Rooted in the Wild West
Where does Pennsylvania meet Texas? Well, Washington, DC, was a good place for Ed Burns and his wife, Faye Cope Burns. And how does it happen? Maybe a guy takes typing in high school and gets very good at it. Then he lets fate twist and turn his life along a most unexpected route.
Ed was born in Rossiter, PA, near Punxutawny, in 1920. It’s unlikely that he ever dreamed of meeting a girl from Texas whose ancestors helped tame the Wild West; that he would work some day on a ranch in Texas; that he would raise a great family with Faye.
Ed’s father worked in the coal mines around Rossiter. When a strike at the mines went on for a year, he moved his family to Youngstown so he could work in the steel mills. That’s where Ed grew up. He attended Southside High School.
It’s no surprise that Ed started working in a steel mill after graduation. That’s pretty much what sons of steel workers did. But then, Ed got a job working in the Adjutant General’s office in Washington.
How does a steel worker get a job in the Adjutant General’s office? Ed doesn’t recall the details, but he knows what enabled him to get there.
“I could type 60 to 70 words a minute,” he said.
Before long he fell in love with a girl from Texas, who also worked there. But there was a war going on, and Ed wanted to do his duty. He joined the Navy. Had fate twisted a different way, that could have been the end the relationship.
“When I joined up, Faye went back to Texas,” Ed said. “Then the Navy assigned me to Texas. Everyplace I went, she was there.”
They were married on February 24, 1944, before Ed shipped out for the South Pacific. He was assigned to the destroyer escort USS Richard S. Bull, DE-402. During the next year and a half, he traveled 186,000 miles on her as she participated in some of the greatest battles of the war.
“I ran the ship’s office,” Ed said. “When they rang general quarters, I was the first loader on the 40mm gun. You dropped everything and you went. I’d stand there and put the shells in the breach. I watched the landing at Iwo Jima. I was at Okinawa and the Battle of the Philippine Seas.”
During the most intense combat situations, their fleet was attacked by kamikazes almost every night.
“One time we were in a harbor. There were too many ships in there. The commander of the fleet says I want a bunch of you to get out of that harbor because the suicide planes can’t miss. One of our sister ships, the USS Eversole, said “We’re going out. You follow us.”
As they sailed out of the harbor, the Eversole was sunk by a torpedo from a Japanese sub.
“We went right through the survivors, but we couldn’t pick them up because we had contact with the submarine. If we had stopped, we would have been sunk, too. We didn’t go straight after the sub, but we called for another destroyer to help us, and told them what the problem was. They made just one pass, dropped a depth charge and got the submarine. Then we picked up the Eversole’s survivors and took the badly injured ones to a hospital ship.”
Fortunately, the Richard S. Bull was never hit by either a torpedo or a kamikaze.
Of course there were long periods of time outside of the combat areas. During those breaks in the action, the sailors had to find ways to entertain themselves.
“One time on the ship we had a blackjack game. I started with $20, after a while I had a bushel basket full of bills. I had a guy counting the money and stacking it. And then I lost it all, because they started playing $500 a hand against me.”
Ed was discharged from the service in October, 1945. He and Faye went back to Youngstown, where Ed worked in the steel mills. Then they had the opportunity to move to Texas to work on the Cope ranch.
“Faye was the only daughter the Copes had,” Ed said. “Her father wanted us to come down there and help her brother Van Cope with their farm. He said I’ll provide all the machinery and pay the bills. All you guys have to do is the plowing and the planting. So we went down there.”
Ed found himself in the heart of Texas cattle country, not far from the top of Caprock Canyon where Faye was born in 1923. Faye’s mother was born on the gigantic Matador Ranch, which by 1900 had encompassed 800,000 acres. That’s about 1250 square miles, twice the size of Mercer County. The Matador Company also leased another 650,000 acres in Texas, 500,000 acres in northern Montana, and 300,000 acres on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Since 1910 the ranch has had on hand an average of 55,000 head of cattle.
Faye’s family owned a much smaller ranch, but her forefathers played an important role in the development of the area. Her great-grandfather, Reuben Fletcher Cope, was born in Tennessee in 1830. When he was about 15, his family moved to Illinois, then to the area near Ft. Worth, Texas. He married Mary LeFors in 1851.
Reuben helped cut the pickets that were put around the fort to protect the people from the Indians. When the Civil War broke out, he was forced to served in the Confederate Army, but his sympathies were with the North. He was wounded, suffered from malaria, and abandoned by his military unit. He tried to make his way to the North, but the war ended before he could get there.
When he went back to Texas, he found that the West was every bit as wild as its reputation. The Johnson County sheriff was going to resign, but Reuben talked him into staying and promised to assist if he needed help. According to one tale, the sheriff called Reuben to tell him a very bad desperado named Tip Collins was in the area. Reuben and a neighbor who knew Tip went to intercept him. As they passed a stranger, the neighbor said, “Hello, Tip.” Reuben turned and saw that Tip was reaching for his gun. Reuben beat him to the draw and shot him off his horse. Reuben became a deputy sheriff and a U.S. Marshall, and helped to clean up the county.
If you are a movie buff, the maiden name of Faye’s great-grandmother might ring a bell. A relative named Joe LeFors was born in Johnson County, Texas, and developed a reputation as a U.S. Marshal in Wyoming. He shows up in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. A group of U.S. marshals, including Joe LeFors, relentlessly pursue the two outlaws all the way through the West, to New York City, and finally to Ecuador. “Who are those guys?” Butch and Sundance ask each other. Hollywood undoubtedly added its own spin on the story, but there really was a Butch Cassidy who really was pursued by a posse, one of whom really was Joe LeFors, a real-life relative of Faye Cope Burns.
Ed and Faye’s brother Van worked their ranch together.
“We would plant like maybe 300 acres of wheat, and when the season got right, we put sorghum in, another 300 acres. We ran a few cattle, too.”
The Copes themselves owned about 800 acres, and leased another 700 acres. After Ed had been there about five years, the owner of the leased acreage wanted his land back so his son could farm it. That left the Copes with not enough land to support both Van’s and Ed’s families. So Ed, Faye, and their family went back to Youngstown.
“I had one brother-in-law that wanted me to go back to into steel,” Ed said, “and the other brother-in-law wanted me to go into rubber. So I went to work at Aeroquip, the rubber company, building various rubber products. I worked there about 28 years until they finally went bankrupt. Then I worked in a steel mill until I retired in 1985.”
Ed and Faye raised seven kids: Patrick (born in 1947), Mike (1950), Carol (1951), twins Marian (Harrison) and Marilyn (1954), Kevin (1956), and Mark (1959). They have 22 grandchildren.
Ed and Faye always had a great relationship.
“We don’t argue about anything,” Ed says. “That’s why we’re sixty three years married.”
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 2, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2008