Mary Stevenson and Carolyn Carty have their own stories to tell. Often abused by her father after her mother's death, Stevenson earned money (and the nickname "the White Cracker") during the Depression by dancing on street corners, eventually becoming a showgirl at Philadelphia's Troc Theater. She was just 14 when, locked out of her house on a winter night, she saw a neighbor's cat walk across the snow, leaving its paw prints. She found a pencil and scribbled the poem, trying to imagine herself on a warm beach.

The trauma Carty endured has left much of her early life a blur. After her mother's nervous breakdown, she went to Chicago to live with her father and his girlfriend. "My father and this girl were blatant alcoholics," Carty said. "They threw parties all the time and knew nothing about raising children," of which they had two of their own. In 1976, a stranger attacked her with a hunting knife. She survived but had a nervous breakdown. In the late 90s, Carty was assaulted again. "Someone hit me with a full-on deathblow to the face," Carty said. "It broke my nose, broke my neck, and bruised half my face. And he continued to assault me."

"I don't think these attacks were random," Carty told me on the phone from Washington state. "I believe they were caused by someone who knows that I wrote 'Footprints.' I had an attorney recently tell me, 'Carolyn, if you'd ever collected all the money that this item has made, do you have any idea how much you'd have?' Do you see what I'm saying?"

Carty has contacted companies that use her 1986 copyrighted version, which begins "One night a man had a dream"--Powers' starts "One night I had a dream"-demanding payment. Cedco Publishing, which produces "Footprints" calendars with her opening line, "has sold over two million copies of my 'Footprints' in calendars alone," she said. "I figure they owe me at least $500,000 in back royalties, and that doesn't include infringement fines." Cedco has told her that her version has been in public use since at least the 1930s. The company didn't respond to requests for an interview.

Carty told me that she's recently signed a deal with a "major distributor" that serves 10,000 Christian bookstores, though she refuses to mention the company's name. She also plans to sue Margaret Powers for infringement.

The question of authorship might be settled if someone could produce an early version attributed to Stevenson that would trump the two later claims, but none has surfaced. Powers lost her original copies in a move in 1980, but she has a copy that was pasted in her 1965 wedding album and discovered decades later. A relative of Floyd Keaton purportedly has a 1944 copy of Keaton's handwritten poem. The paper on which Mary Stevenson's 1939 copy was printed has been forensically authenticated as circa 1940 stock. Carty is the only claimant without an existing original. "My decoupaged 'Footprints' puzzle and plaque were either thrown away," Carty told me, "or my aunt buried them with my uncle."

Nevertheless, dated paper doesn't seem to advance anyone's claim. While touting his mother's 1939 copy, Stevenson's son Basil pooh-poohs the copy in Margaret Powers' wedding album. "Anyone could write the poem on some old paper, stick it in a book, and claim it was the original. What does that prove?"