Photo courtesy of
The Arizona Historical Society.
Eulalia "Sister" Bourne
1892 - 1984

Eulalia "Sister" Bourne (1892 - 1984), Southern Arizona homesteader, cattle rancher, author, and legendary school teacher, best known for her Little Cowpuncher schools, was born Eulalia Collins on a Texas homestead and raised in the White Mountains of New Mexico. Her nickname "Sister" was given to her by a younger sister who couldn't pronounce "Eulalia". When she was 17, she married a prospector named William S. Bourne, a man more than twice her age. Sometime between 1911 and 1914 the couple moved from New Mexico to Arizona. The marriage was not a happy one, and Sister received an uncontested divorce in 1915, although she continued to use his name throughout her lifetime.

In 1914, in spite of having only three years of formal schooling, Eulalia Bourne succeeded in getting an Arizona teaching certificate. Her first job was a one-room school in Beaver Creek, Arizona. It was there Sister first discovered she had a knack for teaching. However, in the spring of her second school year, the young teacher was fired for dancing the "one step", which the clerk of her school board considered vulgar and shocking. Sister's next position was at Helvetia, a small mining community in the Santa Rita Mountains, southeast of Tucson. It was there she had her first experience teaching Spanish-speaking students. Bourne has written that she married an Irishman named Ernest John Dougherty, who died of Tuberculosis in December, 1919. According to his death certificate however, Dougherty was a single man.

In the fall of 1920, Eulalia Bourne moved to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona as a "special student." The ten years in Tucson she later described as "the saddest, loneliest years I have known." While working toward her degree in English, with a minor in Spanish, Sister taught Spanish-speaking 6- and 7-year olds at Ochoa, Safford, and Mansfield Schools. She writes that she loved her students, but hated the bureaucratic city school system. The 1930 census lists her as married to a Roy Pennawell, but records of that marriage have not been located. In May of 1930 Eulalia received an AB degree from the College of Letters, Arts and Science, graduating with highest honors. Soon after, she left Tucson to do what she loved most - live and teach in a rural community.

The fall of 1930 Eulalia Bourne started teaching in a one-room accommodation school on the historic Carlink Ranch (near Redington), 75 miles east of Tucson in the San Pedro River Valley. For a monthly salary of $150 she taught the children of the surrounding ranches. It was at Redington that the Little Cowpuncher was born. Four other schools (Baboquivari, Sasco, San Fernando and Sopori) followed Redington, each school producing a mimeographed newspaper with the same name, Little Cowpuncher. As the years passed, the little paper became more widely known. By May of 1937, 200 copies were being mimeographed of each issue: 40 were distributed locally; 60 were sent to subscribers in and around Tucson; 40 were mailed out to other states; 8 were sent to foreign countries; and the rest were kept as back copies. In 1941 Little Cowpuncher won a "Blue Ribbon" award from The Columbia Scholastic Press Association. From 1939 to 1943, the Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) included the February edition of Little Cowpuncher in its special rodeo edition.

Her third year at Redington, Eulalia Bourne filed a claim on one of the last grazing homesteads in Pepper Sauce Canyon. She called it Los Alisos. At first she lived on the property in a tent, but eventually built an adobe house and acquired 50 head of cattle. She may well have acquired another husband as well, although records have not been located for this marriage. Jack Ryland was homesteading a few miles below Bourne, and after his departure this homestead was folded into her own ranch property. In 1951 Sister moved her entire outfit, renamed the GF Bar Ranch, to the foothills of the Galiuro Mountains, 10 miles east of Mammoth. A member of the Arizona Cattlmen's Association, the petite school teacher continued to manage all the ranch operations, including roping and branding, activities that took their toll in broken arms, ribs, hip and pelvis, plus a dislocated kidney.

After her retirement from teaching in 1957, Eulalia Bourne found the time to write about her experiences with "cows and kids." Her first book, Woman in Levi's, was the first of three published by the University of Arizona Press in 1967; Nine Months Is a Year at Baboquivari School came out the following year. Ranch Schoolteacher, which appeared in 1974, was named best book of the year by the Society of Southwestern Authors. Sister's only children's book, The Blue Colt, was published in 1979 by Northland Press.

Eulalia Bourne received a number of honors and awards: The Arizona Press Women named her Woman of the Year 1973-4; she received a Distinguished Citizen Award from the UA Alumni Association in 1975; in 1980, the UA Department of Reading gave her a Service Recognition Award; in 1983 she was awarded the first Judy Goddard/Libraries Ltd. Arizona Children's Author Award; and in 1996, 12 years after her death, Bourne was named an honoree in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. She is also an honoree of the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame.

Eulalia Bourne had some radical ideas about education. Although she understood it would never happen, she believed that children ought to be paid for going to school; and, although state law required it at the time, she did not outlaw the use of Spanish in her schools.

Eulalia Bourne died on her ranch May 1, 1984. She was 91 years old.

Here, in her own words, she explains the idea behind Little Cowpuncher and describes how it was created:

The little 'magazine' is not intended, as anybody can see, to afford journalistic training. Even providing language exercises is secondary. The high aim is literature - an attempt to hold the mirror up to life as we live it here, a record of what happens to us - something we can smile over nostalgically in years to come. Of course I want its influence to play a vital part educationally - that is, to bring some of the big world (through letters, subscriptions, visits) over the mountains into this makeshift schoolroom. To do this its scope must be varied enough to interest many different kinds of people. We want children to like it. And grownups. We want to amuse Easterners who wonder about our ways, and Westerners who know our ways well and have perhaps served their day as little cowpunchers. We want to be read by families and neighbors in this community, many of lowly status in learning; and friends famous as educators, editors, authors.

...As long as we publish Little Cowpuncher the kids will all want to see their stories in it. The primary pupils don't have to be given assignments. They see the older ones writing and they want to write stories, too... Of course they can't spell most of the words they want to use, and they are constantly asking how to say in English the words they have in mind. If I have time I help them when they come up with requests such as: "How to put picnic?" Or "Please write me water." Many times the little ones know where to find the word they're after, remembering the stories and even the pages in their reading and spelling textbooks where they have seen it. I enjoy seeing them make their own Little Cowpuncher's when they are playing school in the shade of the house just outside the door. They fold little pages from discarded newsprint and cover them with pictures and stories that are entirely spontaneous. Even then they come in to get their readers and spellers for dictionaries.

Most of the time when they write for Little Cowpuncher, they ask some of the big children to write the hard words for them. Often someone in an intermediate grade, glad enough to break the monotony of his own desultory studying, takes a stand at the blackboard near the primary section and spells on demand.

The compositions are always original, although the little rascals get hints from the words their classmates are asking to have spelled, and feel free to copy ideas. In country schools, first grade children learn to write as they learn to read. They must have something to do on their own during long periods when their teacher is busy with upper grades. Besides, they want to learn to write. Pencils are fascinating."

From: Nine Months Is a Year at Baboquivari School, by Eulalia Bourne, ©1969, The Arizona Board of Regents.
Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.


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