Beyond the Western
The Great Burro Revolt
woke to his brother’s foot in his face. This wasn’t unusual, as
he was one of four little boys who slept in the wide bed.
Billy, Richard, and their cousins, Sam and David, all lived at their abuelo’s hacienda.
Their mothers were sisters who had married brothers, and they all now lived at their father-in-law’s rancho, the El Molino. The women split their duties, one rearing the children, the other tending to household management.
The bedroom doors to the porche were already open to catch an early breeze as Tia Fina pulled back the covers to find the tangle of arms and legs, she found every morning. She ordered all to wash their faces and dress, so she could do their hair before breakfast. Billy, only six, was usually the last. Dressed in a smock and knee pants, he stood with his back to her as she undid his shoulder-length braid, then dragged a brush through his curly locks before pinning them all up into a bun.
“Ouch, you’re hurting me!”
“Cállate!” Tia Fina’s response was as sharp as the stroke of the brush.
After breakfast each day, the boys bolted out the door to wander around the El Molino, mostly unsupervised as long as they stayed out of the way of the ranchero’s peones.
This day, though, Billy doubled back and found his mother as she helped one of the Pima women, hired servants, hanging up the laundry. He relished time spent with her, even just watching her hang sheets on the line.
Billy had waited until she had reached down to face the basket before speaking, “Mama. Why does Tia Fina hate me?”
“She doesn’t hate you, mijo,” she replied as she hung another sheet. “Why do you say that?”
“She always yells at me when she does my hair. Last night, she called me criado con los indios, and it hurts when she pulls the burrs out.
“Mama, why do we have to wear our hair like this, and how come we have to wear these dresses?”
His mother knelt down and took his hand. “Mijo, it’s 1898, almost the turn of a new century. Our family has worked for years to help bring civilization to this part of Arizona. Little boys back East dress like this, and have long hair, until they are almost ten.”
“Ten! I don’t know if I’ll live that long.”
He stumbled off to find the others petting a lone burro through the rail fence.
Richard asked eagerly, “What did Mama say?”
“She says we have to look like this until we’re ten.”
The collective groans drowned out the burro’s little bray.
“I wonder why this colt is by himself?” David asked.
Sam scratched the burro’s ears under the halter. “He’s recently weaned. His mama is one of the ones they use on the mill wheel. He’s too small, I guess.”
Billy’s attention wasn’t on the animal. “I wish there was something we could do to make Tia Fina stop picking on us.”
“Oh, I know how to knock her down a few pegs.” Sam smirked.
“Sam, I don’t want to hurt Mama.” David cautioned.
Sam’s face lit up. “Richard, hold on to this burro. David, help me get this rail fence down.”
Billy’s giggled. “What can I do?”
“Run ahead to see if my mama is near our bedroom, and make sure the outer doors are open,” Sam commanded.
Richard stepped over the downed rails into the pen. “What do you have in mind, Sam?”
“David, link your hand with mine so we make a kind of sling behind the burro’s rear. Careful, we have to stay close, so he doesn’t kick us. Richard, lead him towards the hacienda.”
Billy came running back to the others as they crossed the yard. “I couldn’t see her, and the doors are still open.” He softly clapped his hands and giggled. “What else can I do?”
Sam and David gently persuaded the colt from the rear while Richard tugged, holding the halter close under the burro’s jaw. “When we get to the porche, pull down the blankets on the bed.”
Billy’s eyebrows rose and his jaw dropped, but silently, he trotted away to complete his mission. As the others approached their room, he made one last check that Fina wasn’t in the hall, and then he pulled down the blankets on their large bed. His chest expanded with the thought that, if he were caught before the others came, it would be worth her wrath.
The boys whispered as they led the burro through the doors and towards the naked bed. Richard stepped up, pulling the animal behind him, while the others tried to lift as they pushed. Billy covered his mouth with his hands as he watched them push it down upon the white linen. Then, they got off, pulling the covers up over the colt.
Everybody did their best to hide behind doors and furniture.
It wasn’t long before Tia Fina arrived. “Haven’t I told you boys not to play Hide-n-Seek in the house?” She pulled back the covers with a force.
The scream echoes throughout the hacienda and yard. Others came running, only to find a confusion of boys chasing a braying burro around the room and Fina yelling in Spanish that she wished she had a strap.
The others returned the burro to his pen, while the boys sat with their noses in the room’s four corners. No one was allowed to talk, and each was sure more punishment would come.
It seemed like hours before the women returned. With solemn voices, they called their children to them.
Billy, and Richard, approached Mama With downcast eyes. Her face was stern as she took each by the shoulders and turned them around. Billy squeezed his eyes, prepared for a spanking, but popped them open when he heard the snipping sound of her shears cutting the bun off his head.