Beers Sisters

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Beers family, 1895. Bessie, Mattie, Edna, William, Ollie, Marguerite, Sally
William A. Beers family, c.1895. Back row: Bessie, Mattie, Edna.  Front row: William, Ollie, Marguerite, Sally.

The five remarkable Beers sisters and their highly successful farming and dairy operation were unusual in the man's world that was Littleton at the turn of the century. William A. Beers had brought his wife, Sally Walker Gibson Beers, and their five daughters to Colorado from Kentucky about 1892 for Mrs. Beers' health. Although she succumbed to tuberculosis two years later, the family continued to live in Denver where Beers was a pressman for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News. In 1897 they moved to the area east of Littleton which became known as Pickletown (near current Orchard Avenue and Pennsylvania Street) because Beers wanted his girls to live in the country. Apparently he continued to maintain an apartment near his work, while the girls almost independently ran the small farm. Here they raised irrigated alfalfa and probably a garden, chickens, and bees. They attended the Broadway School. In 1902 they moved to Jefferson County where they rented a succession of farms in several locations, one of which was near Bowles Lake on land owned by Charles Bowles, the elder son of Joseph W. Bowles. Charles Bowles suggested that he sell them a thirty-six and one-half acre farm at 4900 South Wadsworth at the southwest corner of Marston Lake. In 1908 they paid $1,000 down and moved there. Here their first house was a twenty-four by twenty-four foot structure on blocks.

The following year the daughters, who had long since assumed the running of the farm, started a dairy. They expanded from having a few cows and selling butter through home delivery, to raising Jersey and Guernsey calves for the herd and shipping whole milk by train to retail outlets in Denver. Their father died in 1909, the same year the dairy was begun.

Beers Milk Truck in 1924
Beers Sisters milk truck, c.1924.

"Long before their father's death," says historian and former neighbor, Walter Weare, "they constituted a female-headed household." The dairy prospered. Ollie Beers was interviewed in 1977 at age eighty-five and remembered that by 1918 they milked about sixty cows. A pact seemed to develop between the sisters, along with an agreement about division of labor between them. The three older girls, Mattie, Edna, and Bessie, did most of the difficult work during the period when Marguerite and Ollie were sent to a private high school in Denver and then taught school for a few years. On one of their first farms, Edna and Bessie did not believe the hired men were working well, and so took over the plowing. Bessie began to emerge as the reigning matriarch, says Weare. Edna was in charge of bottling the milk and "was fanatical about cleanliness." As time went by, the sisters became locally famous, and the milk from their farm was considered the richest and purest available. To cool it before shipping, ice was harvested in winter and stored in their ice house on the edge of Patrick Lake.

Beers Sisters Dairy Farm 1936
Beers Sisters Dairy Farm, c.1936. The five sisters operated the popular dairy near Belleview and Wadsworth.

In 1924 they decided to eliminate the middleman and go retail with their sales. In business as Beers Sisters Farm Dairy, they bought a milk truck and sold through home deliveries. Ollie was in charge of deliveries. Until then they had done most of the work themselves, which meant they milked the cows by hand, processed and shipped the milk, irrigated the fields, and harvested the crops. They gradually added hired help until probably a dozen men worked for them. The sisters had added a dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bath to the house, and later extended it with a sleeping porch. The original four-room dwelling remained part of the house.

Beers' Sisters ice house, at the Littleton Historical Museum
Beers' Sisters ice house, at the
Littleton Museum.

In the late 1920s they purchased an additional 480 acres where they pastured the cows and grew alfalfa hay for sale. Sometime after 1928 they got milking machines, "not that they had been opposed to technology," says Weare, but that they were concerned about the welfare of their cattle. He says they had a special love for the land and the animals, and the dairying was not so much a livelihood as a way of living "that expressed their sisterhood, both as siblings and as women--kind of a collective identity that was more than the sum of its individual parts."

None of the sisters ever married, although they were attractive women and had numerous boyfriends and active social lives. They enjoyed barn dances, card parties, and literary societies, and often entertained friends in their home, sometimes with elegant dance parties where they appeared stunningly dressed and groomed. They retired in 1945. After having David Chenault run the dairy for several years, they sold it to Frink Dairy in 1951, but they continued to live on the farm. Mattie died at age sixty-two; the other sisters lived into their nineties. All the sisters and their parents are buried in Fairmount Cemetery. In 1981 the Beers sisters' ice house was moved to the Littleton Historical Museum and installed at the edge of Ketring Lake where it serves as an active part of the Museum's 1860s farm.

Bibliography

Littleton Independent. Littleton, Colo.; The Littleton Independent Publishers, 1888-.

Littleton Museum. Biographical File: "Beers."

Littleton Museum. Oral History Collection transcript:  "Ollie Beers, Jefferson County, Colo., 1977."

Littleton Museum. Photograph Collection:  "Bio: A-F."

Weare, Walter B. "The Beers Sisters: Gender and Family In the American West." Research Profile. Vol. 11. No. 3. Milwaukee, WI: The Graduate School, The University of Wisconsin, 1977.

Photographs courtesy of the Littleton Museum unless otherwise noted. To order copies, contact the museum at 303-795-3950.

 

Compiled by Doris Farmer Hulse

Updated May 2017