Summary (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Lazy B began operations in 1880 when the authors’ grandfather, H. C. Day, a transplanted New Englander newly arrived from Wichita, Kansas, decided to claim as much as he could of the public land made available following the Gadsden Purchase. The land he was allocated, most of it open range, consisted of 160,000 acres stretching from western New Mexico well into southeastern Arizona. The total holding, about one- fifth the size of Rhode Island, made it the largest ranch in the Southwest. The Lazy B Corporation that H. C. formed owned 8,560 acres. Thirty thousand acres were leased from Arizona and about twenty-two thousand acres were leased from New Mexico. The remaining land belonged to the federal government and was overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which had a staff of one man and two secretaries to administer the Safford Grazing District, which totaled some 1.5 million acres.
Although H. Alan Day, Sandra’s younger brother, is listed as coauthor of this book, the entire text, save possibly for parts of the brief preface, appears to be written exclusively by Sandra Day O’Connor, whose intimate memoir is obviously a work of love and of deep personal commitment. Her sentiments toward Lazy B and her attachment to it throughout her lifetime are well expressed toward the end of the book, where she calls the ranch “a never-changing anchor in a world of uncertainties.” In an interview with Gwen Ifill, O’Connor credits her brother, who managed the Lazy B for many years after their father ceded control to him, with providing details about the ranch and its operations.
In her childhood, living with her parents in this remote outpost some miles southwest of Lordsburg, New Mexico, and a few miles south of Duncan, Arizona, where some of the ranch children went to school, Sandra enjoyed none of the amenities that many children in the 1930’s took for granted. The Day household did not have electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. Sandra’s parents, although the owners of vast quantities of land and well over two thousand head of cattle, led a hardscrabble existence that was proudly self-sufficient but that was generally lacking in ready cash.
During her first decade of life, Sandra was an only child. She was joined by her siblings, H. Alan when she was nine and Ann when she was ten. The family was close. Its value system was directly influenced by her father, DA, a reasonable but determined man. Some of the ranch hands who helped keep Lazy B going were as close to the Days as any family members might have been. Rastus, Jim Brister, Bug Quinn, and others arrived at the ranch with somewhat clouded backgrounds but were treated so evenhandedly that they felt secure enough to stay on, some for over half a century.
Citing an old cowboy song, O’Connor writes, “The life of a cowboy was a lot of hard work, low pay, few female companions, but a great deal of loyalty and pride in the craft and skill. Most of the time the work went on seven days a week.” These words depict quite well what it was like to be a cowboy in the isolation of the great southwestern desert. The hands that stayed the longest with the Day family stayed because they were treated fairly and consistently. Many of them had escaped abusive childhoods from which they had distanced themselves before they reached adolescence. They spoke little of their pasts once they became part of the Days’ extended family. They appreciated the unfailing fairness and consistency they could depend upon from DA and the obvious concern and understanding of MO.
Sandra O’Connor attributes some of her ease around men to the fact that on the ranch she was never really treated as a girl. She reports that she “rode occasionally on the roundup [which] had been an all-male domain. Changing it to accommodate a female was probably my first initiation into joining an all-men’s club, something I did more than once in my life.” She goes on to say that once “the cowboys understood that a girl could hold up her end, it was much easier for my sister, my niece, and the other girls and young women who followed to be accepted in that rough-and-tumble world.” O’Connor was never a militant feminist. She never felt the need to be because she was accepted easily within a familial situation in which she interacted with men on a more- or-less equal basis.
The moral values that O’Connor embraced were essentially those of her father, DA, who was reasonable but somewhat absolutist in the areas of morality...
(The entire section is 1836 words.)
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