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“If Texas were a sane place, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun”

1 February 2007

DAMN… two of the best people in Texas in a week. One famous for what she said, the other — no less remarkable — known for what she never said.

Molly Ivins, 1944 -2007

I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults

There are some fine “in memoriums” on Molly Ivins around… The Texas Observer, which prides itself on covering the “strangest state in the union” devotes their entire latest issue to Ivins.  Her last regular newspaper employer, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram laments the passing of a “difficult” writer.

“XicanoPwr” at ¡Para justicia y liberdad! expresses the thoughts of the hoarde (and we are legion) of Texas progressives who’ve lost the best — and funniest — of us.

Ivins, like me, wasn’t born in Texas, but never let that shut us up. But I didn’t get here until much later, and she grew up here, managing to even date some not-real-bright, but presentable college boy named George W. Bush during her years in Houston.

Ivins was the first “major” Texas news writer to come out and say that it was racist for papers not to have Spanish-speaking reporters.  My Spanish is aweful, by the way, but I’d miss a hell of a lot of what happens around here if I didn’t hear what was said around me.  And, around here, half of it is in Spanish.

When I lived in Mexico City, I kept up with what was really going on in Tejas, not from the A.P., but from Ivin’s column in Jornada.  Though she was fluent in Spanish, her wit and style was that of an old-fashioned story-teller (and, covering the scoundrels and rascals that run Texas, there’s never a dearth of stories to tell), dependent on nuance and turn of phrase that didn’t always come through in a serious, academic, scrupulously edited publication like Jornada.  Oh, they could deal with “el gobernador bien-pelo” without too much trouble, but quoting Ann Richard’s wisecrack about having to take the Christmas Star off the Texas Statehouse (“Nunca podremos ahora conseguir a tres hombres sabios” — “Now we’ll never find three wise men”) required one of Jornada’s specialties… a learned footnote and short essay on cultural differences, attached to a newspaper column (but, hey, that’s Jornada!).

Ivins and I agree about West Texans — “The nicest people in the world. You just don’t want them running it.”  She was writing about the rich guys from Midland.  Those of us in the strangest corner of the strangest chunk of the strangest state of the Union, whichever language we speak, aren’t in any position to do so.  We’re the kind of people she wrote for — not the big boys, but those affected by the outside world:

The trouble with blaming powerless people is that although it’s not nearly as scary as blaming the powerful, it does miss the point. Poor people do not shut down factories … Poor people didn’t decide to use `contract employees’ because they cost less and don’t get any benefits.

… and, less known outside of the Big Bend (but, a figure in country-western music and even a British poem… though the silly twit was scared of her during his stay at a writers’ colony in Marfa back in the late 1990s), but no less an indominable Texas immigrant (everyone forgets Ivins was actually born in California), was Judy Ann Maggers.

Sterry Butcher, who has been around forever wrote a detailed  appreciation for the Big Bend Sentinel in Marfa.  Right now, I’m filling in as reporter of all work for the weekly Alpine Avalanche, the “big city” paper out here in the Big Bend. I end up doing all kinds of odd things, including an obituary now and again.

Judy Ann Maggers, “the Burro Lady”, rides into the sunset at 65

“As tough, as independent and as kind-hearted as West Texas,” is how Rebecca Pape remembers her friend, Judy Ann Maggers, who passed away Friday, Jan. 26, at her campsite in Hudspeth County near Sierra Blanca.

Affectionately known as “the Burro Lady” Maggers had been a fixture in the Big Bend and beyond, often seen riding her donkey up and down the roadways and interstate highways of West Texas. Living off the land, she became a welcomed personality and part-time resident in all communities from Sanderson to El Paso.

While one of the best liked people in West Texas, very few people even knew her name. Bill Ivey, who was a rafting guide on the Rio Grande when Maggers first came to the area in the 1980s was one. Contrary to some of the wilder rumors, Maggers was not independenly wealthy, but lived on Social Security payments. Lacking a fixed address other than “On the land, Terlingua, Texas” it was Ivey who was authorized to receive her checks and handle her modest financial transactions. Even so, he knew very little about her past, or her daily routine. Attempts to contact her only known survivor, Sue Johnson of South Dakota, have so far been unsuccessful. Pape believes Maggers was from California originally.

“She just didn’t talk about her past. When I met her, she was camping on the Colorado Canyon run-in. She wouldn’t accept charity, and insisted on paying for everything. She later moved to Lajitas, where I ran the trading post, and got to know her,” Ivey recalled. Her legal guardian, even he was surprised to learn still kept a valid drivers’ license. “She once owned a Cadillac, but removed the back seat so her donkey could ride in comfort,” Ivey said.

He didn’t know the burro’s name, but everyone at the Triangle Market did. Merle.

“She loved Merle. We all loved Merle,” said Pape.

Pape and her employees at Alpine’s Triangle Market looked foreward to visits from “Miss Judy” and Merle the Burro. As did Merle. The Triange Market was a regular stop for Maggers and Merle, who particularly enjoyed his sour-apple green lollipop. Pape added she hoped Merle received a life-time supply of his favorite treat, though not more than one a day, since sugar probably isn’t healthy for burros.

Maggers lived as she wanted. She was not anti-social, or a recluse, but rather an tough-minded free spirited woman who chose, like other Big Bend residents, to maintain her independence at all costs. She would talk to people, but not about her past. People remember her as sensible and coherent, well-spoken and polite. But fiercely independent.

“She had two sides. There was a softness and gentleness in her love for Merle, and toughness. She was as tough as the West Texas weather,” Pape said.

Her tough, gentle, free-spirited heart simply gave out. She was 65 years old when the Border Patrol discovered her, near death last Friday.

Funeral arrangements are pending. By her own request, Maggers will be buried at “Boot Hill” in Terlingua. Always scrupulous about paying her own way, Maggers insisted on paying Ivey five dollars every time he delivered supplies, or brought her cash. The several hundred dollars Ivey put away over the years, five dollars at a time, will help defray some funeral expenses, and the Hudspeth County Commissioners’ Court has also made a donation.

Hudspeth County Judge Becky Dean-Walker also took temporary custody of Merle. She is quite happy to keep him, but would be willing to give him a home where he’ll receive the care and affection he’d come to know. Ivey said “that burro ate better than Judy did,” and he apparently is used to his green-sour apple lollipops.

Donations for outstanding costs, a headstone and lollipops for Merle can be sent to the Judy Magers Memorial Fund, c/o St. Agnes Church, P.O. Box 295, Terlingua, TX 79852.

“Packin’ Up,” oil on canvas, copyrighted by Bonnie Wunderlich, 2004 TerlinguaTx

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Diana Atchison permalink
    7 March 2007 2:40 pm

    I would like to know a phone number of who is handling the fund for Judy Magers. I have someone who would like to donate, but need to know what it is you are still needing. He would like to buy the headstone for her if you still need one. Please contact me by email at or phone 432-580-6607.

    Thank you

  2. 23 October 2007 11:51 am

    Hello, Mex Files, thank you so much for your words about both women. In my blog I posted a recent picture of The Burro Lady’s grave…
    thanks again for your kind post. I hope you don’t mind, but I included a link to this blog.

    Kelli King
    My Humble Myspace Blog.

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