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v v CHAPTER 1 Abandoned O n the day after Christmas in 1960, everything my two younger brothers and I owned was packed into a small cardboard box and put in the back of a white Chevy station wagon. Painted in black on the wagon’s front doors was a logo of a young boy wearing a cowboy hat and riding a bucking horse with another boy behind him holding on to the cowboy’s shirttail. “Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch” was printed across the top and below were the words “Amarillo, Texas.” Looking out the car window, I watched the fast-­ falling snow and a small herd of antelope running across the rugged mesquite-­ covered prairie. My brothers and I grew excited, having seen the pictures on the Boys Ranch’s Christmas stamps. These stamps were mailed out twice a year to people across the country to solicit money for the ranch. One stamp showed a boy about eight years old wearing a blue cap and holding a puppy. The puppy was licking the boy’s face. Another showed two boys in cowboy hats riding horses through the snow. They both rode with their chins down, a Christmas tree tied behind the saddle on one of the horses. I longed to be the boy holding that puppy or the cowboy riding the horse with the Christmas tree tied to the back of his saddle. While we were excited, Bobby, Karl, and I were also frightened. We were moving to this strange new place hundreds of miles from our mother, whom we’d been taken away from. My mother, whom we called “Honey,” was an alcoholic and suicidal. Providing for three children with no help is hard enough without an addiction—­ she just couldn’t handle it alone. She had moved us from one vacant house to another, so we had never attended the same school for an entire year. Our mother’s 4 • The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch parents didn’t have the means to take care of us, and our other grand­ father, on my father’s side, Karl “Doc” Sarpolis, didn’t want us. Nobody wanted my brothers and me except for Boys Ranch. Paul Stuart was our driver. My brothers and I kept asking him questions about what Boys Ranch was like. After driving thirty-­ six miles northwest of Amarillo, Texas, which seemed to us like it was in the middle of nowhere, Paul Stuart pointed out to us a hill in the shape of a saddle. He told us that the hill was known as Saddleback Hill, which was on the edge of the Canadian River and served as a marker for the Native Americans. He told us it was a shallow bed of the river for the buffalo to cross and that the Native Americans would make arrowheads on top of the hill and wait for the buffalo. The western town of Tascosa sprung up alongside the river. Ever since I was a small boy, I loved Native American artifacts and stories of Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson, and Wild Bill Cody. In my mind, I couldn’t wait for a chance to look for arrowheads at the top of Saddleback Hill. We entered the arched entrance to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. I noticed a beautiful white chapel, which Mr. Stuart explained had been moved to Boys Ranch from the air base in Dalhart. It was the focal point of the ranch. We parked in front of the Boys Center, an old white building with two large cottonwood trees in front. The Boys Center was the center of operations at the ranch. The post office, bank, and snack store were located in the Boys Center. This was also where visitors registered and where new residents were processed upon arrival. We were now new residents. Three men in cowboy boots and jeans shook our hands and invited us to sit in the chairs along the wall. One of the men told us that we would do fine at the ranch if we followed the rules. He explained that we could go to Amarillo every third Saturday if we were not on “restriction .” If we were on restriction, we would be assigned extra chores after school and on weekends. We could not carry cash, he said. If we wanted to buy anything, we’d write a check from a Boys Ranch bank account. All checks had to be initialed by our dorm parents. We would...


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