“I’ll Gather My Geese,” by Hallie Stillwell
A Must-Read for Anyone Traveling to Out West
For each seasonal list, we include a nonfiction pick, the autobiography, “I’ll Gather My Geese,” by Hallie Stillwell is part of the winter list and after reading it I’m inclined to include more Texas women on our book lists! Hallie Stillwell was the embodiment of everything a non-Texan think a Texan is (even today). She was bold and a bit daring. A woman who did what needed to be done even if she had to figure out exactly what that was.
“I’ll Gather My Geese,” is Hallie Stillwell’s account of how she came to be a ranchwoman in the early twentieth century in a land that is still untamed and dangerous. She gives us a glimpse into the realities of not only being a woman on a borderland ranch before all of our modern conveniences but also being a new wife, a mother, and a greenhorn.
Always marry a woman from Texas. No matter how tough things get, she’s seen tougher.” – Dan Rather
By Page 14 Hallie Stillwell Had a Life Worth Living
I should warn this is not a book that reads like a movie. It is not a bodice-ripper and there is only one explosion. This is Hallie Stillwell’s accounting of her life. She writes in a very straightforward easy to read manner without unnecessary embellishments. In fact, it really feels as though you are having a conversation.
She begins at the beginning. By page fourteen she is running from Pancho Villa’s soldiers, moving to a border town, by herself to teach school, and needs protection from the Texas Rangers. About this time she meets Roy, her husband to be, and her life becomes something new, a cattle rancher.
Also of note, this is not history that has been modernized to current values. Though she was an independent woman and did amazing things she was a woman of her day. She wanted to please her husband, she wanted to be a mother, and she makes no qualms about these things.
On more than one occasion she becomes embarrassed of disappointing Roy, her husband, with some perceived failure. And, it is easy to look at someone else’s life and say, “Well, he should have just…” but that is not the moral or intent of this story.
This story is about how she lived and the choices she made. A glimpse into not only another world (as a Texan I have never been ranching like this!), but another time. It is a story of a woman delivering a twelve-pound baby after 48 hours of labor with no drugs. Of learning to fit in when she moves to a rival town. Not being too humble to cut hair and do nails to make extra money. though she was a ranch wife.
The Wild West
This autobiography takes you back to life in Marathon and Alpine when Big Bend National Park was a fledgling. It explores small-town life surrounding this area of Texas, in a time when people equally drove cars and rode horses and came to town for the ‘big dance.’
It is Hallie Stillwell’s story of finding the love of her life and living in the place she loved best. Of raising her family and improving her community in a way that has left a lasting mark on an area that does not change quickly but a world that does.
If you have even a middling interest in Early Twentieth Century American History, Depression Era History, WWI Homefront History, Texas History, Women’s History, Ranching History, or plan on riding out west to pass through her old stomping grounds of Marathon, Alpine, and the Big Bend area, then this book is a must-read. Because, while it touches on all of those topics, it is not just one of those things. It is a story of a well-lived life. The story of a strong woman whose passion for a ranch she was not born to spurred her to take on tasks she never imagined.
“I’ll Gather My Geese,” is a book worth your time, however, it ends shortly after the death of her husband in 1948. This was not the end of her story. Hallie’s life went on until two months, two days shy of her 100th birthday in 1997. The second volume of her memoirs is, “My Goose is Cooked.”
5 Facts About the Author: Hallie Stillwell
- Hallie’s husband was twice her age when they married in 1918, she was nineteen – they eloped.
- About her marriage, she told her father, who did not like the match, “I’d rather be an old man’s darlin’ than a young man’s slave.” (source)
- Her daughter opened a museum called Hallie’s Hall of Fame. It does not map well. You find it near a park entrance not in town (check out street view at these coordinates 29’38’37.9″N 103’04’43.3″W)
- She rode horses and worked the 22,000-acre Stillwell ranch up into her nineties. (source)
- “In 1964 she [Hallie Stillwell] became the first woman elected as justice of the peace for Alpine, in Brewster County; she held this office until retiring in 1978. When family members occasionally came before Hallie’s court, she showed no favoritism. Declaring that her family had been brought up to behave properly and obey all laws, she gave them maximum fines.” (source)