(5 Total References)
Tucson Weekly: At War on the Border (December 19 - December 25, 2002)
La Pistolera - Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce was a fighter.She went to prison herself for rustling, and she kept her pistol close at hand right to the end of her life.Part 2. (August 8, 2002) La Pistolera - The Wilbur Ranch near Arivaca was 'beautiful, cruel country,' and its owner--Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce--lived a hard, romantic life there.Not to mention the cattle rustlers, machine-gun killers of horses, pistol-toting assassins and other agents of a violent 20th-century cattle war.This was still the Wild West, and La Pistolera gave as good as she got. (August 1, 2002) more...
Tucson Weekly: The Naked Man of Tombstone (September 12 - September 18, 2002)
La Pistolera - Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce was a fighter.She went to prison herself for rustling, and she kept her pistol close at hand right to the end of her life.Part 2. (August 8, 2002) La Pistolera - The Wilbur Ranch near Arivaca was 'beautiful, cruel country,' and its owner--Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce--lived a hard, romantic life there.Not to mention the cattle rustlers, machine-gun killers of horses, pistol-toting assassins and other agents of a violent 20th-century cattle war.This was still the Wild West, and La Pistolera gave as good as she got. (August 1, 2002) What A Riot! - Remembering all the fun in 2001. (December 27, 2001) more...
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Tucson Weekly: An Epidemic of Fat Kids (August 15 - August 21, 2002)
La Pistolera - Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce was a fighter.She went to prison herself for rustling, and she kept her pistol close at hand right to the end of her life.
- The Wilbur Ranch near Arivaca was 'beautiful, cruel country,' and its owner--Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce--lived a hard, romantic life there.Not to mention the cattle rustlers, machine-gun killers of horses, pistol-toting assassins and other agents of a violent 20th-century cattle war.This was still the Wild West, and La Pistolera
gave as good as she
got. - Leo W. Banks (August 1, 2002)
Tucson Weekly: La Pistolera (August 8 - August 14, 2002)
Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce lived in "beautiful, cruel country" near Arivaca.There were cattle rustlers, horse killers and pistol-packin' assassins.But Eva was a fighter.She went to prison herself for rustling, and she kept her pistol close at hand right
Eva Antonia "Bonnie" Wilbur-Cruce acquired a colorful nickname, La Pistolera
, for her
nasty habit of shooting at people who ventured too close to her
ranch near Arivaca.Even her
grand-nephew, Tucsonan Robert Zimmerman, noted episodes in which Eva
gun to back off intruders.
One day when he
was about 9, Zimmerman said he
and Eva's husband Marshall heard a car stop at the second gate near the ranch.No visitors were expected, and getting to the second gate meant the car's driver had already picked the lock on the first gate.
watched as a man picked that lock, too.
"As soon as Bonnie heard that chain drop onto the ground, she
yelled, 'You sonofabitch!' and she
pistol and went, 'Bam!Bam!' She
fired twice and blew out two of his
tires.I mean, she
was fast.It was like in the movies.I've never seen anybody do that before."
, Zimmerman and Marshall jumped into their truck and chased him into town at 70 mph.
They followed the intruder's tire marks in the dust to the town restaurant, and Eva
confronted him inside.
Whatever his reason was for picking the locks, Zimmerman said it satisfied Eva
One night in 1941, riflemen in the hills above the Arivaca Road attempted to assasinate Eva
drove with her
sister, Ruby.The bullets shattered the windows of the Buick sedan in which she
was riding, killing one of the German Shepherds with them at the time.
Neither Eva nor Ruby was hit and the shooters never identified.Eva
's nephew, Raymond Zimmerman, Robert's dad, age seven when the incident occurred, remembers seeing Eva and Ruby when they arrived in Tucson after the shooting.
was frightened as she
talked about it, but you know, not too much."She
reported the incident to lawmen, but as the Tucson Daily Citizen later reported, nighttime shootings around Arivaca had become so commonplace they took no action.
The feud coincided with the Depression, making the times even tougher.To survive those lean years, Eva
and Marshall also spent considerable time in Tucson.He
worked as an $18-a-week department store clerk while Eva
operated a business out of the couple's home there.
But given her
personality, nothing mundane or reserved would do.She
invented an entirely new persona, becoming Elaine Lutrell, master spiritualist.Her
business card said, "Psychic Readings and Advice Given on All Subjects."
Trading on the perception skills she
developed as a child alone in the desert, Eva
got hold of a crystal ball, a triangle with a pendant dangling from its center, dressed in a wild outfit and began seeing clients in her
...But Eva, Marshall and Lopez tripped over themselves in their court testimony, dooming their defense.
And Lopez admitted before the trial that Eva
had ordered him to tell the
After killing the mare, Eva
and Marshall said they cut the Wilbur brand off the animal, and hung it from the corral as proof to anyone who happened by that the animal was theirs.They did this as a means of self-defense.
A few days before, according to her
lawyer's closing argument, a
"friendly cowboy" approached Eva
to warn her
that they--meaning "the big cattle interests"--were after her
But the brand vanished.Eva
and Marshall testified that their coon-hunting dogs ate it.
The jury didn't buy it.Eva
and Lopez were convicted on all four counts, with a recommendation that Lopez, whom the jury believed acted under Eva's orders, be given leniency.
But cowboy E.S. Pepper, who'd worked for Boice
for 16 years, did provide important testimony against Eva
, as he'd done in previous court cases.
The Wilbur family, however, believes that Boice set Eva
up to win the conviction.
"My dad always believed Eva
was framed," said Shepard's son, Pete, a 64-year-old cowboy.
According to one story, told and re-told by participants, each time with varying details, Eva
at one point owed $1,000 on her
was flat broke, with no way of getting the money other than selling her
precious Spanish mustangs. She
didn't want to do it.
Angry at the double-cross, Eva
turned to one of her
cowboys and barked, "Turn the horses loose!"As soon as they were free, the mustangs headed on their own back to the Wilbur ranch, the only home they'd ever known.
That same day, Shepard approached Eva
with an unspecified offer of help.
Even though deeply suspicious, and doubtful that anything good could come from a Boice cowboy, Eva
agreed.At dawn Shepard galloped up to the ranch."The thing you should do is go to town right away and pay off that mortgage," he
laughed bitterly."How am I supposed to do that with no money?"she
asked, wondering what trick he
had up his
Still suspicious, Eva
dropped the strange gift on the table and received from Shepard a warning that this seemingly worthless scrap of paper should not be treated casually.
"I kept thinking something is wrong," Eva
said later."Maybe the money is fake.This must be a trick."
But it wasn't.Angry that Eva
had been set up, Morris Shepard, who died in 1962, stepped forward with his own money to save the Wilbur ranch, providing a bit of Gary Cooper-style goodness amid a tale of blood and bitterness.
, the cattle war never ended.The events of those 11 years colored every breath she
took from then on.Her
prison experience in particular was transforming. She
spent much of her
time behind bars dealing with the terrible summer heat and reading supportive letters from Catherine--"I'd much rather be inside and be honest than outside and be a crook, like some I know."
In their early letters, she
and Catherine talked of Eva's innocence and the "rats" who put her
soon resigned herself to doing her
time, surviving by "putting armor around herself."
"I wish you could get in the jug, as you put it in your letter," Eva
wrote to Catherine in July 1944, two weeks after starting her
sentence."The environment is tough on the nervous system.What can anyone expect under such a system of punishment?In my humble opinion it is all wrong."
In addition to her
left behind a portion of her
prison diary, a remarkable document that provides a touching, funny and sad look at daily life in the pen--the women lining up for syphilis shots, morning inspection by the matron, Eva killing time by reading the new Montgomery Ward catalogue, the gossip that a fellow prisoner was a morphine addict.
But the most riveting passages deal with the escape of two prisoners, who hoisted themselves over the wall with a garden hose.Eva
knew of the escape beforehand, but kept quiet and wrote of it in her
feared the guards would search the women's rooms, find her
and punish her
for not notifying them.She
decided to hide it.
"6 a.m.I got up and hurried outside to find a place to bury this diary.After I placed it inside of a tin can, I went behind my house and picking up a rock that had been in the corner for a long time I dug under it and placed the can in the hole and covered it up well, then I put the rock on top.
"'What are you planting there?Flowers?'" said a voice up on the catwalks.
"Don't make any difference which line," Eva
wrote, sounding more like a moll than a college-educated woman. Eva
was released from Florence in early February of 1945.The immediate effects of confinement were obvious to her
family in small ways.She'd stand before closed doors and wait for someone to open them, forgetting she
was free to do so herself.
But other remnants of the experience were more long-lasting.She
harbored considerable anger, especially if Robert Zimmerman called her
Mama.It reminded her
of the prison matron."Don't ever call me that," she'd snarl."I'm nobody's mama."
A man trying to steal her
bike made the mistake of knocking Eva
down, and she
sprang to her
feet with the pistol in hand, pointed at the man's belly.
The dumbfounded attacker stammered, "You c-c-c-an't have a gun in a park.It's illegal."She
waved the revolver at him and said, "Then go
Tucson Weekly: La Pistolera (August 1 - August 7, 2002)
The Wilbur Ranch near Arivaca was 'beautiful, cruel country,' and its owner--Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce--lived a hard, romantic life there.
But Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce
struck a bit of literary lightning with her
1987 work, A Beautiful, Cruel Country, published by the UA Press
It described her
childhood on the Wilbur Ranch near Arivaca, southwest of Tucson, a now-vanished life on the open range, herding and branding cattle at age 5 and playing with Tohono O'Odham children before that tribe's reservation was formed. The New York Times
reviewed the book favorably, and Eva
was celebrated as a living relic of history, personified by the inside-the-book photo of her
as a 13-year-old on horseback.Little Tonia, as she
was called, had a rifle draped across her
lap and wore an oversized sombrero as she
stared steel-eyed into the distance.
depiction of a hard, romantic life in the wilds near the Mexican border was only part of Eva's past.Behind the image was another story, one that to this day, more than 60 years later, causes descendants and friends of those involved to clam up, claim faulty memories and slam down the phone in anger.
At issue is the long cattle war Eva
fought with neighboring rancher, Charlie Boice.
The women's pen in Florence was an unlikely place for the five-foot-three-inch, brown-eyed Eva
, who, in her
1944 prison mug shots, looks somewhat bookish in her
wire glasses and close-cropped hair.
In fact, she
was a jailhouse rarity, a woman with two years of college education sharing a cell block with toothless check-kiters and waitresses turned man-shooters who'd never heard of David Copperfield, one of Eva's favorite books, and probably couldn't read it even if they had.
They must've wondered, too, about the incessant taping coming from her
cell.Throughout Eva's life, and especially in prison, she
typed prison letters to friends and family show a nimble mind, keen to the day's news and cultural issues. She
also worried deeply about whether any proceeds from her
writing might pay for the education of her
nephews.And at age 40, she
wrote of her
responsibility to behave in a certain way around the younger inmates.
In a May 1944 letter to a friend, she
described being ostracized after suggesting that female prisoners undergo an "intensive course in reading and correct thinking," believing it would "fortify their spirits" and "redeem their natures." Eva
wrote, "I am still in the doghouse.Wa-ha!You can't blame them.They think I'm contriving some vicious method of punishment.They are suspicious of me because I don't join in their escapades.God forbid!I am no model, but because I'm older, I do believe I should be less frivolous."
But as always with Eva--like the book that told only the pretty stories--there was a flip side, aspects of her
character that seemed completely contradictory.Yes, she
loved Copperfield and her
precious typewriter, yet she
was one of the toughest customers, male or female, Arizona ever produced.Wyatt Earp could've taken lessons from her
possessed a singular ferocity when crossed, and an almost animal-like determination to make the transgressor pay.Even the rigors of confinement couldn't change that about her
colorful nickname, La Pistolera
, for her
nasty habit of shooting at people who ventured too close to the Wilbur property. Her
grand-nephew, Tucsonan Robert Zimmerman, who cared for Eva
last years, tells of her
prison sessions with a priest.He
often met with inmates to get them to acknowledge their crimes and seek repentance.
The priest would say, "Now Eva, do you know why you're in prison?"
She'd say yes.Then the clergyman would lean forward and say softly, "Vengeance is a sin, you know."
would respond, "Yes, father, and I'm a sinner.And as soon as I get out I'm going to sin again."
THE WILBUR RANCH, established about 1868, was one of Arizona's oldest
"My father built a corral around himself and his family, and wanted his family to live in isolation," Eva
said in a recorded 1989 interview with Tucson author Patricia Preciado Martin.
...Augustin arranged for Eva to be educated at the ranch by his sister, a secretary, rather than at the local school.
At the same time, Eva
was required to do difficult ranch work.At 10 years old, her
father told her
, "When I go away, you're the boss.You're responsible.You tell the men what to do and see that they do it."
When the ranch hands were building a fence, Eva
would ride out to oversee them on her
Spanish mustang, Diamante.If the men were standing around, she'd give them her
best little-girl glare and tell them to get on with it.
"But it wasn't fun to be boss," she
said."Mexican men were not bossed by women, especially in those days.And by a little girl?They would say, 'Are you crazy?Don't tell us what to do.'"
Sometimes they laughed at her
"It was difficult for me to take that," Eva
remembered, "and my father would get angry and say, 'Why can't you make the men work and not talk to you like that?' But I couldn't do any more as a child."
In addition to fence work, Eva
rode the range to check on the Wilbur herd and cleaned water holes to keep them running.Some were located as far as 20 miles from the ranch along the wide-open Mexican border.
"The first two years I worked there were very difficult," Eva
remembered."I was resentful.I felt as if I was the only girl in the country that was doing that.And why?Alone over there all day, and then to come back at night?It was very difficult.
In the Martin interview, a session with this writer in 1994 and in her
own published words, Eva
made it plain that she
saw herself part of the terrain, intimate with its contours, its canyons, the rhythms of the seasons, and profoundly intuitive about everything upon it.
The land had wind and wolves, and it had Eva--each untamed, each sharing the same life and each drawing sustenance from the other as they struggled together to survive on the unforgiving desert.She
told one story of approaching a water hole and feeling hot, sick and tired.She
dismounted, laid across the branch of a fallen oak tree, and felt a strange sensation.Her
father told her
it was from the pressure of her
body against the branch.
believed it was something coming from the tree, some unknown power."If I tell that to you or anybody else, they'll say she's
said."But this is true.I felt it from the tree, some sort of nutrition.It gave me the stamina I didn't have." She
talked often of the prairie dogs she
fed and the curious Mexican hawk she
befriended.Every time Eva
went to a certain spring, the hawk would sit on a rock in the water and watch her
joked that the only way she
could get rid of it was to sing to it.Then the bird would soar to the sky and perch in a hackberry tree, far from the sound of her
Living the way she
did, amid aching silence, unencumbered by human voice or concern, she
developed keen sensory abilities.
"The distance speaks and the wind thinks, and it moans and does all those things," she
said."When you are not alone, you don't know it because you don't have to listen.But when you are alone, you listen."
Eva's solace, in addition to the animals, was writing, even though her
father was staunchly opposed.He
daughter whenever she
wrote a poem or a corrido, a Mexican folk song."The cowboys write corridos, why can't I?" she
father also threatened to blister Eva
showed any interest in boys.Eva
wondered why her mother, Ramona, didn't rein in Augustin, protecting her from his worst instincts.
"I was so independent and self-willed that I think my mother gave up," Eva
used to call me La Loca. 'Come on, Loca!Come to eat!' If I was ready to eat I would go.If I wasn't, I wouldn't."
In one of the most tape's riveting segments, Eva
said of her
father, "I told my mother I wouldn't have stayed if I married a man like that.As I told my grandmother, I would have poisoned him."Then she
laughed with gusto."He
never broke my spirit," she
said."Nothing ever did."
AT 14, EVA LEFT ARIVACA to attend the Guardian Angel convent school in Los Angeles.For someone more accustomed to wolves than humans, the experience was initially disastrous.Eva
would cower behind the piano in the playroom while the music teacher, a Sisters of Mercy nun, gave lessons.
One day a girl said, "Sister, what's the matter with Eva?What kind of person is that?Where did she