The Southwest Viewed from the Inside Out:
A Conversation with Marguerite Noble
D. G. KEHL
Marguerite Noble, who currently resides in Payson, Arizona, was
born in Tent City, Roosevelt Lake, Arizona, in 1910. She attended
schools in Punkin Center and Florence, as well as Tempe Normal
School, and received bachelor and master's degrees from Arizona State
University. She taught history and literature in Phoenix for some years.
Her articles on Arizona history have appeared in various local, state, and
national publications, including Arizona Highways and the New York
Times. Her historical novel Filaree was published by Random House in
1979, and reprinted by Baflantine (1980) and University of New Mexico
Press (1985). According to James W Byrkit, Filaree is "arguably the
finest novel ever written about Arizona; it ranks, too, as one of the best
works on any subject ever written by any native-born Arizonan." In an
early review, Howard Fast said, "This book comes closer to the truth
and the validity of the so-called winning of the West than anything I
have ever read. It is terrifying, heartbreaking and remarkable.... Filaree
is also one of the most magnificent portraits of a woman that exists in
our literature." Lily Tomlin, who is examining a filmscript based on the
novel, has said: "I loved this book. I didn't just read it. I crawled between
the pages and lived it." Mrs. Noble has received numerous awards, including the "Spirit of Arizona" Award, the Sharlot Hall Award, the Purple Sage Award, and others. This interview with Mrs. Noble, conducted by D. G. Kehl, is part of an ongoing conversation that began in 1987 at
Noble's home in Payson and has continued, most recently, in the summer of 1993 in Payson and Verde Glen at the Mogollon Rim.
How did you come to write Filaree?
Filaree was not planned as a novel. It grew out of an article, a short
memoir about education, that appeared on the Op-Ed page of the New
York Times in 1975. The first person I heard from who had read it was
William A. Decker, senior editor at Viking Press and author of To Be a
Man. He said, "I like your story. Why don't you make it into a book? I
will help you; just write me." So I made a book out of it. But I wrote it
from a different angle. My story in the beginning, in the New York Times,
had a man as protagonist. That was the strength of the story. In this one,
I made the woman a protagonist because that was something I knew
about, something I could relate to, something I had a background in,
and something I did not have to do research in. And it was something I
felt strongly about–that the women of the West had not been given
credit for their contribution to the West. John Wayne did not win the
West! There were these women that we have not recognized. Of course,
we have recognized some of the outstanding ones–the doctor, the architect, the legislator, but the common garden variety–the housewife
and the mother–the thousands and thousands who came out here
whose priority was the family, their husbands, their children, that sort
of thing. And we just ignore what they have contributed in settling the
West. So I wrote about this woman, Melissa Baker, and her life on the
ranch. It took me one year to write it. When I sent the manuscript to
Bill Decker, he suggested that I cut the story in half and make the first
part longer and stronger, where the woman packs salt out with her husband and where she tells about the Graham-Tewksbury feud up in Pleasant Valley, the cattle-sheep war, etc. But I thought, this is something
I know about–and no. How could this woman pack salt when she is
carrying a baby in her arms and one is tagging and pulling at her skirts,
and with the other hand she is stirring the beans on the stove? She
doesn't have time nor effort nor strength to go out packing salt. And as
for the Graham-Tewksbury feud, this is chronologically not accurate.
The last man was killed in 1892 in Tempe, and this story did not start
until 1910. So I felt I couldn't do that. It's not authentic; it's not factual.
And although this is a novel, fiction, I was determined to adhere to
location and time and people as accurately as I possibly could. And I
couldn't cut it in half and stop it where he wanted me to–where the girl
graduates, because that is not the end of the story, and my readers have
a right to know what happened to this woman's life. It did not end at
her daughter's graduation.
Wasn't your daughter, Cynthia Buchanan, who published the novel
Maiden in 1972, influential in your publisbing the novel?
Through her help I got an agent who took the manuscript and liked
it and sold it to Random House. My editor was Rob Cowley, Malcolm
Cowley's son. We became close friends. Right at the beginning he said,
"Filaree is a good book, but let's make it better." That was the only
comment he had, and that was a positive note for us to begin on. And
he was such a wonderfiil editor.
Is the novel based on your family?
Partially, yes. There had to be a seed. It was based on my family and
people that I knew and people my people had told me about. It pleases
me very much when people say, "I read that and that's the way it was. I
remember my grandmother or I remember this or my folks have told me
about this, and that's the way it was," because I tried to be as truthful
and authentic as I could be. Even though it's a novel, fiction, it has to be
based on fact.
Melissa Baker is based on the life of your mother then?
And Ben Baker is based on your father? That's quite a negative portrait.
He's insensitive, self-centered, almost one-dimensional. Was your father really
He was a product of his time and place.
And I assume Baby in the novel is based on yourself?
Are Hannah and Mary Belle based on your sisters?
Did Mary Belle everget to see the Taj Mahal?
Yes, she did. She saved her teaching money.
How large was your family?
There were eight in my family. The first baby was stillborn. Then
there were three girls and two boys born in Texas. My brother and I
were born in'Arizona after we moved here. Can you imagine a woman
coming? Three months it took them in wagons, washing–there were
baby diapers, and they had to buy water coming along, and they followed the railroad track and having to cook for that many on a campfire. They say the old-timers had three wives–one to bear their children, one to raise their children, and one to comfort them in their old age. I
sure hope they had a lot of comfort. As they say, the West was hard on
horses and hell on women.
Are most of the episodes in the novel factual–stories you heard by word-of-mouth? For example, the killing of Ted Neeson, Carter and the problem at
school, Carter's death on Upper Mountain, etc. Are these fabricated or did you
hear these stories?
Do they seem true to you?
Yes, they do.
Well, they are true. This man's eye was actually shot out. My uncle
told me about it. He was a bully, always saying, "I'll shoot out your
goddamned eye." So when they killed him, they shot out his goddamned
eye and dropped it in his pocket.... And those other things about the
school, they are true. My father was on the school board. And one thing
he wanted was for his children to get "schoolin'." Of course, in those
days the parents punished their children; they agreed with the teacher
and that was it. But when my oldest sister came home and told about
the teacher pulling out the scab of my brother's hair, which was true, my
father just went down and fired the teacher. The next day he was on his
way. . . . And about the covering up with the saddle blanket. . . I had
to fictionalize it a little because my relatives are still alive. My cousin was
on this horse, a well-blooded horse, and the horse ran away with him.
It hit a mesquite stump. They were racing these cattle. And this jagged
stump was there and jabbed him to death. His son pulled out his rifle
and killed the horse in order to stop him, but it was too late; he had
dragged him to death. So my uncle, the father, said he went up there on
the mountain–they were all alone–and he breathed in him, but
couldn't do it, so he said, "I pulled the saddle blanket over him. . . ."
And so those things were true. And I heard my uncle tell about the only
son he had, and that's all they could do. Miles and miles away. Children
became men when they were so young.
Unlike the work of Zane Grey, who wrote about this same area, your work
avoids the stereotypes of pioneer life in the Southwest. When you wote the
novel were you consctously trying to overturn those stereotypes?
No, not consciously. I didn't have any ax to grind. I didn't want to
make a social commentary. I just wrote the way I felt life was.
What do you think some of those stereotypes are?
So many of them I have just dismissed as being paper characters,
papier-mâché.. . . One thing that bothers me about some of the western
writing is the dialogue. It often uses dialectic expressions like "wuz,"
and they don't all talk that way, but it seems that the writers go out of
their way to make it too much so.
Although your novel has "romance" in it, certainly, it can't be called
romantic, can it?
No, I wouldn't because ...
Would you call it realistic?
I would. I intended to make it realistic, and I would not call it regional.
You wouldn't call it regional?
No, because I figure that this could happen in the Midwest on a farm.
This could happen in northern California. It could happen in the wheat
district of Washington–because women have the same needs and desires and demands....
But there is a strong sense of place.
Oh, I intended it to have.
Regional is not necessarily a pejorative term. Maybe you mean local color,
which is a more negative term.
Maybe the reason I said regional was that some editor in New York
said it should be published by a regional press. . . . But this woman
reacted also from her enviromnent, her western environment, the culture and everything else....
Regionalism does not mean that the work is tied to its region for appreciation. Some of the great American writers have been regionalists–William
Faulkner, for example, who is appreciated around the world but who wrote
about Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, that "little postage stamp of native
soil," as be called it. Regionalism accurately represents the habits, speech,
manners, history, folklore, and beliefs of a particular geographical section but
not as superficial decoration, as local color usually does. Local color, someone
has said, presents a tourist's view of the countryside, whereas in regionalism
the conditions of the locale operate profoundly in the lives of the characters. So
I see your novel as a fine example of regionalism.
One of the best compliments given my work was the comment by
James W. Byrkit, author of Forging the Copper Collar. He said to me,
"Some writers view the West from the outside in, but you view it from
the inside out."
That makes a biq difference, doesn't it?
Yes, it does. I heard Rudolfo Anaya speak ...
Author of Bless Me, Ultima ...
Yes. He made the point that Anglos can't really write about Chicanos
because they don't know the legends, the superstitions, the background,
Could you expand on the inside/outside perspective a bit?
In Filaree I was there, firsthand. I grew up on the fringe of the time
and place and people. I did little outside research. I saw, I heard, I
experienced, I participated. One year I was one of the judges for the
Western Writers of America Best Novel of the Year Award. There were
many books submitted. I ran across one that amazed me with its inaccuracies. It was set in Tucson in 1880 but used modern language. These people stopped to eat their lunch "in the shade of a cholla." Well, we all know why it's called "Jumping Cactus" because just a breath of air and
these segments drop off, and you never step where they've fallen on the
ground. A page or two later the wagon was halted in the shade of an oak
tree. The next time I traveled to Tucson I found that the oak trees in that
section did not begin until about 4,000 feet and Tucson is a tittle above
1,100. Then it goes on and talks about the Butterfield Stage. Now the
Butterfield Overland had a short span of 1858 to 1861; the beginning
of the Civil War stopped it. In 1880 most travel was by wagon or covered
wagon; it was not the Butterfield Stage. The novel went on to talk about
the hero having "stainless steel eyes." I'm an old cook from way back,
and I remember when knives weren't stainless. Something else especially
bothered me. This Chinese girl went to an old herb doctor. He had
snake skins on the wall and lizards. She wanted to pass out for a short
time on her wedding day so she wouldny have to marry this old Chinese
man, because she had a young love. So she asked how much of this
potion she should take to pass out for a day and a half. And he said to
her, "It depends on your metabolism." It was just unbelievable. Another
thing: One of the cowboys went to see his girlfriend at a house way out
where she lived and as he left to go home he didn't return, but his horse
came back to this girl's house. A horse will go for feed and water; he
would have headed for home. But the girl gets on the horse and he takes
her to where the cowboy has been knocked off his horse by the people
in the black hats. Then she lifts him on the saddle. I can't even throw ...
I'm too puny even to throw a saddle on a horse; I don't have enough
strength. But here was this woman who could do all of that. It was
impossible. But this book was written by an outsider.
It's not just a matter of getting the flora and fauna tight, is it? It's necessary for one to live in an area and really understand the culture.
Yes, get the feeling and the sound of the words and the reaction of
Actually knowing how people think and react.
Oh yes. You learn little fine things. One of the finest things I remember is my uncle who had a knife, a pocketknife. And he happened to leave it out on a ledge. I was in the fifth or sixth grade, ten years old or so. I found the knife, so I whittled a stick. Now a knife to a cowman
is a very personal thing. It's one thing you don't touch because he kept it
as sharp as a razor. And he said to me, "You don't want to never monkey
with a fellows pocketknife." I got the point.
Some miqht see some naturalism in your novel. For example, you said
earlier that Ben Baker is aproduct of his environment, and Melissa in California is victimized almost in a way reminiscent of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath...
Oh, I think you're right. I admire The Grapes of Wrath. And another one.... Have you ever read the story Weeds?
The naturaltstic novel by Edtth Kelley which Matthew Bruccolt bad republished?
It's quite deterministic, isn't it? In your novel nature is sometimes presented
as being harsh–for example, when the branches that held Carter "slapped
back" at Melissa, "striking her face and scratching her arms; the manzanita
would not relinquish its prey." That harshness of nature is a naturalistic
element, don't you think?
Do you consider the book to be feminist?
Melissa says, "Most men is no 'count," and her neighbor in Peach Valley,
California, says, "My man is not good to me, not good to the babies. All
men–the same. . . ."
I said that from reality and from her being beaten down so, but I
don't consider myself a feminist ... and I didn't intend it at that time to
send a message.
There are some positive men in your novel, aren't there? Ben Baker isn't
very positive, but Jason Herrick and Ike Talbot are.
That was my purpose, because I have known positive men. My uncle
was positive and good to his family. There are lots of good men. They're
not all that way. But I wanted contrast and I wanted truth. And I felt
that was true. It was unfair to think that all men were like Ben Baker. . . .
One girl said to me, "The strongest character in the book is Ben, the
husband." I was amazed because women always say, "That old so and so. . .,"
but something about this character this girl had empathy for, and
she went on to explain that he had nothing in life: he didny have his
wife's love and his oldest girl acted as his surrogate son. He did not
agree with the other ranchers around there about what was worthwhile
in life, but he always thought that the highest a person could reach was
to be a schoolteacher because back in Texas the teacher was the one who
knew everything about everything.
Real people are never all black or white but shades of gray.
Yes, we are shades of gray. Ben Baker did the best he could with the
tools he had to work with. There are times when he shows compassion
to the best of his ability. He was a lonely man, out of Texas. He was just
a human being like the rest of us.... I don't mean for my words to be
derogatory to the men. They had a vision and they were responsible;
they wanted a better life for their family. They had their hardships and
their illness and their deaths. It's just that women were subjugated and
didn't get a whole lot of credit.
The novel is dedicated to "those pioneer women who survived a life of suppression." Have you known a lot of these women?
Yes, I've known them. I'm just on the fringe of it. I can remember
back–I was born in the territory of Arizona–of hearing these stories
and seeing these worn-out women. I wanted to dedicate it to reality–to
these thousands and thousands of women that suffered....
How were they able to survive? What was the source of their strength?
I think their family. I think their children. They lived for their children. That was their priority. Men always had this vision–greener over
the pasture and they had a goal.... They had something to sustain
them. But the women were brought up that way, and it was a maternal
instinct which was created and developed and nourished, and that's all
they knew. I think that's why they survived.
Melissa is concerned about the family falling apart, just as Ma Joad is in
Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
Yes. Yes. That's natural for a woman, but especially to her because
that was her sustenance. That's what sustained her, and when it began to
disintegrate, she had nothing to support herself.
The book's epigraph is from Thoreau's Walden: "I am a parcel of vain
strivings tied by a chance bond together. "Is Thoreau a special favorite of yours?
No, it's just that I felt that expressed how people lived in quiet desperation with this idea that women survived with all these vain strivings.
And, of course, Melissa lived by her dreams.... She could pun in like a
cocoon and live on her dreams. People say to me, "Why didn't she marry
Ike Talbot?" But, you know, dreams are so often better than reality....
That dream sustained Melissa for years and years.
But in what sense were her strivings "vain"? In the sense that they never
achieved in reality what she wanted?
Her success in the end was ahnost accidental–this meeting of the
man from the mine who called her "Honey Bee," who was really all
right; it didn't come about through her desire all these years.
Melissa didn't marry Ike because the dream is better than reality?
I think all women feel that way–and perhaps men do too. This was
drawn from a personal experience. When I was seventeen I had the
greatest love affair, and you know at seventeen how real love can be. He
was a little bit younger than I. All these years I was just madly in love
with him, but he was tied to his mother's apron strings and she wouldn't
let him go with me, because she had higher ideals for him; I had no
financial security or social or cultural.... All my life if I were lonely or
felt neglected, I could think of this wonderful dream of little Bobby. He
would always be, like Ike Talbot, that dream that kept me, till many
years later, some fifty years later, I attended a funeral for my brother. I
looked up and here was little Bobby, and my heart just thumped when
I thought of all the Band-Aids I had put on it. That night at dinner my
sister asked, "Who was that old, pot-bellied, gray-haired man?" And I
didn't know who she was talking about–not my little Bobby! But I
wouldn't change it for the world, because all we women need actually is
for somebody to say, "You're something."
Is the filaree a symbol of the tenacity of Melissa in surviving?
The title is a metaphor. The woman, Melissa Baker, is the filaree. At
first, Random House said, "We love the name, but we don't know what
it means." Of course not. Filaree, the plant, the forage, grows out on the
wild country of the Southwest; it does not grow in the concrete canyons
of Manhattan. So of course they would not know. Filaree comes from
the word alfilaria, which is Spanish. . . . The cowboys shortened it to
filaree. It is not indigenous to the Southwest, but once it was here it
became ubiquitous. It grows under the ponderosa pines where I live in
Payson and under the saguaro cactus in the desert around Phoenix. It
was brought into this country in seeds in the wool of sheep brought by
the conquistadores four hundred years ago, the sheep that came from the
Mediterranean area. But once it was here it unfurled its little seeds and
planted itself and became very important in Arizona–economically,
romantically, and historically. The little seeds curl up, and it's named
from the word alfilaria, meaning "sword" because that is what the plant
looks like. It has a little dagger point on it, and it dries up and curls up,
but when any water hits it–rain–the little dagger uncurls and pokes
itself deep down into the earth to regenerate itself. And children like to
put the seeds in their hand and spit on them and let them uncurl. It's a
very fascinating pastime for children on the ranch who do not have a TV
to entertain them.
The filaree is a survivor. It will grow in gravel; it will grow where
there is very little soil, or it Will grow where there is rich soil. But when
there is no rain, it keeps a low profile and barely grows, just puts out
small filigreed leaves and in the springtime minute purple blossoms. But
when the rain comes, it proliferates, and it grows as high as a cowboy's
stirrups. The filaree grows so high–like bermuda grass–that it will fall
over and the ranchers in the early days cut it and even sold it as hay or
stacked it on their own place for winter feed.... It's the first green plant
that comes up in the spring before the grass comes. Very important to
the cattlemen.... It really sometimes means life or death, according to
whether the cattle will survive. And, of course, it means that there has
to be rain in the winter to bring up the filaree in the spring....
Melissa Baker is like the filaree. She survives in the drought, keeping
a low profile. She survives in a drought when there is no loving relationship with her husband, and her life is dreary on this lonely, lonely ranch, which, by the way, is called the Filaree, but she survives. But when she gets rain, then she grows; she proliferates; she blossoms. And her rain–oh, he's a handsome cowboy who comes galloping by on a pony and
stops, gets acquainted, and he lets her know that she is somebody, and
that's all she needs to grow the way the filaree grows.
What about other symbols in the novel? For example, the sunbonnet?
The sunbonnet is a symbol. It not only physically protected Melissa
from the weather–the wind, the sun, the dust, the heat–but it emotionally protected her from her husband, whom she did not love. She could pull back her head into the bonnet and look ahead, and she could dream and survive on her dreams. Sometimes the dream is better than
the reality, and it was better for the women to live on their dreams than
to face the realities which were sometimes so disappointing. This
woman used the bonnet for several purposes. In the early days, everyone
wore a sunbonnet to try to keep fair skin because even those old women
were judged beautiful if they were not suntanned as our modern women
are. I remember my mother and other women put babies' diapers with
the ammonia on their arms to try to bleach their arms. Now who in the
world cared what those women looked like? But inside they were still
women enough to want to be feminine, and it always did something to
my heart to see those poor old women trying to remain, in such a harsh
life, as feminine as they could....
In Filaree the kitchen window is also symbolic. This is the window–not made out of glass but just cut out of the wall and suspended, when
it was open, from the ceiling by a homemade leather strap with a slash
in it that hooked on a nail up above. This woman lived most of her life
in the kitchen. This is where she did most of her work, her cooking. She
heated water on the cookstove. Her children took a bath in the kitchen,
and the people ate in the kitchen, so it was her main living quarters, and
she used to look out of the window; this is where she was so lonely. She
could look out over the endless mesa land. This is the land where she
looked when she had company or when her parents tried to come and
visit her. This was the "altar" where Aunt Shug kneeled and prayed,
pleading for her sister's life when Melissa was so ill. The window was
also where Melissa lambasted and cursed and shot at the man who molested her little daughter, and "wished him to hell." And, of course, this is the window that she looked out of with hope. This is the window that she looked out of when her cowboy came galloping by to say hello to
her, the cowboy who made her feel she was somebody. The window embraced her life, for good and for bad, for sorrow and for joy, for success and for failure, for dreams and for reality.
Would you say the gun she keeps for years is also a symbol?
Yes. The pistol that she held secretly and kept for so many years is
symbolic of her love for Ike Talbot.
Is there anything Freudian about the gun?
No, I didn't intend it. But the mourning dove that she hears repeatedly
is symbolic. She hears it when her son is being buried in that lonely
graveyard. It embodies her loneliness–sorrow over her impoverished
You've seen lots of changes in Arizona in your lifetime–some good, some
What do you think has been the best change, and what bas been the worst?
I think one of the good changes is the freedom that women have now
and that we're not so tied up with morals and sex, because we used to
feel very inhibited and very guilty, and women were afraid to tell their
daughters about menstruation. That was a no-no. I think that it's a good
thing to relax. And I think it's a good thing now, too, that women are
becoming more equally accepted. I think one of the negative things
would be that women have become–naturally I'm speaking from a
woman's viewpoint–too free and easy. Now you read about some of
these cowboys being ... gallantry and all of this. I grew up when this
was true. When we would go to a schoolhouse dance, a cowboy would
not ask a lady to dance if he were drinking. Now the woman beats him
to the bar!
Did you do a lot of rewriting, changing of style?
Oh yes. I would work over each sentence, asking, Can I do away with
this adjective? Can I throw out this adverb? Can I make this paragraph
into two sentences? I tried to clean it up as I went, paragraph by paragraph.... I tried to write it simply. That's the way I like to read stories myself. One woman said to me, "This is the first book I've read through in eight years," and I thought to myself, I have done well. Then I had a
librarian friend who was well-versed in books say, "I read this over, and
I know that you tried and that you worked to make it simple and easy
to read; I know it shows your work." So that made me feel a little bit
better–that people could recognize that I had put in effort.
The work and effort do show–for example, in this paragraph in which you
describe the approaching storm: "The air became electric. Far-off rain scented
the land. The atmosphere throbbed. The animals moved initably and raised
their voices. The colt raced up and down the pasture. The milch cow bawled
in apprehension." Those short, staccato sentences convey the ominous tension
before the storm. Then the storm breaks, and you use a long, rhythmic sentence: "The children stayed together in the kitchen as the spring storm gathered and broke in violent force, pounding the house and making rivulets in the yard."
Well, those are things I worked over. I thought, I've been out there.
How do animals act in a storm? I know how they get nervous. And I
know how the colts will do this. And I know how kids huddled in a
house would do. And Hannah had her role as a surrogate mother, and
it was up to her to take care of things.... And another thing, I used to
think about the conversation. Does this conversation carry it forward or
is it chatter? I wanted the conversation to either give the background or
tell what was going to happen or to have some meaning, not just chit-chat back and forth.
So you remembered back to the conversation and language of your parents?
Very easily. It just came from within me. Sometimes I say "icebox"
instead of "refrigerator." The other day I said, "I sure am tuckered out."
And I don't know I'm saying that, but it comes out.
Did you have an outline of the book when you began writing?
Yes, definitely in my mind, not on paper.
The four-part structure?
No, that was Cowley's idea. I had it in chapters, and he said, "You
know, this woman's life is really in four parts. Some of these are like
vignettes, strung together. Let's just cut it into four parts."
What other American writers do you especially like? Whom do you like to
I like to read historical things, nonfiction, not contemporary, and
westerns. I'm interested in the heritage of the last generation. I like This
House of Sky by Ivan Doig and also English Creek, which won the Western
Writers of America Award. Also Let the Tail Go with the Hide, written by
Teresa Irvin Williams, about her father, a rancher down on the Mexico
border. . . . When I talk about western writing I'm thinking about the
Southwest and localizing it–New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Texas. . . .
Another one is Bob Sharp's Cattle Country, an autobiographical book by
Bob Sharp.... Doctor on Horseback by Ralph Palmer. The Palmers have
been doctors here for three generations.... Then Arizona Memories by
Morgan and Strickland. The Gentleman's Club by Gordon Frost is about
the prostitution business in El Paso.... I picked it up because the introduction was written by C. L. Sonnichsen, whom I like very much. It was part of the lifestyle and very, very important. . . . I like James W Byrkit's Forging the Copper Collar, about the mining industry in Arizona.
And, of course, I love Frank Dobie. It's something you read over and
over again. And Marshall Trimble. He can take nonfiction and zip it up;
it's still truth, but he has a way of putting it....
What about Larry McMurtry? He won the Pulitzer Prize for Lonesome
I reacted negatively to All My Fiends Are Going to be Strangers. That's
not my type of story, but he's my type of writer.
Are there others you want to mention?
I think when you read these little books on certain areas of the West
they give insight into our past. For example, I read Saloons of the Old
West, which I liked. That also was part of our culture, and I enjoyed
reading a nonfiction book. And I liked a book on the newspapers of
Arizona in territorial days. And there's a book entitled No Life for a Lady
by Agnes Cleaveland, an old, old book. She was in New Mexico on a
ranch; she went to Stanford and came back and wrote this book.
What about Willa Cather's fiction?
Oh yes, My Antonia.
And O Pioneers?
No, I know about it, but I can't recall it.
What about Death Comes for the Archbishop?
I remember that vividly. Oh absolutely. One of my real favorites is
Elmer Kelton's The Time It Never Rained. Kelton writes somewhat like
Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath–terse, simple, succinct, using fitting
figures of speech. Kelton has a feeling, a love and understanding of the
What books have most influenced your own writing?
One was John Steinbeck. He had something to say, and he said it.
And I was very much influenced by The Grapes of Wrath when I first read
it years ago. I could relate to it. I could relate to that mother, and I could
relate to the poverty because I have come up as a disadvantaged child. I
liked his terse style and the fact that the dialogue told the story. And I
loved his description; it was sparse, but it was accurate and it told the
feeling so well.
What about Hemingway?
I'm not a Hemingway lover.
You allude to Death in the Afternoon in your novel. Mary Bellegives the
book to Melissa, wbo doesn't like that "blood and bull-fighting," which cattle
are not intended for.
That's the reaction a ranch woman would have. They killed only for
food and survival, and they had no use really for mistreating animals of
any kind. I didn't care for The Old Man and the Sea or "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." I don't know why everybody else does.
But his style....
Yes, he could tell a whole story with just a few works.... I suppose
I didn't like him as a man. I read the story his wife wrote about him....
I know that shouldn't influence me but....
What is your assessment of Western literature at the present time? Has it
come into its own, do you think?
As I see it there are three categories of western writing. First, there
are the "shoot-em-up" paperbacks with all the sentimentality and stereotypes, the novels of escape. Then there are the local self-published works
that don't get a wide readership but which make a genuine contribution.
For example, a girl down in Gisela wrote an interesting book about that
area. And finally there is the western writing of real merit, some of
which we talked about earlier.
The ones, like Filaree, written from the inside out. Are you working on
Although I've completed a novel, Bury Me on the Mountain, I'm not
ready to submit it as final. I'm setting it aside for cooling off; later, I'll
revise it for changes and polishing. I decided to use the same background
because I'm familiar with it and I don't have to do research. It's based on
fact and truth. The protagonist is a man, but it's a man I knew well, a
man who should have sought revenge, but he didn't. I find that you have
to work it over and over again. I come back and I think, That's so silly,
and it embarrasses me; surely I never put that down. But you have to
put it down before you lose it.
What about other current writing?
I'm writing an essay on a subject in which I'm emotionally involved.
The vanishing breed of cattle rancher in the West. The title is George
T. Cline: Tonto Basin Rancher.
It's based on your uncle?
Haven't you also written some historical radio spots?
Yes, I've written and recorded 450 one-minute "historical highlights"
for local radio and have written a colunm for the local newspaper.
The ones I've read are most interesting indeed. Thank you and best wishes.
We look forward to your next novel.
TWO BY MARGUERITE NOBLE
Melissa strained her eyes on the road ahead. She was looking for the
turnoff that led to the Holman place. In the distance she saw two figures
hurrying down the road. "That's Ma and Pa! I can tell Ma's red sunbonnet far as I can see it."
The horses drew closer to the figures, and the woman waved at them.
Her husband made no motion to hurry the horses. The Holmans
reached the fork in the road. As the team pulled near, Silas Holman
hurled his battered hat high in the air. "Hallelujah! Glory be! Welcome.
Drive down to our house. Dinner's waitin'."
Sarah Holman's face was covered by the long narrow slats of her
bonnet. She took it off and waved it aloft, swinging it by the strings as
a banner. The horses moved on in a walk, but Baker did not pull on the
reins to halt the animals. The hatless old man and the woman swinging
the red sunbonnet ran alongside the wagon, breathing hard as they tried
to touch the boards.
Melissa stood up 'in the seat, the baby in her arms, but the man still
did not brake the wagon. The woman cried out.
"Mr. Baker! Stop! For the love of God, I beg of you. Stop this
Her husband lashed at the horses with the leather whip. The grandparents hastened their steps to keep up with the wagon. Ben Baker brought down the whip.
The animals lunged forward, throwing the woman to the seat. His
voice roared, "Gittup, Baldy!" Again he raised the whip, and the animals
broke into a gallop, leaving the old man and old woman faltering in
their steps, the dust rising around them.
With each flash of the whip, the animals increased the distance between the woman in the wagon seat and the two figures in the road. Her mother continued to wave her bonnet as if the frantic movement would slow the horses and signal them to return.
Melissa Baker kept her head turned backward, watching until the red
sunbonnet disappeared behind a crest in the road. Then she turned to
stare ahead, drawing her face within her own bonnet. Her eyes were dry,
the tears imprisoned within.
Thoughts on the Passing of a Beloved One
Roxie Cline, 95, died April 22, 1989, at her ranch home in Tonto
The obituary in the paper stood out cold and stark, impersonal and
remote to those who did not know her, to a reading public accepting it
as "just another vital statistic."
To me, who did know her, the vital statistic unloosed anguished emotion so deep "no human tongue could tell." The ebony of despair assailed me, convulsed me, immobilized me as memories substantiated
My Aunt Roxie was my mother's sister. In my pre-teen years I lived
with her and her husband, George Turnbull Cline, on their fledgling
cow outfit "across the crick" in lower Tonto Basin.
They were just getting started in their married life. Times were lean
and lank, and theirs was a threadbare cow outfit with an unpainted
frame house and a pole corral. We packed our water from Tonto Creek,
straining out the tadpoles and moss before use.
I walked to the Cline School on the mesa. Each morning Aunt Roxie
packed my lunch, the inevitable biscuit encasing a piece of fried beef,
both left over from breakfast.
They were drought years, and the barren land was sere, thirsting for
moisture. The only enlightening views were the bursting of the morning
sun over the Sierra Ancha Mountains and the play of changing-color
sunsets over the Mazatzal range. It was a lonely life for a child.
Sparse though the life was, I found security here. I was given some
"roots," which are important to a human being. These roots have sustained me, tenuous as they were; they gave me something to hang on to that forever ties me to Tonto.
I'm sure I was an impediment on a young couple trying to establish
their first home. I was cast upon them and was received without resentment. I was another mouth to feed. I was never made to feel like an indentured servant of old. I was never begrudged jerky or beans. Roxie never spoke an unkind word to me, something which would have "destroyed" me as I was sensitive to my position.
My love for Roxie Cline, my indebtedness and my gratitude are
burned deep within me, like a brand on a heifer's hide–an intaglio that
can never be changed by venting.
Her passing has given me a sorrow and a loss greater than any I have
ever known, but I am richer for having had my life entwined with hers.
I am sure that I speak for others who knew her.