On a rainy night outside the high school of Webster Groves, Missouri, a woman was passing the auditorium entrance where a large bulletin board announced the program being given inside: “SHEEP, STARS, AND SOLITUDE.” She stopped to read the words. Then, for some reason which she herself could not explain, she slipped inside and took a vacant seat, just as the lights were dimmed.
I was presenting our color motion picture of Rosalio’s trek with the sheep.
After Helen and I had completed editing the film, I had taken it, in personal appearance showings, to lecture halls across America — Constitution Hall in the nation’s capital, Field Museum and Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Town Hall and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh, Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis, The Brooklyn Academy, Pasadena’s Civic Auditorium, Shrine Auditorium of Los Angeles, and universities, clubs and schools from San Francisco to Boston.
Webster Groves was one of these stops, and the audience was particularly appreciative. As I left the hall, the woman who had slipped into the showing on impulse touched my arm.
“Mr. Line. I don’t know . . . I can’t . . . “
She was trying to keep back tears, but forced herself to continue:
“I have to tell you . . . I was going to end it tonight. I was on my way to the river . . . I saw that sign. I don’t know why I came in. Those words, I guess — sheep and stars. But the film .. . Rosalio . . . the courage. It gave ME courage again . . . to live. “
There was a moment’s pause. Then:
“Thank you, Mr. Line. Thank that man. “
With those words, before there was a chance for me to make reply or to obtain her name, the woman disappeared into the darkness.
It soon became clear to Helen and to me that this record of the sheep trek and Rosalio’s quiet heroism was leaving a deep impression on countless men, women, and children. We found that it appealed to all ages.
Officials of the United States Department of State heard about the production and arranged to have a shorter version of it translated into twenty-three foreign languages for worldwide distribution, to show to people everywhere the workaday heroism of a humble American.
A version in Spanish was distributed in Mexico and Spain. Rosalio — via the film — had made his way back to the land of his forebears.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corporation began distribution of an English language short version which would put it in schools, universities, and libraries of nearly every American state.
We named this shorter version after Rosalio Lucero himself — MORNING STAR — the English translation of his last name. In Rosalio, people were experiencing a strange quality of greatness combined with simplicity — a combination which is rare.
The number of persons to whom I showed the film personally soon reached more than a million, throughout the United States and Canada.
Two people, however, had never seen it — Rosalio and Pablo. We wanted to show it to those two almost more than to anyone else.
Prospects for such a showing seemed remote. They were trail-bound nearly four months of the year. No motion picture projector or electricity were available at the home ranch in the White Mountains, or anywhere along the trail. Chandler, close to the pastures where they tended the herds in winter, had no lecture course.
After much planning, we arranged a charity showing, put on by the Girl Scouts, in Chandler’s high school auditorium. Plans were made for Rosalio and Pablo to attend. This was a big moment for us. Helen and I drove out to their tent near the sheep to pick them up.
Rosalio would not come. Pablo was hesitant. There was no question that they wanted to see the film. But — surrounded by a thousand curious eyes?
I should have realized. I had just returned from those hot crowded lecture halls. Sitting with the herder and campero about their campfire out in the quiet pasture near the herd, I began again to feel the spirit of the trail. I obtained one more insight into the self-effacement of the man who was able to devote his whole life to his sheep.
Next night, with a borrowed projector, in a combined hay barn and toolshed near the herd, before the smallest audience to which it had ever been presented, we showed the film to the two men whose story it portrayed.
As the familiar scenes lit up the small borrowed screen, there would be a chuckle from one or the other, or both. Often they whispered excitedly to each other. Pablo, three or four times, used an endearing Spanish oath of wonder and amazement. On few film occasions in our lives have Helen and I had a more gratifying experience than that showing.
Rosalio expressed his thanks that they had been able to see it here in the barn, rather than before the huge crowd. “More better that way,” he said simply.
Pablo grinned and shook his head in wonderment. “That’s damn good,” he told me. Excitedly they recounted the scenes to each other as we drove them back to their sheep.
Disappearing into the tent, Rosalio emerged with the stout wooden shepherd’s staff which he had carried along the Heber-Reno Trail for a dozen years. He had fashioned it himself from a special piece of wood he had found near the summit of the Sierra Ancha. From crook to tip, it was notched with markings of the sheep counts. It was the staff with which he had lovingly hooked untold dozens of his sheep and lambs, that he might treat them for injuries or render first aid. It was the staff on which he had leaned in relaxation when — after getting the herd past some threatening canyon or escarpment — he watched them seek the safety of more pleasant terrain.
“Maybe you like this,” he said simply. “Remind you of sheepsies. ” He handed me the staff.
So that Rosalio and Pablo could see it, we had arranged our presentation of SHEEP, STARS, AND SOLITUDE in Chandler as a charity affair. But no payment which I have ever received for the showing of this film could equal the gift with which we left Chandler that night. This shepherd’s staff of the Heber-Reno Stock Trail is among the true treasures of our years producing documentary films about the world.
Several times, in the years that followed, Helen and I met Pablo and Rosalio and the herd at the Salt River sheep bridge. Once each year, somewhere out on the trail, Rosalio would write us a letter.
Years followed swiftly upon one another, as fast as the sheep running single file for water along Borrego Canyon. One spring we arrived several days too late for the sheep crossing at the bridge.
We had not seen Rosalio for a couple of years and longed to make contact once more. So we drove on the Bush Highway up to Sunflower and went in to Sycamore Creek, on a road which had been greatly improved. We hoped to intercept the herd. It had already passed that point.
We tried at Rock Tank and at Tonto Creek. Rosalio and the sheep had either passed, or not yet arrived. Unsuccessful in finding him, we left notes for him with other herders.
Since we were on our way east, we made a side trip to Albuquerque, in New Mexico, and tried to locate his sister. She had moved from the address which we had.
Some young school children passed us on the sidewalk in the Plaza Square. On impulse, Helen asked them: “I wonder if you know of a Mr. Rosalio Lucero. His sister lives here in Old Albuquerque. We want to find her.”
Their eyes lighted up. “Rosalio Lucero? Oh, yes. He is the herder. We see a film of him every year in our school. He is a great man.”
With the help of the school children we were able to find the sister. The next year, from her, came word of Rosalio’s death, on the trail.
“He is a great man “
It is good that school children in Albuquerque know that about Rosalio.
It is good that school children, as well as adults, across the world, may realize that a sheepherder can exhibit the highest qualities of heroism in his everyday work.
Rosalio’s is a type of life that broadens the concepts of greatness.
About the Author
By age twenty-one Francis Line had hiked to every state in the Union and circled the globe, working his way as he went. He is a University of Michigan graduate, magna cum laude, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and The Los Angeles Adventurers’ Club.
Line has lectured with his travel-adventure films at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. ; Columbia University, Town Hall, and The American Museum of Natural History in New York; Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh; Orchestra Hall and Field Museum in Chicago; Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles; Pasadena Civic Auditorium, and similar halls nationwide. He has also produced educational films which are used in schools, universities and libraries throughout America.
Francis has written for THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, ARIZONA HIGHWAYS, BOYS’ LIFE, WIDE WORLD OF ENGLAND and, along with his wife Helen, is coauthor of the following books: GRAND CANYON LOVE STORY, the narrative of their sixty years of adventure in the Canyon; MAN WITH A SONG, Major and Minor Notes in the Life of Francis of Assisi; and BLUEPRINT FOR LIVING.
Francis and Helen now celebrate their wedding anniversary every year by hiking the twenty mile round trip to the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River.
The Los Angeles Metropolitan YMCA presented the first
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. Human Dignity Award to the Lines, in recognition of outstanding service rendered to the youth of Watts, and to the Navajo Indians, on whose reservation the Lines lived for two years as they produced a documentary motion picture there.