An Extraordinary Woman of the West

Today was the first anniversary of my dear friend Kate Brophy’s passing. To mark it, I went to St. Francis Cemetery in Phoenix, to have a chat. It’s a familiar place to me, since my first husband, the love of my life since fifth grade, has been there for many years as well, in a small walled shrine to St. Francis. I wasn’t exactly sure where Kate was resting, since I was ill and couldn’t attend her internment. After mapping and a consult, we found the Brophys, marked with an eight-foot-tall Celtic cross, shadowing her stone, which of course said “Peace abide, love is all”, Kate’s motto.  St. Francis isn’t a large cemetery, situated in the heart of Phoenix, but one where many of the old families have been laid to rest. Strangely enough, the Brophys and dear Kate lie a scant thirty feet away from my beloved Michael. We Irish certainly tend to stick together. Two people I love, never having met in life, are now close in death.

Let me tell you how we met. Nearly twenty years ago, I was working as a medical administrator at a large local hospital, also teaching creative writing at Phoenix College, and running a writing business, editing, coaching and copywriting. One day this woman entered my classroom and from my first look at her, I knew she was good trouble.  She plopped herself down at a desk like she owned the place, blue eyes sparkling, her snow-white hair a well-coiffed nimbus. I’m one of those teachers who like to have my students read their work, or at least a piece of it. When Kate read the poem she’d written I was stunned. Within a year, I’d helped her publish a book of poetry, which sold very well at Phoenix hospitals and hospices, and then a pictorial book about her family and the Bobacomari, the legendary Brophy ranch in southeastern Arizona, a book full of history, essays and poems about growing up on the ranch and why that way of life matters. That led to me spending many delightful days at that very place.

Southern Arizona Scenery

Kate encouraged me to finish my first novel, which came to be The Lily of the West, supplemented with research trips to Bisbee, Globe, Patagonia, Tombstone and of course Sonoita, spending many an hour in the archives of the historical societies and many more talking to people Kate introduced me to, sitting on the dusty porches of wonderful old cowboys and their wives, hearing the stories, songs and history they had lived. We rambled all around to all the places she had enjoyed and she delighted in showing to me. I was hooked, dragged into the boat and ready for more. More came, and Kate was supportive, but after my second book, she had an agenda. She wanted me to write Nellie Cashman’s story. I disagreed as I didn’t think I could do Nellie justice, i.e., she wasn’t that interesting, she wasn’t exciting, she wasn’t as colorful as the women I could create in my imagination. After reading some of Nellie’s letters and doing some research, I finally came to the conclusion that I, Little Miss Know-it-All, was 100% wrong. Nellie and the Brophy family were historically entwined in ways I’d never imagined, supplemented by the material Kate and her family provided to me. Ultimately, Nellie’s story became Golddigger: The Legendary Nellie Cashman, a book I’ve dedicated to Kate, and one I’m very proud to have written. This book would have never come to fruition without her. Kate read many passages and heartily approved them as I went,  but the day I received the galley copy and the cover, she had rapidly declined, to the point she only smiled and squeezed my hand as I read a few paragraphs and showed her the cover.   I wish I’d been faster…or even better, heeded her wishes and written Nellie sooner. It seemed like we had forever but we never do.  Kate’s wisdom taught me a lot, the most important being just that simple: Never take for granted that things can’t change abruptly, those you love can be ripped away in a heartbeat. Cherish each moment and make all of them count.

Golddigger - The Legendary Nellie Cashman by Kathleen Morris - Cover Art




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