Grandmother Eva Ratliff by Kathryn Ratliff Benes

With all of the news focused on COVID-19, I can’t help thinking about my Grandmother Eva Ratliff. As a young woman, she lived with her family in Pittsburg, KS where she taught school. She was told that, because of her weak immune system, that she would likely die unless she moved to a dry climate. So in 1916, her father accompanied her to Baca County, CO to homestead, as a single woman. She taught school in the county seat of Springfield during the school year and “proved up” her place during the summers – until the Spanish Flu of 1918 struck. Because she was rather frail, she retreated alone to the dugout of a friend near to her homestead. The dugout had sandstone steps that led to the base of the stairwell, and a door at the bottom that opened out. While self-quarantined, far from anyone else, the Blizzard of 1918 hit. It snowed and blew for days, and the stairwell became packed with snow. She could open the door to the outside only far enough to start digging out with a teaspoon. My grandmother and grandfather didn’t know each other at the time, but he too had come to Baca County because of his health. He, too, had been told by a doctor that unless he moved to a dry climate, he would likely die within a few years. My Grandfather Jack Ratliff became a range rider for the JJ (also known as the Prairie) Cattle Company. During the Blizzard of 1918, the cattle that he was in charge of, drifted with the blowing snow, and in the aftermath of the blizzard, he began gathering the strayed cattle. As he went about that task, he came upon a dugout where smoke was coming out of the smokestack, but the dugout was completely covered with snow. So, my grandfather began to dig out the snow from the stairwell and found a little “city” lady diligently digging her way out of the snow prison with her trusty teaspoon. They found that each of them probably didn’t have long to live, so they decided to get married. Grandmother lived to be 84, and Grandfather lived to be 93. Over the years ahead they survived more Colorado blizzards, droughts, grasshopper infestations, falling cattle prices and bank crash that took all of their money with the exception of 1 dime, but they were resourceful survivors who loved the land and always saw a “way forward.” They were good stewards of the time and place in which they lived. That DNA and mentality was passed down to my father and my aunt, to my generation, and hopefully to generations of our family to come. My family’s story is not so different than others who live in this great country, so while there is sadness over the suffering and lives lost, we are a resourceful people and we will, as a people and a nation grow and thrive as a result of this time and place in which we live. Prayers for our Country.

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