Big Bend Burro Lady, Judy Magers

The Burro Lady of Big Bend; photograph copyright  James Evans

The Burro Lady of Big Bend; photograph copyright James Evans

By Roy Hamric

For decades, most folks in Far West Texas at one time saw Judy Magers on her burro riding along the side of the highway or camping next to the road. This story first appeared in 2008 in the Desert Candle, a cultural journal published in Alpine, Texas. Judy died of a heart attack on January 26, 2007, in Sierra Blanca.

We saw Judy about one mile east of Van Horn on Highway 90. She was sitting on the ground on the side of the road under a small tree and eating food with her fingers. A harsh, cold wind was blowing. Several plastic bags flapped loudly, caught on the barbed wire strands of a fence behind her. Her burro was still saddled, head down, bedecked with the rainbow-colored blankets and brightly colored strings that made it look like a psychedelic, walking Christmas present. The burro carried an assortment of blankets, ropes, bottles and storage bags that represented Judy and her way of life as a vagabond, a mysterious spirit with no home. She lived under the stars.

“Hi, how are you? Can I talk to you?” Laddawan, my Thai wife, asked through the car window. Judy nodded. We got out and Laddawan went over to her and sat down beside her. Laddawan’s puppy followed her and nestled down beside them.

Judy wore three or four coats. She had on white plastic boots with silver spurs. She wore a tight, white plastic skullcap that came down over her ears, making her look like a medieval apparition from a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. The skin on her face was swollen and raw and colored brownish red from the wind and years of living outdoors.

“Do you want some water?” Laddawan asked.

“No, thank you. I have some water.”

“Are you ok? What’s your name?”

“My name’s Judy. You have a beautiful puppy.”

“Yes, he is my baby. His name is Roxy. How old is your donkey?”

“Eight years.”

“Male or female?”

“Male.”

“Can I touch him?”

“Don’t get too close to him, because he might kick.”

“Oh, ok.”

“How old are you?” Laddawan asked.

“How old are you?” Judy asked.

“I’m 35.”

“I’m 29,” Judy said, smiling.

Laddawan laughed. “I’m from Thailand. I’m very interested in you. I like to talk with people ­­– it makes me happy, because sometimes when I am alone I feel sad and homesick.

“You have to buy a radio,” Judy said.

“Do you have a radio?”

“Yes,” she said. “I have a small transistor radio.”

“And you listen to it?”

“Sometimes. I like Mexican music at night.”

“Do you have a problem with animals—tigers, javelina?” Laddawan asked.

“No,” Judy said.  “I’ve never had a problem”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m lookin’ for some land to buy,” Judy said. “I hear they have cheap land over around Sanderson.”

“Why do you want land? Just to put some things?”

Judy nodded.

Judy said she roamed the lonely highways as far south as Terlingua near the Mexico border and from Sanderson to Van Horn to Fort Hancock.

“I don’t stop too much,” she said. She said she could average 12 to 15 miles a day, riding or walking alongside her burro.

“Can I take a picture with you?” Laddawan asked.

“You can take a picture of the burro, but I don’t want my picture taken.”

Judy got up and began fiddling with a rope tied to a fence post while I took a picture of her burro.

“If I see you later, can I talk to you again?” Laddawan asked.

“Ok”

Laddawan reached over and tried to shake Judy’s hand, holding two of her fingers.

“Ok, you have a good day,” Laddawan said. “I want to stop and talk to you whenever I see you. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” Judy said.

Back in the car, we made a U-turn across the highway, and Laddawan waved goodbye.

“I want to be friends with her,” Laddawan said, smiling. “Maybe someday I will live like that –  a wandering nun.”

Judy camped on the side of the highway near Van Horn; photograph by Roy Hamric

Judy camped on the side of the highway near Van Horn; photograph by Roy Hamric

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