Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Grandma wrote news articles for the Ottumwa paper and the county newspapers. As a widely-sought-out source of local information, she greatly enjoyed the task of keeping tabs on the whereabouts of former Leando, Douds, and Business Corners residents. Mary Fellows kept busy trying to find stray relatives who had broken ties with their families and old friends. Through her efforts school and family reunions were organized, addresses were found, and people were encouraged to return to their roots for these events.

During the Great Depression, my grandfather Theo lost his little farm for awhile and my grandparents were forced to live in Batavia and Libertyville in Jefferson County for about two years, until they could regain possession of their beloved property. Otherwise, Mary lived her entire life in the vicinity of Douds-Leando.

After completing a new brick home, the Ratcliff family moved from their log cabin two miles southwest of Leando, in 1881. Grandma was the youngest of eight children born to Aaron and Charlotte Ratcliff, and the only one not born in the log cabin. Also unlike other family members, Mary spelled her name Ratcliffe, as she thought it looked prettier when written in her excellent, flowery, penmanship. She won numerous certificates and awards for her Palmer Method of handwriting, and was in constant demand for her entertaining recitation of poems, and theatrical delivery of dramatic readings.

Son of Job and Tamar Ratcliff, Jesse had been born in South Carolina in 1809 and married Rozanna Cozad in 1831. They first left their family and lived in Noblesville, Indiana where Aaron was born in 1842. For his participation in Indian Wars, Jesse received a grant from President Pierce for land in Van Buren County in 1853, and the Ratcliff family arrived to take possession.

On October 5, 1866 Aaron Ratcliff and Charlotte Aldola Angeline Morrison were married in Libertyville, where Charlotte was born in 1843, about five years after her parents of Scottish ancestry came to Iowa Territory. Charlotte attended a log school and grew up across the border in Van Buren County. Once married, the young couple first farmed the hilly countryside south of Leando before eventually building the large brick structure a mile north of Douds. Aaron and his sons later discovered rich deposits of coal on their land and eventually opened the Ratcliff Coal Mines, much to the chagrin of Charlotte, my grandmother, and her sisters, all of whom wanted the rolling, green pastures left undisturbed.

As a well-decorated Civil War hero, Aaron loved to display his medals and tell stories of the dangerous episodes he was involved in, always praising Abraham Lincoln, the man he admired to the point of taking from him the name "Link" as a middle name. His wife, known as "Lottie," called him "Linky."

Charlotte became somewhat of a local historian and eventually wrote for area newspapers under the penname "Old Timer." The tales she wrote included her thoughts and remembrances woven into a micro-history of her family, and the Iowa region of the world she cherished and called her own.

- -
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick