|From Garfield County History|
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Homesteaders Take Care of Their Own
"Ma” Smith, a homesteading wife in Garfield County, was locally well known and greatly respected. She is a good example of women in isolated places who sometimes made difficult personal choices and material sacrifices because there was no one else to make them. In addition to running her own homesteading partnership with her husband, Ma was a practical nurse who traveled with elderly Doctor Lon Keith. Dr. Keith had given up his practice, but came out of retirement because Garfield County desperately needed him. Ma Smith helped Dr. Keith deliver scores of babies and assisted him in countless other cases.
In 1918, Dr. Keith made his last house call alone, breaking a fifteen-mile path through a blinding blizzard to set an elderly man’s broken leg. Before he left his patient, Dr. Keith was coughing. By the time he reached home, he was very ill. Ma hitched her horse to her bobsled when word came of Doc’s illness. She was by his side when he died of pneumonia. She took charge of the doctor’s household because there was no one else to do so. She bundled the doctor’s frail white-haired widow in warm clothes, packed her in the bobsled, covered her with a blanket, and took her to the nearest neighbor. While a neighbor hand made a coffin, she brushed and pressed the doctor's good black suit, prepared his body, and laid him out. She took a dress length of fine gray silk from the suitcase that she had hastily packed and stroked it with her work-roughened hand. The fabric was a special Christmas gift from her son in Chicago who was an inspector at the stockyards. She had intended to make herself a new dress with the gift. New dresses did not come often, and Ma hadn't yet had time to sew. She had, however, packed the silk thinking that it would make the perfect lining for Doc Keith’s coffin, if needed. She was right. And there was enough left over to make a pillow. Her sacrifice made a lovely bed for Dr. Keith’s final rest.