I had many intrepid and fascinating family members of the older generations. But of them all, some of the most remarkable of my relatives were the now-famous Beers Sisters, who have become feminist icons in Colorado. I am related to the five sisters through their mother, who was a Leonard. (I am not descended from the Beers family itself, who were apparently cousins of the late Anita Beers Loos, authoress of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, whom I knew when I was young for other reasons, but not family ones.)
The five girls were taken out to Colorado because their father was sent out West for his health (he had TB). He bought a huge ranch, and died rather young. As he was dying, he gathered the five girls round his deathbed and begged them: “Girls, whatever you do, don’t give up the ranch!” They made a deathbed promise to their father that they would honour his wish. None of them ever married. They joined together as a family business and set up the largest dairy in Denver, turning the ranch into a dairy farm. They had a great sense of humour and used to joke to my grandmother (who often went out to stay with them) about their dairy trucks having ‘Beers Milk’ written on them, and they never ceased laughing about that’s. This was all before World War II. One of the sisters was the bookkeeper, another managed the cows, and so on, in a calculated division of labour.
The youngest of the sisters was Ollie Beers. She and I corresponded for years, and she was rather lonely as the last one of the girls left alive. She kept herself busy though, because she was a very keen feeder of wild birds. I used to get letters from her saying things like “I fed 500 wild geese this morning”. She looked upon it as her mission in later life to keep the wild birds healthy and fat. Our letters were also always full of discussions of the many cousins and also of the many family members who were dead, which I was able to do because of my extensive knowledge of family history, which even surpassed hers.
Living as I have in England since the age of 21, it was a very long time indeed before I had any occasion to go as far afield as Colorado, and by the time I got there, Ollie was dead. In fact, I got to the ranch just as it was all about to be bulldozed and turned into a huge property development. Here are some of the photos of what was left, and one photo of the property developer’s wall chart showing how many more subdivisions were going to be built there. (Previous sections of the ranch had been built on earlier.) I have no idea who got all the money from this. Perhaps it was all left to a wild birds’ trust or something of that kind. Some local historian has published a book about the five sisters, and they have entered into local legend, with no one left now who remembers them personally, as far as I know.
Oh yes, there is a postscript. The location of the ranch was once one of the most obscure postal addresses in America: Littleton, Colorado. But now, it is a rich suburb of Denver infamous for the Columbine School Massacre which took place on what used to be my cousins’ ranch. How the Beers girls would have hated that! And who feeds the wild birds now? And where is the good rich Beers milk with thick wholesome cream floating on top, unhomogenised and unskimmed? The days of real milk in America are gone: it is all chalk water now, and as watery as possible. While Americans get fatter, their milk gets thinner. There is a moral in that somewhere.