The family travels for three days to reach the Casey Ranch, which Dad likes to call the “KC ranch,” where the countryside is so green that Lily can hardly believe her eyes. The ranch is farm-like, with tomato vines and peach orchards. The house is made of sturdy adobe and stone, and contains two bedrooms, plus a woodshed and barn stall for Lupe and Apache. To Lily, it feels like “grandeur.” The next day they spot a mirage on the horizon that looks like an upside-down town. They are all mesmerized, even as Dad explains the science behind it. He draws a diagram in the dirt and explains how cold air bends light. When Lily finally understands, he says, “Eureka!” Lily feels a rush, like she might “get a handle on this old world after all.”
The fact that it takes three days to reach the ranch is an early indication of how tedious and time-consuming horse-drawn travel can be. The family’s poverty is again emphasized by the fact that simply having a sturdy home with two bedrooms constitutes nearly-unimaginable grandeur for Lily and her siblings. Dad’s explanation of mirages underscores his intelligence and serves as the first moment in which Lily realizes how much she enjoys learning for its own sake.
Despite being only eleven, Lily oversees the hiring of farmhands for her father. Dad is distracted by training horses, and continues to write to politicians and newspapers “railing against” modernization. He is also working on a book on phonetic spelling and a biography of Billy the Kid—who had swapped a horse out at the Casey Ranch when Dad was a teen. Dad considers the Kid “a good American boy” who only shot people who deserved it. He also admires that he stood up for Mexicans. Dad’s biography will vindicate the Kid and prove to the world that despite his speech impediment, Dad is good with words.
Lily continues to be extremely hard working and self-reliant, stepping into traditionally masculine roles on the ranch without complaint. Dad’s hatred of modernity will become increasingly futile as modern technology becomes more embedded in everyday life. His evaluation of Billy the Kid reveals the subjectivity of morality in this world, and again emphasizes his impatience with racial prejudice.
That fall Lily turns twelve and Buster enrolls in a Jesuit school, despite being two years younger than Lily. When Lily turns thirteen, her parents finally let her attend a Catholic girls school in Santa Fe, 200 miles away. Lily is impressed with the beauty of Santa Fe and takes an immediate liking to the strict but fair Mother Albertina, the Mother Superior of her new school. Mother Albertina explains that the staircase to the choir loft in the school chapel has 33 steps, the same age as Jesus when he died. It was built by a mysterious carpenter, seemingly in answer to the nuns’ prayers.
The fact that Buster is allowed to attend school before Lily underscores the sexist nature of society at this time. When Lily is eventually allowed to go, she must travel a vast distance, emphasizing how isolated the ranch—and much of the American southwest—still was at this time. Mother Albertina will play an important role in Lily’s life, and from the beginning serves as a role model of a strong woman.
Compared to the ranch, school feels like a vacation to Lily, and she excels academically. She begins to tutor other students and notes the differences between the soft-spoken girls from rich families and herself, who is so used to yelling and “hollering like a horse trainer.”
Lily’s background, though difficult, has equipped her to take on school life with ease. Her tutoring other students foreshadows her later becoming a teacher, while her difference from the other girls underscores the fact that she does not fit in with traditional conceptions of femininity.
One day Mother Albertina calls Lily into her study and tells her that while many girls are at the school to become marriage material, Lily does not have to get married. Though women continue to have few professional opportunities, she encourages Lily to think about becoming a teacher. She says that Lily, like her, has a “strong personality.” Lily reflects that she loves learning and that she could be her “own boss” in the classroom. Unfortunately, Mother Albertina calls Lily back to her study later to tell her that Dad has failed to pay her tuition for the next semester, and she will need to leave school.
Mother Albertina’s speech reiterates the limited options for even the strongest, most intelligent women of the time. Teaching could be a way for Lily to assert her independence and autonomy in such an environment, and she takes Mother Albertina’s advice to heart. The family’s poverty stands in the way of her goals momentarily, however, representing yet another “fall” from which Lily will have to pick herself up.
Mother Albertina sees a tearful Lily to the train station and assures her that when God closes a window he opens a door. Dad meets Lily in the town of Tinnie, along with four huge Great Danes in the back of the carriage. Dad spent the tuition money on the dogs, which he plans to breed. Lily is outraged, especially upon learning that Buster gets to stay in school because he is a boy. The ranch is in mild disrepair when they arrive, and Lily wonders if Dad stopped paying tuition so she would have to help out there again.
Lily will remember Mother Albertina’s words for much of her life and turn to them in times of strife. They echo her belief in her ability to take control of her own future, as opposed to relying on faith in “God’s will.” The fact that Buster is allowed to stay in school again reveals the inescapable sexism of Lily’s environment.
The Caseys have brought in tenant farmer Zachary Clemens, his wife, and daughter, Dorothy, to help out on the ranch. Lily admires Dorothy’s work ethic. One day Dorothy finds all four dogs shot dead by neighboring Old Man Pucket, who accuses them of chasing his cattle. A furious Dad grabs his shotgun, but Dorothy wrestles it from him and tells him that shooting Pucket would just start a feud—and a feud had killed her own brother years earlier. Lily reminds Dad that a feud killed his father as well.
Lily continues to admire strong women, like Dorothy, who take their lives into their own hands. Men’s anger threatens to tear Lily’s world apart, and it is only through a woman’s wisdom that Dad is prevented from starting a potentially deadly feud.
Dad decides to file a legal claim against Old Man Pucket instead and appoints Lily to speak for him in court. Lily is well-prepared to make a presentation, but the judge cuts her off and quickly rules that Pucket needs to pay her father back in horses or cattle. Pucket later brings a string of horses to the Casey corral and hands them off to Lily, who sees no point in holding a grudge against a neighbor. Pucket tells Lily should would make a good lawyer.
Lily’s intelligence is again evidenced by this foray into law, however brief, and this also foreshadows her knack for politics much later in life. The fact that she readily forgives Old Man Pucket shows how practical-minded Lily is, another trait that will serve her well as she works to lift herself from poverty.
Old Man Pucket’s horses are “half-broke,” meaning no one had properly trained them and they will be very difficult to ride due to their fear of humans. Lily takes to a mare who seems less skittish than the rest, saying that though she is not a beautiful horse, she is smart. Lily names her Patches after her white, brown, and black coloring. Lily accepts that her chance at education is behind her, so she needs to make the most of what she has. She begins to break Patches properly, and the horse proves a quick learner. They start racing in small races.
Lily connects with Patches because the horse reminds her of herself: brave, intelligent, and somewhat willful. Lily values these attributes more than beauty, despite the fact that women often are only valued for the latter. In a sense, Lily is a “half-broke horse” too, and this is in part why she so easily connects with Patches. The mare will prove a steady, invaluable companion to Lily for decades to come.
That summer Buster finishes eighth grade and does not feel the need to continue to high school, having already achieved a higher education than most out West. Lily notices that he and Dorothy like each other and observes that he would need someone hardworking like Dorothy beside him if he were ever to run the ranch on his own.
Societal sexism means that Buster will inherit the ranch despite the fact that Lily has proven herself the more capable sibling. Women’s strength is again emphasized by the fact that Dorothy is more adept at running the ranch than is Lily’s brother.
Lily receives a letter from Mother Albertina. With World War I starting there is a shortage of teachers, and Lily would just need to pass a test to get a job—despite being only fifteen. Mom thinks leaving the ranch would reduce Lily’s chance of finding a husband, and Dad wants her to stay and help, but they allow her to take the test. She passes easily and is assigned to a school in Red Lake, Arizona, five hundred miles west.
Mother Albertina has presented Lily with a “door” like the one she mentioned upon Lily’s leaving school, and it is up to Lily to walk through it. Lily’s intelligence and gumption help her break free of life on the ranch, where her options as a woman would be especially narrow.
Lily rides Patches to Red Lake, packing light and planning to stop at towns along the way. She estimates the trip will take four weeks. She plans to hide her hair and keep her “voice low,” and Dad gives her a small gun for added protection. The morning of her departure, he also gives her “all sorts of advice,” mostly in the form of clichés, and says she has “horse blood in her veins” and will be back. Lily waves goodbye as she and Patches begin their journey.
The daunting journey does not appear to faze Lily, whose strength and independence grow yet more prominent. The fact that she must appear more masculine yet again emphasizes that she is living in a man’s world, but her past experiences on the ranch and connection to nature will help her survive in the unknown.