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The Five Fosters

Betty Foster Escapule - (2007)


[Inside front cover text:]

The Five Fosters is a collection of childhood memories of five children raised by a Texas cowboy and ranch life as it was back in the thirties, forties and early fifties when clothes were washed on the rub board, people used outhouses and there was no indoor plumbing or electricity.
Most of the book takes place on the San Pedro River at what is now known as the San Pedro House. Back then it was called the Wolf Place and was part of the Boquillas Land and Cattle Company. There are stories of cowboys, roundup, horses, ranch life and kids.

[There is a website for the book, but it appears to be unfinished.]

It was while he was in Tombstone that he met Sheriff Harry Wheeler—actually he put him in jail. They talked through the night. Dad thought a lot of this sheriff and years later he named a promising young horse Harry Wheeler. (6)

We were happy children—well disciplined and well behaved. Dad had a theory. He figured we all had average intelligence and normal hearing, therefore, we should obey after being told once. (17)

We didn't have the conveniences people have today. We never had electricity and seldom indoor plumbing or water in the house. When asked if we had running water Dad always said yes—you ran and got it and it was us kids that ran and got it. (21)

Most outhouses had black widow spiders under the seat but as far as I know, no one was ever bitten. They stayed back in the corners and we left them alone.
Dad had a very realistic ceramic rattlesnake that he kept in the outhouse. This surprised and startled our guests. When we moved, the snake moved with us. (22)

Some of the houses we lived in were pretty primitive. Mom flattened cardboard boxes and lined the inside of this one house to keep out the cold wind. No wonder this place was referred to as the Crack House. I remember one house or maybe several that had aging wallpaper that hung loosely from the walls with strings of cheesecloth hanging down. Although I was smalll vowed never to live in a house with wallpaper in it when I grew up and I never did. (22)

Sammy was just learning to talk and he spoke Spanish before he did English. Sammy didn't talk at home. If he wanted something he grunted and pointed at it. All was well until one day when Mom went to pick up Mary and Sammy. There was Sammy sitting on the Mexican woman's lap speaking Spanish—patting her face and calling her "Mama". Mom was jealous. That ended our staying with this family. We grew up very comfortable on the back of a horse. (24)

Bailey and I found what we thought was chocolate candy. Actually, it was a box of Exlax. It was always share and share alike, so we divided it and ate the whole box.
Dad had remodeled the outhouse and built a low seat with two holes for Bailey and I. We were about two years old and we wore one piece denim jumpers with the drop seats. We were very modest. Each of us would close our eyes while the other one got seated. Then we sat and visited. We spent a lot of time in that outhouse. To this day neither of us like chocolate. (25)

Lupe was a good donkey. He didn't neck reign but he was easy to handle, gentle, had a good disposition and was never lazy. With a slight nudge he would break into a lope or a run if you wanted him to. Best of all he could single-foot. This is a gait that is faster than a walk and almost as fast as a trot—very smooth—with only one foot touching the ground at a time. He loved cornbread and begged at the yard gate with a long, loud bray. Everyone, even Mom, would stop what we were doing to give Lupe his cornbread. Without a doubt this was the best donkey any of us had ever seen. (33)

We all loved Mom and wanted to spend as much time as possible in her lap. The one sure way to do this was to read to her. Bailey and I taught ourselves to read so we could sit in Mom's lap. By the time we were four we were good readers and we could write too. (35)

One morning a boy named Dos threw a handful of .22 shells into the stove when the teacher wasn't looking. The shells began exploding. When it was all over the stove lids had been blown off and there were lots of holes in the chimney. Nothing caught fire and no one was hurt but Dos was in trouble. (43)

We knew where all the windmills and stock tanks were and these provided us with water. There was always a tin cup on a baling wire at the windmills and we would catch clean water fresh from the well if the wind was blowing. If not we drank from the watering trough where the cows drank. We blew away any debris on the surface and strained the water through our teeth. We didn't want to swallow any water bugs. (53)

Not having gum a choice item to chew was hardened tar we chipped out of an old empty stock tank. It was quite tastey. Another favorite was a piece of cow salt broken off the salt blocks that were put out for the cattle. Of course, the very best was mesquite honey. This was hardened sugared sap found on the mesquite trees. It was delicious. You had to be careful when chewing this as it could stick your teeth together and you couldn't get your mouth open until the sap softened. When you finally were able to get your teeth apart it felt like they were going to be pulled out by the roots. What fun! (54)

At eight years old Dad considered us old enough to carry a rifle, a single shot .22. We didn't load the gun until we saw a rabbit. We ate what we shot. (54)

I don't remember riding horses at the Sands Ranch. If we wanted to go somewhere we traveled on foot over long distances and we were always on the move. We never stayed home. Later Dad said he would see our tracks miles and miles from home. He never worried about us. We spent most of our time outside. The thought of getting lost didn't enter our minds. We always just knew where we were and how to get home. (55)

We were always up by five in the morning. Dad didn't have an alarm clock so he built a small stand, put some newspapers under it, sat it on the floor of his room by the bed and every night he caught the game rooster and put him on the stand. The rooster always crowed at five in the morning and then having done his job was put outside. Dad was never late for work and we never missed the bus thanks to this rooster.
Dad had a real love of game chickens. He never named the hens but all the roosters were named Ceasar [sic]. (58)

The house was burnt adobe with cement floors. All of us were put to work. We packed everything out of the house and carried it out into the yard. Then Dad brought the water hose in the house and washed it down from floor to ceiling even the windows. Then all of us swept the water out of the house and let it dry. Next everything was moved back in. What a difference that made! Now we had a really clean house and it stayed clean for a long time. And that's how a cowboy cleans house. (59)

Dad looked in on us once a day when we were sick, but it was Mary that took care of us. Sammy, Bailey and I would have an occasional bout with tonsilitis. If we had an earache Dad sat on the bed and blew warm cigarette smoke into our ear. (84)

We were very proud of this pile. We stacked it high and made sure the area around it was clear. Then after it had dried, we waited for a night with a full moon to set it on fire. It gave off so much light and heat that the red ants thought it was daytime and came out of their dens. (85)

Cowboys were kind and considerate to women. They never swore or told off color stories in the presence of a woman. But they expected something in return. They wanted their women to be lady-like—no drinking, swearing, smoking, gambling and no coarse language.
A cowboy was honest and his word was his bond. A firm handshake was a contract.
It was among these good men that we grew up. (98)

The Wolf Place had a nice two bedroom house with hardwood floors, indoor plumbing, a large kitchen, a large living room and north and south screened-in porches with cement floors. On the south porch there was a small room originally intended for use as a pantry. There were five of these houses on the Company. One at the Horse Camp in the Dragoon Mountains, one at the Whetstone Camp in the Whetstone Mountains, one at the Wolf Place and two at the Headquarters near Fairbank. These were probably built in the 1930's. (99)

Dad and I made trip after trip with the mule wagon until we had hauled all the crossties home. It didn't take long to build what was then called the bunkhouse. It had a heavy wood door, one window with shutters, a dirt floor and a pole in the middle to support the roof. The roof was a layer of crossties with at least a foot of soil on top. The space between the crossties was chinked with mud but Dad didn't like the black soil we had on the river. Instead he wanted the red soil from Fry as it more closely resembled the color of the soil in Patagonia. To get the red soil he wanted, Dad put a wash tub in the trunk of the car and every time he went to Fry for the mail, he brought home a tubful of red dirt.
Going to Fry was no easy task. The car never started on its own. A horse had to be caught and saddled. Then Dad tied onto the front bumper with his rope and pulled the car until it started. It was Mom's job to get the car running and keep it running until Dad unsadddled his horse and took over the job of driving. This ritual was just part of going to town. (101)

Mr. Hansen had a hive of bees on the east side of the horse pasture fence. Sammy and Bailey smoked and robbed these bees for some fresh comb honey to eat with our fish and watercress which grew along the river. There was plenty to eat at home, but we hadn't quite out grown foraging for whatever we could find.
Mr. Hansen bladed the dirt road between Fry and Bisbee. When he robbed his bees he always stopped by the house with a dishpan full of comb honey for us. I think it was this act of generosity that shamed us into leaving his bees alone. However, there were wild bees that Sammy and Bailey robbed. They were good at it and didn't get stung. (103)

A snake bit one of the horses on the nose and he swelled up and had trouble breathing. Dad cut the sharp spikes off of a yucca plant and as gently as possible tapped the horse on the nose with a handful of these sharp spikes making numerous punctures for the venom and fluid to drain and give the horse relief. The horse lived. (113)

The game chickens were helpful in reducing the rattlesnake population. When they found a snake they formed a circle around it and sounded the alarm. Then Dad or the boys would kill the snake with a pitchfork. If no one came to the aid of the chickens they would kill the snake themselves. There were lots of big snakes on the river. Dad killed one snake that the chickens had and it was longer than the pitchfork. (114)

I poured in the kerosene and replaced the lids, all but one. When I started to strike the match I saw a little plume of smoke. I knew that was a bad sign but I didn't know how bad. I struck the match, stood back as far as possible, turned my head and threw in the match. What an explosion! It blew all the lids off the stove and blew the chimney off. I was singed. I lost my eyelashes, my eyebrows, the fuzz on my arms and some of the hair on my head. But at least I didn't catch on fire. This was my first explosion. I was nine years old. (122-3)

I wanted to learn to rope but Dad was very firmly against this. The boys were not to let me use their ropes ever. The only thing in the way of a rope I carried on my saddle was a piggin' string. This was for hobbling my horse or for use as a quirt. Dad was so sure if I had a rope I would manage to cut off my fingers and no one would marry me. (125-6)

I never watched when Dad killed an animal but I did watch the butchering. Once the animal was dead it lost its identity so it didn't bother me. (135)

When a lone hen came into the corral about mid-morning looking for something to eat and clucking, you knew she was setting. I would feed her and then hide so she couldn't see me. When she finished eating she went back to her nest which could be some distance from the corral. If she saw me or thought she was being followed she would go everywhere except to her nest. Sometimes it would take several tries before I found the nest. Then all the eggs were marked and the hatch time was marked on the calendar. (156-7)

In the fall Mrs. Bledsoe drove down to the Wolf Place to see Dad. She told him to keep Sammy and Bailey home from school while the roundup was camped at the house. They would learn a lot more from the roundup than they would at school. She said they just sat in school looking out the window wishing they were helping with the roundup. They were given extra work and excused from school as long as the fall roundup was at the Wolf Place. (163)

Our numbers dwindled and all eight grades were in one room. Mrs. Bledsoe didn't like history or geography so she just skipped them. Then toward the end of the school year all eight grades had two days of nothing but history and two days of nothing but geography. When we got into high school we were no better and no worse than our town counterparts in history and geography. (165)

There is a strange thing that happens when you spend a long time in the saddle. When you get off your horse you feel like you are only two feet tall—sort of like Alice in Wonderland. By the time you unsaddle your horse and walk to the house you have regained your normal height. This never failed to amaze me. (166)

One of the neat things about going to a one room school is that the younger kids listened in on the lessons being taught to the older kids and learned a lot by accident. (166-7)

For a rolling pin Dad used a round Whiskey bottle. Later we did have a wooden rolling pin but he broke off one handle so it would still have the same feel as the whiskey bottle. (169)

Then the day came when I was nine years old and Dad sent me into the kitchen to make cornbread. I asked for a recipe but he said, "No." He didn't believe in recipes. You just went into the kitchen and cooked. He said just start out like you are going to make biscuits only leave out half of the flour and put in cornmeal instead. And I did exactly that. (169-70)

One day when Dad came in from riding he had two bobcat kittens in his shirt. They had just gotten their eyes open. He pulled them out of his shirt and dropped them in the buggy with Richard. As soon as the kittens were in the buggy the fleas started hoping all over the baby. Mom threw a fit. So Dad de-flead the little bobcats before they could be reintroduced to the baby.
A couple of Richard's bottles were donated for the kittens. Dad decided to keep the male and he gave the female to Mom's sister, Ruth, to raise. We called our bobcat Pooky and he loved Richard from the very beginning. He never put out his claws when he played and he always returned any toy he took. (195)

Dad cut the tops off an old pair of boots and made two pouches that he fastened on each side of his saddle behind the cantle. In one pouch he carried a pint of black Peerless screw worm medicine. Peerless also came in clear pink but Dad felt that the black tarry version was more effective. In the other pouch he carried dry horse manure. He preferred this to cotton. (221)

Normally when we rode when there weren't screw worms, we left the house after breakfast and stayed out until about two o'clock. This gave us at least a seven hour day. Dad didn't believe in carrying food or water. We drank out of the river but during flood season you waited until you got home to get a drink. The same was true for food, you waited until you got home. (222)

This was a whole new way of life. There were pilot lights on everything so there was no need for matches but I never gave up carrying matches in my pocket. You never knew when you might need a match. (229)

Baby with colic - A spoonful of warm milk with cigarette smoke blown across it to put nicotine in the milk.
Earache - Blow warm cigarette smoke into the ear. (237)

Fool's names are like monkey's faces. Always seen in public places. (238)
Every day a boy spends in school dulls his natural ability to trail a cow. (239)

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