father. He always said he was born 100 years too late and all he needed to survive was what he could carry in his saddlebags on his horse. Have a good weekend.

becky said...

Well, maybe in a sense, you are living that life... though in a different time. I do feel badly for kids that are growing up these days where they can't roam freely without parents fear of them being snatched. It's a different time these days for sure. When I was young, the rule was just be home before dark... we could roam & ramble without fear.
That's funny, "the life that should have been mine..."
I met a woman 2 weeks ago that I am certain is living my life... she works in her studio all day in the mountains of Angel Fire, and her husband brings her food when she's hungry! :)

Deb from WhatsInMyAttic said...

I don't know if I could really make it living the life of a cowgirl or rancher or even a farmer. I like to think I could, but thinking' ain't doin', I know! I'm eager to get my hands on that book, though!