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The “burro lady” and I spent a lot of time together in West Texas. We never rode together but I spent a lot of time thinking about her while we traveled similar trails. She was always on her favorite burro and I was in my pick-up going up and down the highway. The burro lady showed up in west Texas around 1980 and I aways wished I could trade vehicles with her.

I first saw her at Tommy’s Town, east of El Paso, and for the next twenty to twenty five years we crossed trails from Ft. Hancock to Alpine to Lajitas. She was always alone, she always looked comfortable, sat very tall in the saddle and she was always outfitted for a long ride. She was one with her burro and seemed to be a queen on a mission. I doubt if any other animal could have kept up with her; both were as tough as the country they rode in.

I never saw her build a fire. I can ride a burro all day, any day, but come nightfall, I am going to build a fire. The luxuries of life never entered her mind it seemed. I’m not sure how she obtained some of the basic survival essentials like water for herself and her burro. It’s a long way between towns in this part of the world and I don’t know any rancher that puts water next to the highways. I never knew her real name, where she came from or where she was going. She didn’t want to be bothered or be a bother. I never saw her with anyone or ever stop at any house, except on one occasion in Valentine. She didn’t show any fear, not for the weather or her surroundings.

Sometimes a year or more would go by before I would see her and it would be a wonderful surprise to suddenly catch sight of her riding along. She was always the same, always The Burro Lady. She looked ageless and the burro might be a different one but he was always just as dedicated as ever. I never got tired of watching her or wondering what made her tick. There are a lot of folks that like to ride but I never saw a person ride like she did and that is the only reason I can see why she did what she did.

Just about a year before she died, I was leaving Alpine headed toward Valentine with a gooseneck full of horses and there she was about five miles outside of Alpine headed west. As I passed her, she stuck her thumb out as if to hitch a ride. I quickly found a spot to turn around and go back because I was most curious to see why she wanted a ride?! She looked as healthy as ever and it was the first time that I had ever seen her acknowledge the fact that other people used her highway. I couldn’t imagine her wanting a ride. As I was pulling up, her burro acted a little scared, so I eased up slowly.

She was pulling on the burro to calm him down. We got everything settled and she asked me where I was going and I told her Valentine. She asked me how much I would charge her to give her a ride and naturally I told her I wouldn’t charge her anything. I had just enough space to put her burro in behind a stud horse that was saddled and I wasn’t sure what he was going to think of this burro loaded with all these various trappings but the stud just scooted over and let him in.

As I was loading him I noticed he didn’t have a curb strap on his bridle. I told her that I had some extra curbs and I would put one on the bridle when we got to Valentine. She asked me what kind I had and I told her that they were leather and chain. She said that he didn’t need one…that the burro would just break it if it was made of “whang” leather. That was a term I hadn’t heard since I was a kid.

Anyhow, we loaded up and being it was a cool winter day, the pick-up cab felt good. She didn’t unwrap her hands or head gear, she just stayed ready but comfortable. I commented on the weather, made some other small talk and she responded very quietly, so quietly that I was having trouble hearing her in the pick-up. Her eyes were light steel blue but soft, gentle, yet confident and her voice was the same. I wanted to know all about her but after the first few stabs at a conversation I could tell she wasn’t interested in the past or the future, just the present.

I didn’t find out any personal information and I didn’t ask more than a couple questions about her personal travels. I could tell she wasn’t budging so I directed my conversation to the things she enjoyed, like her burro and her saddle. I stopped in Marfa to get some diesel and coffee and asked her if she would like anything to eat? She said some coffee would be nice but she would pay for it. I went in and got coffee and a burrito for each of us. We ate our lunch and went on down the road to Valentine. We had a pleasant conversation about burros and saddles.

When we got to Valentine I unloaded her burro and left her standing beside the road just like I found her- only 50 miles further along. As to where she was headed, I am not sure. I enjoyed the visit and was glad I’d given her a ride. Her mystery was still very much alive and even more so when I crawled back in the pick-up and found she had left enough money in the cab of the pickup to pay for lunch and cover so much per mile for diesel. I drove away pondering the years I had watched her, none of it made any sense to me until I realized she was doing just exactly what I wanted to do… just ride!!

Update: From the HMH research department, fans of the Burro Lady may be pleased to know we have uncovered a bit more information. We’ve learned that her real name was Judy Ann Magers and at the time of her death in 2007, she was survived by five children and her last burro was named “Merle”. We’d like to give an additional hat-tip to Mike; his wonderful painting was created from memory and judging by the photographs of Judy on her burro, he was highly accurate in his portrait of her. Follow our links at the bottom of this article to discover the rest of her story…

Mike Capron is a featured columnist for High Minded Horseman. He’s a veteran rancher, award winning western artist and professional cowboy. You can usually find him horseback somewhere out in the Chihuahua Desert of West Texas; working his livestock, painting and living a life we all dream of.

Comments for La Reyna

  1. Shelly on December 15, 2010 I remember her well, just wish she would have been willing to tell her story, bet it would have been a good one!
  2. Delores on December 15, 2010 Great article Mike, keep up the good work.
  3. Sam on December 16, 2010 We all miss her. Not the talk, not so much the curiosity, just her presence.
  4. Reita on December 16, 2010 I am so glad you wrote this story down for safe keeping. This is a mystery story with no beginning or end. It is just what it is. I just wish I had crossed paths with her.
  5. Curtis And Carol Fort on December 16, 2010 Great story! We’re so glad that you are keeping this history alive through your articles and paintings.
  6. Phyllis Gentry on December 16, 2010 Mike, so glad you wrote this story. Reminded us of another unknown of this beautiful country. Look forward to and enjoy everything you write.
  7. Pat McDaniel on December 16, 2010 Thanks for your documenting a life that most of us could envy. An unencumbered, simple, satisfying existence with the backdrop of God’s majestic creation, the unique landscapes of Far West Texas.
  8. Carol Williamson on December 16, 2010 I saw La Reyna several years ago she was just outside of Alpine asleep on the side of the road ~ her little burro was standing guard over her ~ I heard he brayed (sp?) all night for her when she passed away ~ Great artical Mike and I REALLY love the painting !!!
  9. Mark Wheelis on December 17, 2010 Mike, Thanks for the Great Story. I think most of us would like to relax and enjoy the simple and un-cluttered life of the Burro Lady!
  10. John Daniels on December 22, 2010 What a great story Mike. I envy your restraint. I’m afraid curiosity would have ruined a magnificent, although casual, association had I been you. I can’t help but wonder how and where she died? Keep writing Mike
  11. Tracy on December 25, 2010 When I first read this story, my gut told me this one would strike a note. It also peaked our curiosity as the “Burro Lady” circulated around the office; who was she really? Well, we did some research and found out. We added an update with some interesting links at the bottom of Mike’s article- the internet is a wonderful tool. Like so many other unique individuals in this world, however, as some questions are answered others rise and we will probably never know the whole truth but it seems she would have preferred it that way.
  12. Dawn Lacy on January 04, 2011 I saw Judy the Burro Lady on my 1st trip to W. TX. and thought what in thee world…. When I asked locals about her they calmy said oh yeah that’s the Burro Lady. Like oh yeah that Mitre Peak, and that Sul Ross, etc. She was apparently part of the local landscape and was as unexplained to me as the Marfa lights.

    Years later I was befriended and employed by Bill Ivey. Bill ran the Lajitas Trading Post yrs ago and knew her as well as anyone could. He was the one that found her children after her death in time for the funeral in Terlingua. I was told by others that Bill spoke beautifully at her funeral and said a comment that few will ever forget. Bill as usual was running late and as he was racing to Terlingua with the body in time for the funeral, he looks across the big country and see fence posts rushing by. He said that he wondered what life was like at a burro’s pace.
  13. Bonnie Prather on January 20, 2011 Mike, I saw the burro lady a few times. I wanted to stop and talk, but figured she wanted to be left alone. I really enjoyed your story, and your painting(as usual) is beautiful