After a trip with
my son in March 2002 to Tucson, Arizona, I happened on this book
by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor of the United States Supreme Court
and her brother, H.Alan Day, while browsing in bookstore back
in Manhattan. Coming from a family besotted by anything "western,"
it immediately became a Mother's Day gift from my son. It had
all the makings of a good read: a brother-and-sister team writing
about their childhood in the West from the blessed vantage point
For most people in the United States, the word "cowboy"
conjures up images of John Wayne in legendary film director John
Ford's "The Searchers" or Howard Hawks's "Red River,"
and a never-ending stream of actors like Kirk Douglas, Clint Eastwood,
Gary Cooper, James Garner (to name a few) starring in classic
western movies like "Gunfight at O.K. Corral," "High
Noon" and "Duel at Diablo" (see The
City Review article) and who can forget Clint with his cigar,
poncho and major attitude in Sergio Leone's "The Good the
Bad and the Ugly," even if it was a "spaghetti western"
filmed in the wild frontiers of Spain. These cowboys are now the
stuff of myth and legend, woven into the fabric of the American
character, and into the psyche of all those who are not American
but who dream of freedom and the vast, open spaces and fiery orange
skies of the Western landscape now etched in our imaginations
via celluloid. But for a real-life portrayal of the amazing men
behind these mythic images, "Lazy B" is an unforgettable
journey into a uniquely American way of life that is now almost
completely lost to history.
For all those who find themselves thinking, "No? Cowboys?
Sandra Day O'Connor? The Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor?"
join the club. It was a shock to discover that the author is none
other than the first woman ever to be appointed to the Supreme
Court of the United States of America in 1981 by Ronald Reagan.
Judging by the contents of the book, her upbringing was the perfect
training for the job. In the 302 pages of "Lazy B: Growing
Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest," (co-written
with her brother, H. Alan Day, who is still a rancher), the Chief
Justice makes only a couple of perfunctory references to her important
and historic position, and continues to fill the pages with wonderful
descriptions of a harsh yet beautiful desert existence, peopled
by a close family, colorful local characters and stoic cowboys
who worked the ranch and whose spirit and character ultimately
dominate the book - together with the vast western frontiers and
skies from which they are inseparable. It is written in a no-nonsense,
open American style that is as refreshing as a spring breeze.
There isn't a pretentious or overworked line in the book.
Beginning with her parents' elopement - because they were madly
in love and their mother did not want to be talked out of a marriage
considered unsuitable for a girl unused to a harsh, ranching existence
and throughout the book, Sandra Day O'Connor and Alan Day focus
on the essentials of what many would consider an almost punishing
existence in a barren corner of Arizona with an average of 10
inches of rainfall a year, brutal temperatures, few inhabitants
and no modern conveniences in the early years. Hard work and back-breaking
hours in the saddle ride the pages relentlessly till you can feel
the heat, the dust, the sweat, culling from this existence a quality
which can only be described as "backbone" in all of
the main characters. Where, oh where, did they find the strength
and the courage for such a life? For anyone who has sat gaping
at the physical dexterity (and suicidal tendencies!) of rodeo
cowboys, marveling that they are not carted off on stretchers
by paramedics instead of grinning and dusting themselves off after
being flung to the ground by a ferocious-looking steer, this book
will enthrall, amuse and ultimately tug at the heartstrings as
the realization dawns that most of the characters in the book
are now dead and who, if anyone, will ever replace them?
Large as life are "DA," the patriarch of the family
and "MO," or mother, an inseparable and deeply devoted
couple otherwise called Harry and Ada Mae Day, parents to the
Day children, Sandra, Alan and Ann. In the preface there are lines
from Wallace Stegner's "Finding the Place: A Migrant Childhood"
which sets the tone of the book:
"There is something about living in a big empty space,
where people are few and distant, under a great
sky that is alternately serene and furious, exposed
to sun from four in the morning till nine at night,
and to a wind that never seems to rest there is
something about exposure to that big country that
not only tells an individual how small he is, but
steadily tells him who he is."
It is not surprising to learn that a woman as powerful and down-to-earth
as Sandra Day O'Connor comes from intrepid stock. Paternal grandfather,
H.C. Day was a New Englander who, at 35, married Alice Edith Hilton
of England in 1879, (aged 18), who was the daughter of John Price
Hilton of England, rector and founder of St. John's Episcopal
Church in Wichita, Kansas. In 1880 the cattle business looked
good enough to attract savvy investors from Scotland and England
to the Western United States: "the grazing on the public
domain was essentially free for the taking. Some of these investors
put cattle in Montana and Wyoming and later learned to their sorrow
how the excessive snow and severe cold weather could destroy the
herds. In the Gadsden Purchase area, snow was virtually unknown,
and the chances were better that the cattle could forage for grass
year round. Only an Apache raid or a summer drought would cut
down the herd" The big problem in Arizona was water, and
wells had to be dug and windmills built at the "Lazy B"
to power and pump water out of the wells.
After an extended stay in Europe visiting relatives, H.C. Day
found out that a neighbor rancher was putting his own brand on
Lazy B calves; a visit to a local lawyer yielded the advice "Mr.
Day, get a gun." Mr. Day had to take hold of his ranch or
lose his investment, so he built a house and a one-room schoolhouse
for his children near the Gila River. Orchard and garden followed,
as well as three daughters and a son, Harry in 1898. Although
no further mention is made about a gun, he must have acquired
one, because there was no more trouble from the rancher. The Days
remained at the Lazy B for ten years, till a new manager was found,
and the family was moved to Pasadena, California. H.C. took Harry
to the ranch in the summers, supervising improvements, constructing
windmills and fencing and overseeing "the management practices
of the cattle and horses." It was alongside his own father
that "DA" learned the valuable lessons of minimizing
unnecessary expense, wasting nothing and praying for rain. It
is amazing to think of the hard work applied to such an endeavor,
without even the guarantee of minimal rainfall.
Harry's plans to go to Stanford were thwarted by World War I;
he was drafted, trained, but discharged at the end of the war.
His father was by then too ill to visit the ranch, the manager
was producing no income, so Harry stepped in and had bad news
to report back to his father. His first impression of living out
on the harsh terrain as an adult was negative, and in a letter
to his sister he wrote: "This certainly is a terrible place
to live and I hate it here." To cut a long story short, H.C.
Day died in 1921, Harry inherited the Lazy B, and in 1927 he bought
some bulls from an El Paso, Texas, rancher named W.W. Wilkey,
who invited Harry to dinner. Ada Mae, Wilkey's daughter, and Harry
hit it off: "An instant spark ignited," writes their
daughter. Upon his return to the Lazy B, a three-month correspondence
began between the two. Harry saw her again in El Paso, and in
September of the same year they eloped and were married in Las
Cruces, New Mexico, returning to the Lazy B to live in a four-room
For Ada Mae and Harry, these unglamorous beginnings resulted in
a lifetime at the Lazy B, bringing up three children, Sandra,
Alan and Ann. Their parents thought no existence better than the
one they had, and Harry died peacefully in his sleep at the ranch
aged 85, with his wife beside him, in 1984, and Ada Mae five years
later, with her son Alan and his family still living at the ranch.
Early in the memoir, Sandra and Alan wrote: "It was no country
for sissies, then or now."
The Lazy B was situated near the Gila River, straddling the border
of Arizona and New Mexico: "Every living thing in the desert
has some kind of protective mechanism or characteristic to survive
thorns, teeth, horns, poison, or perhaps just being too tough
to kill and eat. A human living there quickly learns that anything
in the desert can hurt you if you are not careful and respectful.
Whatever it is can scratch you, bite you or puncture you. When
riding horseback, you have to watch where you are going."
One cannot help thinking that this was ideal training for the
Childhood pursuits included
riding everywhere and collecting pottery shards left behind from
centuries old Indian camps. Sandra Day O'Connor writes: "I
would spend hours waiting for DA to finish in that area looking
around for some of these bits of Indian life and times. I would
take them to show MO, who greatly enjoyed finding such treasures.
We would talk about the lives these early inhabitants led"
The lack of water dominates early memories; it was a treasured
commodity, used sparingly. 35 wells and windmills toiled to keep
the family, cowboys and cattle from drying out, and the descriptions
of harsh weather, grueling hours of work in the sun, weeks and
months of toiling on the land, are reminiscent of Willa Cather's
"My Antonia" and "O, Pioneers," two great
classics of heroic attempts by human beings to tame a wild and
unsympathetic landscape in order to survive: the pioneering spirit
which created the American West. Disaster took the form of a broken
well and waterless cattle, and all other work stopped till the
well was mended. If it could not be fixed the cattle had to be
moved to another area; they could not go more than a day without
water before dehydrating. The authors describe the older, hand-crafted
windmills "cut by hand and weathered to a soft grey"
as if they were precious sculptures. They represented survival
to the young children, who watched fascinated as cowboys and ranch
hands brought all their skills and muscle to bear to get them
working again. Young Sandra Day could not do any heavy work, but
she stood by to hand over the necessary tools when necessary.
"High Lonesome," "Wimp Well," ("named
after the scurvy old fellow who drilled it"), "Willow
Springs," (the prettiest location on the ranch), "Cottonwood
Spring" and "Round Mountain," (ranch headquarters),
were names given to different parts of the ranch. Endurance was
the name of the game, and a quote, attributed to Kit Carson from
"Early Arizona" by J. Wagoner sums it up well: "
The Gadsden Purchase Territory was so desolate, desert and God-forsaken
that a wolf could not make a living on it." Despite this,
the Day family persevered and three generations lived on the Lazy
B ranch for 100 years. It was one of the most successful ranches
Ranch life was not without its amusements: in a world without
T.V., video games, computers and in-house workout machines, everyone
did what seems less and less a part of family life now. They interacted
with each other. Card games like bridge, pinnocle, gin rummy and
hearts whiled away many a hot afternoon and evening. Before electricity
came to the ranch in the 1940s, a generator ran for only three
hours each night. The radio was the only connection to the outside
world, and during World War II the family and the ranch hands
were glued to the news. They also listened to Joe Lewis boxing
matches, and family members favored different weekly radio shows
like the Jack Benny Program and Fibber McGee and Molly.
Taking the .22 caliber rifle out to shoot rabbit, (who chewed
up cattle grazing forage and bred prolifically), and reading U.S.
News and World Report, Time, Fortune and the Los Angeles
Times was a way of keeping abreast of current events an absolute
must for DA, which filtered down to his children. When TV finally
came to the ranch, long after the rest of the United States, it
never superseded conversation and interactive activities. "All
three children learned the art of discussion, but there was a
negative side. DA always had to have the last word in any agreement.
All three of us picked up this trait, and we find ourselves as
adults mirroring the same tendency," write the authors. More
training for Sandra's legal profession, this time from dad.
MO's El Paso, Texas-upbringing, together with a University of
Arizona college education, set her apart from the others at the
ranch; she liked to read and collected books from the beginning
of her life at the ranch. Household chores which included cooking
for a large crew, and washing clothes using a corrugated washboard
did not prevent her taking care of her attractive looks. She never
wore Levis or rough clothing, and kept herself well covered with
hat and long sleeves when exposed to the sun. She got first crack
at the weekly bath in the years before plumbing, followed by DA
and any cowboy who chose to clean himself in the single tub-full
of water. Her father gave her a piano, and she sang in a clear
soprano voice from time to time.
Lordsburg, the nearest town, was 35 miles away, and MO drew interest
whenever she stopped in for groceries because of her stylish clothes,
which she shopped for from magazines. She subscribed to The
New Yorker, Vogue, House Beautiful, The Saturday Evening Post,
Time, Life and the Los Angeles Times. Her daughter
and son write: "MO was a patient and loving mother.she read
endlessly to all three of her children. She taught me to read
by age four. She taught all three of us to play various card games,
including canasta, bridge, hearts and booray. She was an avid
walker. When we were small she would walk with us for hours and
look for interesting things to see a wildflower, a pretty rock,
an unusual plant or insect. We would pick up these treasures and
carry them home to put in a favorite place to keep forever. She
made banana cupcakes for us every week, and various pies as well."
MO had a mind of her own. She was the only woman in a band of
predominantly single men and they respected her. She did not move
to El Paso when it was decided that Sandra should attend school
there, like many other ranch wives. Sandra was the oldest by nine
years until a sibling was born, and MO thought she needed the
company of other children. Although Grandfather and Grandmother
Wilkey were wonderful, Sandra was always homesick for the ranch.
Cousin Flournoy, who also lived with the Wilkey grandparents,
was a frequent visitor to the Lazy B during the summer holidays.
Her father had died of leukemia when she was young, forcing her
mother out to work. Flournoy became a supportive and loving older
sister to Sandra, introducing her to her friends and including
her in her social activities.
MO loved visitors, and there were many: her brother Scott and
his family, DA's nieces and their families, and Sandra's friends
from school in El Paso. They enjoyed entertaining even though
it was more work for MO, and she and DA would take them out in
jeeps and pick-ups, or on horseback, to show them the ranch.
Once a week MO went to the beauty parlor in Lordsburg to have
her nails polished and her hair washed and set. Local women took
turns hosting a bridge luncheon once a month, and MO enjoyed that
day, especially when it was her turn. Sometimes the family traveled,
though they did not know until the last minute if DA would go
along. Occasionally they traveled with friends like Lordsburg
attorney Forrest Sanders and his wife, or the wealthy Maules from
Houston, Texas, whose life included all the luxuries absent from
MO's but she would not have exchanged hers for anything. Agnes
Maule, MO's friend from the University of Arizona, sent her long
letters with detailed descriptions of a fancy social life, which
MO saved in a special place and re-read frequently. MO also saved
every single magazine she received, storing them under the beds
when the closets and shelves were full. "While some of the
cowboys taught us that only the toughest survive, MO taught us
that kindness and love can also produce survivors, and in a happy
A permanent fixture at the ranch over the years was "Rastus,"
whose real name was Raphael Estrada. His parents were Mexican
and when his father died his mother remarried. Rastus ran away
from home because he did not like his stepfather, and he went
out looking for work. He found Lordsburg 50 miles away, and finally
ended up at the Lazy B he never left. The children loved him and
it was a special treat to spend the day riding with Rastus. They
learned from him "the contentment of doing the best you can
with what you have." The description of Rastus' final hours
is one of the saddest passages in the book. Clearly he was adored
and he took with him many wonderful memories when he died.
Larger than life is Jim Brister, who arrived at the Lazy B in
1924, with his wife Mae. He too ran away from home as a young
boy, and never spoke of his abusive childhood. He never went to
school and had no relatives to speak of. His first job involved
doing the menial tasks for a Wild West Show in Texas. He learned
to ride and rope and soon became a performer in the show. Attendance
at the old style shows dwindled, and was replaced by local rodeos.
Jim would ride hundreds of miles for weeks to compete in a rodeo
show. He was a first rate rodeo performer: "If he had a fault,
it was that he made things look too easy. Audiences preferred
seeing cowboys bucked off, or chased off by a wild cow" Jim
sometimes won every single event and was a legend on the rodeo
circuit. Mae, Jim's wife, said he married her when she was eleven!
DA built a small house for them at Willow Springs, the prettiest
place on the ranch, ten miles from the ranch headquarters. The
Bristers lived there for 49 years.
Each of the cowboys had their own special skill to offer, even
if it was not to Jim Brister's standard. Bug Quinn was the indispensable
master of the "chuck wagon," which always arrived in
time to quench parched throats and rumbling stomachs after hours
of back-breaking work in the blazing sun; often he even managed
hot biscuits. He had greater difficulty handling his wives over
the years or they him because he had a drinking problem and was
not cut out to be a good husband.
Claude Tippetts "measured himself by how well he could build
a fence, construct a corral, or lay a water pipe.He was as strong
at 60 as he was at 40. He taught us a thing or two about stamina."
Claude worked at the ranch from 1918, aged 29, till he retired
in 1984, leaving for a short time during World War II. The army
pulled out his teeth and gave him a set of false ones, but he
threw them out when he left: "It took him a little longer
to eat than most people," wrote Sandra and Alan. Claude gave
his spurs to Alan in 1986: "I won't be needing these any
moreIt was an emotional moment. When a cowboy gives up his spurs
it is usually the beginning of the end." Alan was with him,
holding his hand for a few moments before he died in hospital.
"Alan was grateful he could be with Claude because Claude
wanted it that way. We were proud to know him."
In 1929, right before the Depression, the water dried up at the
Lazy B, and DA decided to lease a ranch in Sonora, Mexico, 120
miles away. The 2000 head of cattle were driven (by cowboys on
horseback, not trucks) to Animas; the animals stampeded, the weather
was horrible, and there were no accommodations along the way.
They left at Thanksgiving and arrived just before Christmas, returning
to the Lazy B a year later. Rain had restored the ranch and grazing
conditions improved, but DA never moved the cattle again.
An entire chapter is devoted to rain, which is all the more poignant
after this writer spent a week in March (considered the "cool"
season) in Tucson, Arizona; wherever we went, I looked for a river,
stream or lake but found none. On an off-road jeep excursion in
the desert, wide gullies of earth emerged from time to time: "That
is from last years' rain," explained the guide: "It
comes in torrents in the rainy season." All around us, in
a "Mad Max" landscape devoid of human beings or dwellings,
were gigantic Sauguro cacti, limbs arching up skywards like primeval
creatures begging for rain. Everything was as dry as a bone and
glowing orange as the sun finally let up for the day. Tucson has
a far kinder climate that the area occupied by the Lazy B ranch.
The authors describe the uplifting feeling in the aftermath of
rain: "Then came the crack of lightning touching something
on earth with all the electric fury of the universe. Seconds later
the incredible sound of the thunder, the sound produced by the
lightning bolt rolling through the clouds above. And then wonder
of wonders the first few big wet drops of rain forming muddy places
on the dusty windshield. Then more and more until we would just
stop the pick-up truck and sit inside it, unable to see even the
closest objects outside because the rain would come in waves,
sheets, torrents. Joy, wonder. Incredible gift from above. Our
Breaking in young horses,
roping and branding young calves, selecting and separating weaker
animals for sale, leaving the strong to breed next season's calves,
was the ranch cowboys' responsibility. Young Alan grew up alongside
these men, and received no special treatment or leniency because
he was the bosses' son. He paid his dues in sweat and toil like
any other cowboy. In his thirteenth year Alan learned to break
horses; Jim Brister would have helped him, but he was away most
of that summer: "The other cowboys would just smile and say
that these horses really needed breaking and that they were glad
Alan was doing it. They might ask how their favorite colt was
progressing, but they never gave him any advice on how to do it.
Every day, Alan learned more from the horses than they were learning
Cousin Flournoy and Sandra Day were inseparable during the summers
it was 100 degrees in the heat of the day (no air conditioning!),
and typical amusements were reading and swimming in the tank not
a fancy, chlorinated, filtered swimming pool surrounded by lush
landscaping. The tank, 6ft.-high and fifty feet across had murky
green water, infested with algae and a few goldfish, but it was
a blissful, cool oasis in the searing temperatures. When their
parents had to go into Lordsburg, the girls had to accompany them
because they were never left alone. The small town errands of
post office, bank, grocery shopping the shop was owned and run
by a Chinese man called Fat Hoy who came to the United States
to build the railroads and onward to each place where a bill had
to be paid and supplies ordered. In these days of internet bill
paying, such human connectedness is both quaint and refreshing.
The Days knew the managers and owners by name, and it was more
personal than the next-customer-please attitude of today.
Finally, when the business
of the day was done, they would retire to the Hidalgo Hotel the
children to the lobby to "people watch" and MO and DA
to the bar, where they enjoyed the company of local friends like
the attractive widow Clayton, the lawyer Forrest Sanders (for
whom Sandra would work after earning her law degree) and his wife,
local ranchers, mining engineers and businessmen. Once back at
the ranch everyone helped unload the groceries: "As soon
as we had done our part unloading, we would dash to get the Saturday
Evening Post or "Life" or "Time,"
to read about what was going on in the world outside the Lazy
B. We were all glad to be home again."
Jim Brister, "the toughest cowboy we ever saw at the Lazy
B," has two entire chapters to devoted to him. His early,
abusive childhood "forged a man of singular strength and
determination, one as rare as an honest politician," write
the authors. At seventy-five, Jim was still breaking horses: "One
day Jim was out at Antelope Well on the black horse and was teaching
the horse how to drag. Jim had his rope around a piece of pipe.
The rope got under the horse's tail, and the horse began bucking
violently. Jim went off and landed on his head. Jim's neck was
broken and he died instantly." Jim was remembered by all
who knew him as the most skilled cowboy and rodeo star they had
Jim's second wife, who was an alcoholic, drank away all the money
Jim left her and pawned off every single championship belt buckle
and saddle, (including the 1947 World Championship Saddle), bridle
and spur he had collected over the years through trade or prizes.
She even gave away some of it, leaving nothing at the Lazy B.
The Graham County Historical Society erected a commemorative plaque
where Jim fell, and that is all that is left.
Until the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, all federal land in Arizona
and New Mexico was open for grazing without fee or supervision,
which resulted in severe erosion through overgrazing of the public
The Lazy B Ranch was allocated
about 160,000 acres of grazing rights. "Of that amount, 8560
acres were owned by the ranch corporation, almost 30,000 acres
were leased from Arizona, and almost 22,000 acres were leased
from New Mexico. The balance was federa land administered by the
Bureau of Land Management. The entire area consisted of roughly
250 square miles," the authors wrote.
The Gadsden Purchase area
was vulnerable to floods because the highways and railroads were
built at lower elevations and water accumulated there. The Lazy
B ranch lay in the drainage basin of the Gila River, and the Southern
Pacific Railroad traversed the ranch for 18 miles. Levees and
diversions built by the railroad company formed gullies and steep
canyons; floodwaters found these channels and did not spread out
over the ranch, and there was less forage for the cattle. This
state of affairs continued until the 1950s, when Boo Allen, Chief
of the Stafford Grazing District, came up with a plan.
Boo's plan required the building of twelve dams on the ranch so
the water could be released slowly and spread out to irrigate
the land. DA loved the idea but did not have the money: "MO
had listened quietly. She loved DA and loved the ranch. She said
she would contribute her own money toward Boo's plan. She thought
the ranch would benefit greatly from the flood control. Abashed
by MO's offer, DA then agreed that Lazy B would put up its share
of the costs. He said later that `MO might look like a frail,
little middle-aged wife, but those looks are deceiving.'"
Boo also proposed that the Bureau of Land Management put up the
initial construction costs with the Lazy B supplying 15% and agreeing
to maintain it.
Both the Bureau of Land Management and the local ranchers proved
to be a hard sell, but the Lazy B produced dramatic results and
the ranch became a showpiece for the soil conservationists. Alan
took things a step further, deciding that periods of rest from
grazing were better for the long-term health of the grass and
vegetation - or "timed grazing." Alan implemented these
ideas at the Lazy B, once again producing dramatic results. Production
on the range surpassed DAs, and the average weight of the calves
increased by more than a hundred pounds. Amazing what juicy grass
Sandra Day entered Stanford in 1946; her parents drove her to
Palo Alto, and from then on she returned to the ranch at Christmas
and for summer vacations: "There were heated discussions
at the dinner table with DA. The Keynesian economic theories I
was learning at Stanford were not consistent with DA's pay-as-you-go
economic theories." In her third year, she decided to enter
law school at Stanford for her fourth year as an undergraduate:
"DA said he wouldn't mind having a lawyer in the family whom
he could consult. Stanford Law School accepted me and I began
the studies that would shape my life."
The summer before law school Sandra persuaded Forrest Sanders
to let her work in his law office in Lordsburg as a secretary
and receptionist a job continued the following summer, so she
obviously did okay. The small town legal practice involved representing
defendants in some of the major criminal cases in the county from
illegal gambling to prostitution: "I saw a side of Lordsburg
I had not know existed," writes the once-sheltered ranch
During her first spring break from Stanford, Sandra brought three
friends home with her - Beastie, Barbara and Calista. DA talked
non-stop to them out of nerves and even the cowboys liked them.
The following summer came another friend and fellow law student,
John O'Connor, who knew nothing at all about ranch life. DA's
way of initiating poor John O'Connor has to be read to be believed;
he must have really loved Sandra Day because he stuck around.
John O'Connor and Sandra Day were married at the Lazy B on December
20th, 1952. The rector of All Saints Church, El Paso, performed
the ceremony. Neighbors and ranchers drove miles to attend the
wedding, bringing salads and casseroles to contribute to the meal:
"The men wore their fancy boots and best Stetsons. Grandmother
Wilkey attended, along with other Wilkey and Day relatives. All
the cowboys were present and one of them even danced with John's
mother.the dust didn't settle on the ranch road for days after
The O'Connors lived and worked in Phoenix, and visited the ranch
with their children for Thanksgiving, and often for Christmas,
"and one or two sons were deposited at the ranch for long
visits during the summer. Finally, mention is made of the "big
position": "In the summer of 1981 life changed dramatically
for me and my family," writes Sandra Day O'Connor. "President
Reagan announced my nomination as a Justice of the Supreme Court
of the United States. It did not seem possible that a ranch girl
would grow up to serve on our nation's highest court." The
ranch, which had always been a quiet backwater, suddenly became
the focus of national attention."
Letters, reporters and well-wishers descended on a bewildered
MO and DA at the Lazy B: "They traveled to Washington, D.C.
to see me take my oath of office. The terse ceremony brought tears
to my eyes as I looked down from the elevated bench in the courtroom
to see my husband, our three sons, MO and DA, Alan, Ann, and President
and Mrs. Reagan seated and watching the proceedings. It was a
moment suspended in time, bringing together the life in the harsh
desert terrain of the Lazy B and the fast-paced sophisticated
life in Washington, D.C."
Without further ado, the story plunges right back to the ranch
and Washington seems worlds away: Alan assumed more and more responsibility
as DA grew older and frailer. The older rancher also found the
changes in government policies regarding land management irritating.
Soon most of ranch matters were left to Alan.
Gradually the Bureau of Land Management and its well-intentioned
paper-pushers wrought changes in the way things had been done
for decades: rules and regulations superseded on site range improvements,
cutting back the rancher's ability to turn a profit. Grazing fees
and monthly expenses off-set the improvements in land and grass.
The Lazy B was designated for stewardship due to the improvement
in the condition of the range. Only eleven stewardships in total
were granted by the BLM. There were not many ranchers of the caliber
of Harry Day or Boo Allen left, and prospects looked gloomy.
Alan Day had met Barbara Mellick at the University of Arizona,
and they were married soon after he graduated. MO loved having
Alan and his family at the Lazy B, but for DA it was a mixed blessing.
Help with the arduous physical labor was welcome, but DA was not
used to sharing management decisions, and Alan was also a lot
more easygoing than his father! DA worried about the future far
more than Alan, with justification. Perhaps he saw the demise
of a way of life he had worked all his life to create.
One evening, after going over papers in the ranch office, DA went
to bed at around 9.30 and never woke again: MO was beside him
and bed and found him dead in the morning. The house was empty,
with Alan and the crew out rounding up cattle. DA's memorial service
was held at the ranch, and baskets of red poppies DA's favorite
flowers were placed beside photos of him. DA's ashes were taken
to the top of "Round Mountain" and placed in a hand-built
cairn piled up by his family: "We knew the rattlers would
guard DA's remainswe also knew that DA was where he wanted to
be a place where all the ranch could be seen, a place where the
wind always blows, the sky forms a dome overhead, and the clouds
make changing patterns against the blue, and when the stars at
night are brilliant and constant, a place to see the sunrise and
Bureaucratic overkill drove many ranchers out of business; grazing
of public lands became unpopular with the general public and even
though the Lazy B was the largest permit holder in Arizona, Alan
was concerned that it also made the ranch a bigger target. The
Federal Government also became an opponent of grazing on public
lands, along with several private organizations that expended
a great deal of time and energy on it.
Reading of the calves roaming freely on the Lazy B with their
mothers drove home an image imprinted in my mind (from a TV program
about the meat industry) of baby calves kept in pens till the
day of their slaughter, never seeing the light of day or smelling
fresh air, so that their flesh could be preserved as "muscle-free"
as possible, to fetch the maximum "milk-fed veal" price
in our nation's supermarkets and gourmet butcher shops. Somehow
it is impossible to imagine that Harry Day or his son, Alan, would
ever have resorted to such a barbaric practice to turn a profit.
It is a darn sight harder to go chasing after calves and corral
them as the sun set each day than it is to imprison them in a
MO lived trough all the changes, was gracious to all, and died
at her beloved Lazy B without ever having to enter a hospital.
Her ashes joined DA's at the top of "Round Mountain;"
they were as inseparable there as in life, and there is no place
they would have liked better.
In 1986 a tough decision was made by Alan, Sandra, Ann and their
cousin Donald Mason, stockholders of the Lazy B: ranching was
increasingly difficult and no one after Alan would take over the
ranch. It had to be sold. It was divided into five units and sold
separately to different buyers. The process took seven years.
"Round Mountain" was the last to be sold
Another Wallace Stegner quote, from "Wolf Willow," offers
a perspective on the way of life once - and maybe in isolated
cases, still led in the United States: "frontiers, like wars,
are said to break down established civilizing restraints and to
encourage demoralization. They are also said to engender in people,
by freeing them from artificial restraints and throwing them into
contact with clean nature, a generosity, openness, independence
and courage unknown to the civilized."
If Rastus and Jim Brister are examples of "demoralized"
souls both running away from homes young because of abusive family
situations to live life among strangers with whom they felt completely
comfortable on a ranch - why then is it that their spirits loom
so large and linger so long in our hearts after the final page
of the book has been read?
"Rastus died the next day. None of us were with him when
he passed away, which made us especially sad. We got his good
suit, which had been made in El Paso in 1945 and had never been
worn. Rastus was buried in the cemetery in Duncan in his gray
suit. His grave is near the ranch, which had been his home and
his life for most of his seventy-five years. The cemetery is rather
rocky and barren, but there is a quiet dignity about it nonetheless.
Somehow it is the proper resting place for Rastus. Nearby are
the graves of Mamie Scott Wilkey and her parents, Andrew and Evelyn
Scott all of them hard working, good people, weathered by the
sun and shaped, like Rastus, by their understanding of life in
that dry, harsh land."
Like the creatures of the desert he knew so well, Rastus's survival
instincts were pretty well honed; he knew a good family when he
saw one, decent, classy people who cared about him and the ranch
they worked tirelessly to hold on to; a ranch in one of the last
places on earth where he was able to live the life he valued most
- as a ranch hand and cowboy in the wide open spaces of the frontier.
Smart guy and far from demoralized. As for Jim Brister, hopefully
there is a great rodeo in heaven.
The whole world is familiar with the work of Sandra Day O'Connor,
and she is rarely out of the public eye; her reaction to visiting
the World Trade Center site in Manhattan was as open-hearted,
sympathetic and direct as her delivery in this book: "I cried,"
she said simply to a reporter, "It was so devastating in
person." Her brother, Alan Day, who lives in Tucson, after
managing the Lazy B for thirty years, purchased and ran ranches
in Nebraska and South Dakota, where he has established a wild
horse sanctuary that, under contract with the United States government,
has cared for fifteen hundred wild horses.
There is a great anecdote
in one of the final chapters of Lazy B which demonstrates how
ridiculous albeit well intentioned and far from demoralized bureaucratic
bungling can be:
" A humorous example of bureaucratic overkill occurred one
day when four trucks stirred the dust up on the ranch road and
arrived at the headquarters with eight people on board and various
funny-looking things loaded in the back. Alan asked what was going
on, and the BLM employees replied that they were going out to
select sites on the ranch to build hawks nests. Alan asked why
new, artificial hawk nests were needed. The reply was that someone
in the local office had developed the idea and hoped to get a
good write-up in his personnel file when it was installed. Alan
asked if hawk numbers were declining, and the reply was that they
didn't know. Alan asked if they had done a census of hawks to
see how many there were. Again the answer was no. "Well,"
he said, "how do you know the hawks will like these nests?"
"We don't know, but it seems like a good idea."
It took the eight men six days to install the six hawk nests they
had constructed in their shop. They were essentially just large
birdhouses on fifteen-foot poles. The BLM set these poles in concrete,
and the nests are still there years later. No one has ever yet
seen a hawk on, in, or near any of the nests."
In their epilogue, the authors
wrote the following:
"The value system we
learned was simple and unsophisticated and the product of necessity.
What counted was competence and the ability to do whatever was
required to maintain the ranch operation in good working order
- the livestock, the equipment, the buildings, wells, fences and
vehicles. Verbal skills were less important than the ability to
know and understand how things work in the physical world. Personal
qualities of honesty, dependability, competence, and good humor
were valued most."
Justice O'Connor retired
from the court in 2008.