Texas Tomboy, p.1Lois Lenski
who was never allowed to be a tomboy
Excerpt from Journey Into Childhood, an Autobiography by Lois Lenski
CHAPTER I. The Dogie Calf
CHAPTER II. Where’s My Horse?
CHAPTER III. Crazy as a Sheepherder
CHAPTER IV. A Bloody Battle
CHAPTER V. The Wild Cow
CHAPTER VI. Tight-Shoe Day
CHAPTER VII. Once a Cowboy
CHAPTER VIII. A Calico Dress
CHAPTER IX. A Five-Dollar Bill
CHAPTER X. The Beautiful Bathing Suit
CHAPTER XI. The Enemy
CHAPTER XII. Old Skinflint
CHAPTER XIII. The Promise
A Biography of Lois Lenski
Excerpt from Journey Into Childhood, an Autobiography by Lois Lenski
THE BIG EVENT OF THE 1940s was the award of the Newbery Medal to Strawberry Girl in 1946. No one was more astonished than I to receive it. Had it been given to my book Indian Captive, the Story of Mary Jemison, which I considered my major and most scholarly work, I would not have been surprised. I had envisioned a series of Regional books, for I knew there were many regions little known and neglected in children’s books. The series was barely started, and I had already daringly broken down a few unwritten taboos, I had written more plainly and realistically than other children’s authors, I had taken my material and my characters direct from real life instead of from the imagination, and my Regionals were not yet entirely accepted or approved. I was an innovator and a pioneer in a new direction, and I knew I had a long and difficult task ahead to earn the acceptance which I was not expecting so soon. But the award focused national attention on Strawberry Girl and the books to follow, so I was very grateful.
The convention of the American Library Association was held at Buffalo that year, and at various meetings and receptions, I received invitations from librarians to go to many parts of the country—Seattle, Utah, California, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota—to write about their region. Afterwards, the award brought much publicity, including requests for personal interviews and radio appearances, for personal appearances at libraries and schools, most of which I was unable to accept. Those that I did accept were strenuous and wearing, and I was glad when the flurry subsided, and I could retire to private life again.
An entire book could be written about my experiences in other regions during the 1950s—in San Angelo, Texas, for Texas Tomboy, in Perry, Oklahoma, for Boom Town Boy, in McLaughlin, South Dakota, for Prairie School, in Remsen, Iowa, for Corn Farm Boy, and other places. The list goes on and on, always a new environment and way of life to be studied, and always good people who shared the intimacy of their lives with me, each region more exciting and stimulating than the last, each region calling for one’s deepest powers of observation, understanding, and compassion.
As soon as I return from a region, I have a big job to do. I have to copy all the notes I have taken, classifying them under various headings, making them readily and quickly accessible. Then I make an outline for my story, listing the various incidents I wish to include under the different chapter headings. I write my text in longhand first, and often revise it in longhand, then revise again as I type it. (The subject has, of course, been approved by the editor in advance.) I send the typed manuscript in, to be read and approved, copyedited (improving or disapproving of my punctuation!) and sent to the printer to be set into type. If any changes are suggested by the editor, the manuscript or portions of it may be returned to me for this purpose. If any changes in format are contemplated, I am always consulted. For many years, with Lippincott, I worked directly with the head of the manufacturing department in planning all details of type and format. It was in this way that a beautiful format was devised for the Regionals.
While the manuscript is at the printers, while I am waiting for the galley proofs, having kept a carbon of the manuscript, I am working on the illustrations. For the Regionals, these are graphite pencil drawings on 3-ply Bristol board, and are reproduced by high-light halftone offset. The drawings for the Roundabouts are ink drawings, reproduced by letterpress.
When the galley proofs reach me, two sets are sent, one for me to read and correct, and to answer editorial or printers’ queries; the other set for me to cut up and paste into a blank dummy, allowing space on the proper page for each illustration, of which I usually make about fifty.
After I wrap up a large package containing original manuscript, the original illustrations, corrected galley proofs, and the printer’s dummy and ship it to the publishers, my work on a book is finished. The rest is up to the publisher. I see and hear nothing more until months later, when a book package arrives out of the blue, containing the first copy, hot off the press, for me to hold in my hands and marvel at. There is no other thrill so great for an author-illustrator as seeing the first copy of a book he has labored over and believed in and deeply loved.
From Journey Into Childhood by Lois Lenski © 1972 by permission of Sterling Lord Literistic for the Lois Lenski Covey Foundation, Inc.
IT IS WELL TO REMEMBER that the state of Texas is so large that cattle-ranching is only one aspect of the many-sided life there.
The coming of the automobile and mechanization has changed ranch life in West Texas, during a man’s lifetime. The pickup truck is doing the work of the horse. The present-day ranch is run from the pickup. Only occasionally is a horse used—never for long distances. Ranches that formerly had a remuda of thirty horses now have three or four.
Ranch homes are now equipped with running water, bathtubs, bottled gas and all the conveniences of city life. Candles and oil lamps have been replaced by electricity. The ranchwoman has her electric washer. She hangs her clothes out to dry, goes to town in her car, returns, takes the clothes in and mangles them. Drudgery has been taken out of ranch life. Family life in the ranch home has been made easier than ever before, and yet, strangely enough, there is a general movement away from the ranch.
It began in pre-automobile days. There have always been the ranch “ladies”—women who were not adapted to ranch life, who came perhaps from another part of the country where their lives had been protected and sheltered; who did not like and could not do hard manual work; and who could see only the disadvantages and hardships of ranch life. These women endured it only in the hope of “moving to town.”
This exodus still goes on. Part of it is a desire to be nearer the schools, so the children can get an education. Because many ranches are so large, the school bus is not practical. Families live in town where the children go to school, and the ranchman spends his weekdays at the ranch and his Sundays in town with the family. More and more families are leaving the ranch and moving to town.
One might think that the coming of modern conveniences would keep the family on the ranch, but this is not generally true. The family is moving off, the ranch is becoming more and more mechanized. It is being run by absentee ranchmen. The pickup has reduced the number of ranch hands necessary to look after the daily needs of the animals.
An artificiality is creeping into ranch life. The horse, no longer a necessity, has become a glamorized creature. Stock shows, horse shows and rodeos have turned him into a show animal. These events and the motion pictures have combined to make a glorified creature also out of the cowboy who accompanies this type of horse. Cattle have become glamorized too. Their shape has been changed, they are pampered and petted, their hair is shampooed and curled. They are show animals, they too go to stock shows and win prizes.
This artificiality has affected the lives of children noticeably. Children—even the ranchman’s o
It is gone, in spite of the fact that glamorized ranch life has come to have a wider appeal to children all over the country than ever before. This is no doubt due to the influence of motion pictures, which present an artificial life which children think is real. Horse books are popular with boy and girl readers who have never seen a horse, never fed or watered a horse, or sat upon a horse’s back.
Has this machine age given children an instinctive longing for something alive and real? Or is it only the artificial veneer of horse and ranch life that attracts them?
In pre-automobile days, when the family lived on the ranch, besides the “ladies” who disliked the life, the ranch produced another type of woman, often in the face of direct “ladylike” influence. Boys have always enjoyed the ruggedness of outdoor life, and so have many girls. There have always been “tomboy girls” who fitted into ranch life, lived it and liked it as much as the boys. But, in an age when women’s activities were hemmed in by prudishness of clothing and manners, girls had to fight a battle to attain the same freedom that ranch boys enjoyed. In this battle, they sometimes became selfish, aggressive and ruthless.
The tomboys were molded by the real working cowboy—by his frankness, straightforwardness, humor and all his sterling qualities. These girls did not make good housewives. They were unhappy indoors. They refused to be held down by the artificialities of civilization. They knew and loved something more real than all that. They loved animals and the sun, the wind and the solid earth. They fought the elements in a long unending battle. The boys and girls who really lived ranch life developed great resourcefulness, and were capable of meeting any situation that arose from day to day. They dealt with living creatures—horses and cattle—and were fiercely loyal to them. Ranch life brought out the best that was in them.
A Texas ranchwoman told me: “Tomboy is a word commonly used in Texas. It is a highly respected word. Many girls who are not tomboys wish that they were, and are jealous of the ones who are. Most of these Texas tomboys pal with their fathers, or perhaps a big brother. And I should add that most, if not all, of their mothers want their daughters to be modest, ladylike girls.” So, while we admire the spirit of the tomboy, tribute is due also to those other girls who wanted this freedom just as badly, but were prevented from getting it.
In spite of the changes in ranch life, many aspects remain the same. The cattleman still has two bugaboos to fight—drouth and disease. There is nothing new about these calamities. Talk to any West Texas rancher fifty years old or more, and he will tell you about the drouths he has lived through. Within the lifetime of a man have come—the great drouth of 1917–19; the “dry spell” of 1921–22; the 1933–34 drouth which covered the whole of the Great Plains area and caused the “black blizzards in the dust-bowl.” Since then, 1945–47 were dry years, and 1948 was declared to be “the worst drouth since 1917.” The San Angelo Standard stated on Dec. 12, 1948: “Texas suffers worst drouth in Weather Bureau’s history. Driest four years on record—only 49 inches of rain in past four years.” Wells are drilled twice as deep now; rock tanks for water storage have replaced the “dirt tanks,” so the lack of water is not as serious as before 1920.
I saw the 1948 drouth. The mesquites did not “put out” until June. In stores, hotels, streets or in ranch homes I heard nothing but drouth talk, talk of the last rain three years before and of hope for the next rain to “break the drouth.” I rode over pastures where the trees looked lifeless and dead, and where there was not a blade of grass to be seen.
Pastures had been grazed so closely that grass roots had died, brushy ground cover was so scarce that little wild life remained. What I saw in Texas put new meaning into the word drouth—I shall never use the word carelessly again. The desolation of the land was a tragic sight, relieved only by the hope and courage of the people, shown not only in vague optimism but in active steps toward the conservation of natural resources. The age-old story of drouth—man’s ruthless exploitation of the land—is always a vital human drama.
Webster lists two spellings, drought and drouth. I have used the simpler spelling—drouth.
The “land rushes” took place in the years 1901–05, when school lands inside the fenced–in range used by the cattlemen, were opened to settlement in one-section claims. Between 1900–20 the big ranches suffered from the inexorable advance of the homesteaders, who were called nesters and sod-busters, because they plowed up the sod for farming. Despite the opposition of the cattlemen, the homesteaders stayed on the land.
I have chosen to write of the transition period, when the machine was just coming in to make the great change. The pull away from the ranch was already strong; and the actual routine, in its many emergencies, was difficult enough to baffle all but the hardiest souls. It shortened the life of many men, and of children too—in accidents caused by cattle and horses. Both families used in my story lost young sons.
But it was a time when children really lived the ranch life, entered all its diverse activities with their parents, shared realities and enriched their lives by such sharing.
A few children still live on ranches and lead such lives, but though I made extensive inquiry and search, I did not see many of them. When I asked for children, I was told that they were “in town.” My material has been obtained from adults, who lived these experiences as children prior to 1920. Theirs is a more dramatic and a richer story than the lives lived by ranch children today.
Eldorado, Texas, Spring 1948
Greenacres, Harwinton, Connecticut
July 9, 1949
The Dogie Calf
“WON’T THE GRASS EVER grow again, Papa?” asked the girl.
“Sure, sugar. Just give it time—and a little rain.” The man lifted his face to the sky, which was gray and overcast.
“There’s no grass for the cows to eat,” said the girl.
“We have to feed them every winter,” said her father.
The horse moved slowly on, its hoofs making a sharp clatter against the rocks in the hard, frozen earth, under the thin covering of snow. The girl pressed her face on the man’s coat. She was riding on a cushion behind his saddle.
“It rained once when I was little,” she said. “I ran out in it and got my face wet.”
“Yes—I remember, hon,” said the man. “That was three years ago.”
“Won’t it ever rain again, Papa?”
The shadow of remembered drouths hung in the man’s mind, but he spoke cheerfully: “Well, every dry spell so far has ended in a rain.” He paused. “It looks like more snow tonight. Snow’s as good as rain. Hon, you all right? We’ll lope.”
They rounded the pasture at an easy bounding gait and came to a feed platform. It was built high in a mesquite tree, above the level of a cow’s head. Dan Carter pulled a sack of feed off onto his saddle, then turned and spoke to the girl. “Hon, you hungry?”
“Yes, Papa, starving!” Her face, hidden under an old felt hat of her father’s, brightened. She wore a boy’s winter coat over a pair of overalls, rolled up at the ankle.
Her father put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a thick sandwich. The girl took it eagerly. Not until she had the last bite stuffed into her mouth did she think to ask: “You want some?”
But she knew he didn’t, even before he shook his head.
Her father reached down and opened the gate, and they came into the feed trap. The cattle were clustered by the fence, waiting. They bawled with hunger. They were a mixed lot, old spotted longhorns, tall, rangy mixed-breeds, and some white-faced Herefords. Usually they were wild, ranging over a three-section pasture, ready to run at sight of a man. But now they moved slowly. They came up and sniffed
Erect in the saddle, he brought his hand up to his mouth and cupped it, calling: “Who - o - o - o! Who - o - o - ey - ey! Watch ’em run!” Then he frowned. “Soon they won’t even be able to walk. Look at those downers—getting weaker all the time.”
A few cows emerged from brushy thickets in the distance and came forward slowly, mooing mournfully. Others lay still, a rim of frost on whiskers and backbone. They did not move. They did not rise to the man’s call.
The riders dismounted. “Let’s try to booger them up,” said Dan Carter.
Man and girl stamped the ground with their feet, and slapped their cold hands together to make noise. They kicked the animals in the side, trying to frighten them into rising. One by one they staggered to their feet. “There! Get busy and eat,” said the man.
“Our cows are so thin, you can see through them like tissue paper,” said the girl bitterly.
“Oh, it’s not that bad yet, Charlotte,” laughed her father.
The girl’s face turned sullen. “Don’t call me Charlotte,” she said. “Call me Charlie Boy.”
“All right, Charlie Boy.”
Shivering in the cold wind, they watched the hungry animals eat. The “cow cake” was hard, solid, concentrated lumps of cottonseed, about the size of a man’s thumb. Steady chewing was necessary, and yet the cattle kept in motion, always reaching out for more.
“This is not a patch on what they need,” said Dan Carter, returning to the feed platform for another sack. “If a norther comes tonight, it will all be lost in the snow. Tomorrow I’ll send the cowboys out with another load. The cows need all the feed they can get to stand this cold. No rain last summer and fall gave them a bad start on the winter. And a hard winter too.”
“They look like scarecrows!” exclaimed Charlie. “Their long winter hair don’t keep their bones from sticking out.”
Texas Tomboy by Lois Lenski / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes