Last Christmas, daughter-in-law #2 gave me a book published by the Texas A&M Press titled Texas Women On The Cattle Trails, which I have been reading and enjoying very much.¹ I found the story of Amanda Burks as told in the book especially intriguing and the quote at the end of her story hit me like a bag of bricks on the head–her legacy in a few simple sentences that I would be pleased to own as mine, too.
In this day and time, many of the women who are held up for our daughters and grand-daughters to emulate are impossibly twiggy, foul-mouthed, self-centered types who need neither God nor man–but do need Hollywood and the media–while they mow down foes with machine guns and take out twenty strong men with a series of punches from fists toughened by texting on smart phones and powered by their skinny arms, plus some karate kicks from their perfect, shapely legs. Ruthlessly–but while wisecracking with their partners–these “tough” women murder in four inch heels, spandex, and low cut tops showcasing their surgically enhanced bosoms…possibly right after spending a steamy night with an acquaintance of thirty minutes, or so. Very liberating, we women are to understand.
Well, I don’t buy into that, and I refuse to hand that version of womanhood down to my family, female or male. That version pales to nothingness next to the women portrayed in this book who were tough as rawhide yet remained gentlewomen. So, climbing down from my soapbox, I present Amanda Burks story paraphrased from Texas Women On The Cattle Trails.
Amanda Burks with her husband, William
- Amanda was born in 1841 in Texas and grew up on a horse
- She met William–or Bud, as he was known–at Christmastime when she was sixteen and he was eighteen. They were engaged within the week and married the next year.
- Nearly a year after that, they had a son who died at nine-months-old.
- In 1861, Texas seceded from the Union and William was getting all fired up about war. Shortly afterward, their daughter was born. By then, they were raising William’s five younger siblings, too.
- In 1862, William mustered out in the Confederate army. Soon, his letters home said things like: “Manda, I want you to come see me this summer wherever I am. I don’t know where I’ll be, but I want you to come to me wherever I am.” And, “I would like to see your face out here do you think you would come to me if I was to write to you? I think you would come.”
- Amanda carried the load of her home, the baby, his siblings, and the ranch alone until he returned on a furlough in 1864. When it was time for him to return to his outfit, she accompanied him on the first day’s ride. By the time she returned home, their four-year-old daughter had died. They never got over that.
- When William returned after the war the county began to fill with Yankee carpetbaggers, which as a Confederate he couldn’t put up with, so he decided to move. Their emancipated slaves moved with them.² Amanda said later that leaving her two children in the cemetery was the darkest day of her life.
- They settled in south Texas and built another ranch. William drove cattle to markets in Louisiana, but the two of them didn’t like to be apart, so when he was ready to drive cattle to Kansas on the old Chisholm Trail, she went with him in 1871. While driving along the trail to Kansas, she did lady things such as insisting on stops to pick wild plumbs for pies even though it was dangerous and the men didn’t want her to. Starting a fire that burned for fifty miles. Mistaking some dumb trail driver’s hand signal as Go! when he actually meant STOP! thus driving her team and buggy into a flooded creek where she narrowly escaped with her life.
- William felt crowded when the open range began to disappear behind barbed wire, so they moved again to LaSalle County, Texas, where they began establishing what turned out to be William’s final home. He had contracted tuberculosis in the Civil War and never fully recovered. His health nose-dived and he died at thirty-seven. A neighbor helped Amanda bury him on their property–the first grave in the La Motta cemetery.
- After William’s death, Amanda maintained her devout Christian beliefs. She expanded their ranch to a mind-boggling thirty-three-thousand acres with an additional ten-thousand acre holding in another county and was probably a very wealthy woman by her old age. Even though both of Amanda’s children died, she raised William’s siblings and later, after one of William’s sisters died as a young mother, she raised those three children, too. She outlived William by fifty-four years and wore mourning for him every day of those years.
- Finally–the book doesn’t say when but I’m guessing at her funeral–someone said this about Amanda:
“In her there was tenderness with strength; refinement with courage; contempt for a coward, but pity for the weak; intolerance for the indolent, but charity for the poor. She dared, but with charming modesty that disarmed her foes. She was truly a gentle-woman.”
I’d be happy with that in my eulogy. What about you?
(If you’re a man, change the pronouns and the last word to gentleman and see how that sounds…sounds pretty good, don’t it?)
¹ The only thing I took issue with in the book Texas Women On The Cattle Trails was the feminist slant which would probably have shocked the proverbial pants off Amanda Burks and some of the other Texas ladies. The introduction maintains those women riding astride rather than sidesaddle and helping with the ranch work in something other than a dress had pretty much the same far-reaching implications in frontier days as “the pill” (birth control, for those who might not know what kind of pill that is) had for women in the late twentieth century. The two things are apples and oranges. I’m pretty sure some of the women in the book would heartily refute–and might even be insulted by–that comparison since many of them were devout in their religious beliefs and they were just doing what needed done at the time. Like women–and men–have always done.
² I don’t condone slavery.
Until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy Josh Wilson tearin’ up I Refuse.
*This artist doesn’t necessarily endorse my blog I just love his music