Henry Ratliff

Henry is interviewed by Monica Dillow (rghs 94) and her mother.

Mr. Ratliff: I can't talk good no way today.

Monica: It don't matter. Where did you originally come from?

Mr. Ratliff: Floyd County, Virginia, Honey.

Monica: Did you have a lot of brothers and sisters? Just tell me a little bit about yourself.

Mr. Ratliff: Yes, Yes it was 11 of us.

Monica: Good day!

Mr. Ratliff: I had a big family.

Monica: Yeah, well did you all have trouble during the Great Depression?

Mr. Ratliff: Yes.

Monica: Was times real hard?

Mr. Ratliff: Yes, times was hard honey.

Monica: Is that why you originally joined the camp?

Mr. Ratliff: Yes, that's why I was in the C.C.C. camp.

Monica: Did you send money back to your family?

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah.

Monica: About how old were you when you joined?

Mr. Ratliff: I was 23 when I went in.

Monica: How long were you in?

Mr. Ratliff: One year.

Monica: Just a year?

Mr. Ratliff: I stayed in just a year. I went in in 33, in 1933.

Bertha: When did you come to Bastian?

Mr. Ratliff: Mmmm 33.

Bertha: Okay.

Mr. Ratliff: That's how come we're in Bastian.

Bertha: What did your family do for a living?

Mr. Ratliff: Farmed. We was on a poor farm, too; we didn't grow very big you know.

Bertha: You weren't married when you came to Bastian?

Mr. Ratliff: No, I got married after I come here.

Riding the Train to Bastian

Monica: How did you feel when you were on your way?

Mr. Ratliff: What honey?

Monica: How did you feel while you were on your way? I was told you rode a train.

Mr. Ratliff:Oh, on the train?


Mr. Ratliff: Well, I'll never forget coming up Wolf Creek. I was looking out on both sides and I couldn't see nothing but mountains and I was wondering where in the world I was going. Of course, when I came out at Rocky Gap I knew I was in civilized country. Then we came on to Bastian and a big crowd was waiting on us--225 of us on the train. We was greeted by a whole lot of people. I can still see you know people standing there when we got off and I found out I was only 75 miles from home. That made me feel good. Back years ago, in 1925, 1 come to Bastian with
my oldest sister and went up to Mr. Kitts, Mr. Kate's people you know Kitts. I can't remember what his name was. I was only 15 years old then. After so long a time, I realized I'd been in Bastian before--when I was just a bay you know.

 What Henry Did at the CCC Camp

Monica: Yeah, how much money did you make?

Mr. Ratliff: I got $45 a month; I was made a section leader in Ft. Monroe, Virginia before we left down there. I got 15 more dollars a month than what most of them got.

Bertha: When you left--how did you hear about the C.C.C. camp?

Mr. Ratliff: I can't remember that honey. I know when Franklin Roosevelt got that through me and another brother, we went to different camps. But I can't remember just how we heard about it.

Bertha: Did you go--you said Ft. Monroe, did you go there before Bastian?

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah, Ft. Monroe, we stayed there three weeks for training. Sorta like an army you know--when they first started.

Bertha: What kinda training did you get?

Mr. Ratliff: Just exercise regularly and retreat--we didn't take training with guns or nothing like that. Just more or less exercise for our benefit health wise. It was real nice.

Bertha: How did they think that would help you at the C.C.C. camp--cause you'd be doing a lot of hard work here?

Mr. Ratliff: Because we would be out in the woods a whole lot and be exposed to the weather and what you, ya know.

Bertha: You said you were a section leader; what exactly did a section leader do?

Mr. Ratliff: I was in charge of the barracks and so many men; 50 I think in my barracks--I believe that was right. I can't remember for sure. Any way there's so many barracks split up among four section leaders.

Monica: Was the barracks in sections or tents?

Mr. Ratliff: They was in tents to start with. We stayed in tents until way up in the summer--till we got barracks built. Cattle had been in there when we moved in there, and we had a lot of cleaning to do before we could put up tents.

Monica: I bet!

Bertha: What was your day like? You know, about what time did it start?

Mr. Ratliff: Of the morning?

Bertha: MMMM.

Mr. Ratliff: Six o'clock and eat your breakfast and went about your chores.

Monica:What kind of chores did ya do?

Mr. Ratliff:A lot of them went to the mountains. I didn't have to go to the mountains. I had camp duty all of the time. I was eventually camp foreman you know. So my duty was in camp all the time. I did get to go to the mountains some because I wanted to. I enjoyed it. I remember I went with Wallace Bruce one time down Little Creek--not Little Creek down Kimberlin. We turned back to Kimberlin Springs. You know where that's at?
Bertha: MMMM.

Mr. Ratliff: I was setting in the back end of the truck; there was a bunch of us you know. And I saw two pheasants out there and I told one of the boys and I picked up an insulator and I said watch me kill a pheasant. An I sure enough hit it in the back of the neck and killed it. That truck stopped and Wallace Bruce got out. Said, "Who done that?" Naturally I said I did. Boy I got a chewing out for that. He said, "You know it's against the law to do that.,, And I said, 'Well, I never thought about hitting it.,

Monica: You thought you would miss.

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah, I thought I'd miss it; course I didn't care, you know. Just didn't have no idea of hitting it though. But I did.

Bertha: Did you all go out in the mountains and cut lumber and stuff and haul it back?

Mr. Ratliff: We cut fire trails you know. They had lots of fires then--two or three on East River Mountain. Whole mountain burned and back here on this mountain (Round Mountain). They had forest fires everywhere. I got to go on them, of course. They'd pack lunches and bring to me until you got the fires stopped. most all of that was hard work, too. Didn't have tractors or any way of digging ditches. We had to do it by hand; had a lot of fires in 33. East River mountain, the whole mountain burned.

Bertha: What was the purpose of the C.C. Camp; I don't really know, Mr. Ratliff.

Mr. Ratliff: Honey, they protected the forest and they set up telephone lines from one tower to another. They planted trees and they cut trails. You know, made trails in the mountains. That's the reason they called it the forestry, because it was a lot of forest work. And they built some bridges--not many bridges but mostly just worked in the woods and cut fire trails. Built telephone lines.

Monica: Did you all continue to do exercise once you got here? (Repeated.)

Mr. Ratliff: After being here awhile, we didn't.

Monica: I guess being out in the woods was work enough
Mr. Ratliff: That's plenty of exercise enough.

Monica: About what time did you go to bed?

Mr. Ratliff: Nine o'clock is when we was suppose to be in bed.

Monica: When you was supposed to be--does that mean you all didn't really go to sleep then, just supposed to be.

Would you care to return to the top of the page?

Mr. Ratliff: A lot of times we laid and gossiped a whole lot.

Bertha: You said you main duties was around the camp--your chores, your job what did you do?

Mr. Ratliff: Well, I was a section leader. It was the same thing as a foreman, you know; and at one time I was assistant camp foreman. I was a barracks leader. A barracks leader was a foreman.

Bertha: I mean around the camp--what did you do? What kind of jobs did you do? You were telling people what to do, right?

Mr. Ratliff: That's right.

Bertha: Were you all building barracks or what were you doing there?

Mr. Ratliff: Until we got them all built. Then after we got them built there was different chores to do. Some had KP duty, wash dishes and help cook just regular KP duty. Some went to the mountains. You had to see everybody went after whatever they were suppose to do. It was sometimes a headache.

Spare Time

Monica:Yeah, I'm sure. Did you all have church services?

Mr. Ratliff: No. .

Monica: Ya didn't have any?

Mr. Ratliff: We sure didn't.

Bertha: Were there many people living in this area when you came or was it ...

Mr. Ratliff: Well, Hardwood Lumber Co. was here. Actually more people then than there is now. As many anyway; an awful lot was here.

Bertha: But in the camp itself--it was all men, right?

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah, that's right, honey, all men.

Monica: What did you do in your spare time for fun?

Mr. Ratliff: They had ball teams. Played some baseball and that was about all the sports they had then.

Monica: Did they have card games that you all did?

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah, card games and checkers--stuff like that.

Monica: Did you all ever go visit Bluefield or Wytheville any?

Mr. Ratliff: Bluefield mostly because it was closer to Bluefield then. Then you had to go across the mountain to Bluefield, I mean Wytheville. It was further to Wytheville. I don't know if I was ever in Wytheville while in camp. We went to Bluefield about once a week. I went on weekends to see my sister. I had a sister that lived there--to visit her and came back on Sunday.

Monica: So they would take a bunch of you or just a few?

Mr. Ratliff: They'd take as many as wanted to go.

Bertha: Did you ride in the back of the truck or how did you go?

Mr. Ratliff: Sometimes I would ride in the front. Depending on how many was and who got in the truck first. I always tried to get in front--so I could get the seat.

Bertha: There was a train in Bastian? There's train tracks.

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah, a train right there where the restaurant is. That's where we got off the train.

Bertha: What did the train--what did it haul? Supplies in for the camp or hauled lumber out for that lumber camp?

Mr. Ratliff: It did both. It did both supplies in for this camp and lumber out. Mostly sent out by trucks. I was going to say something else but I got off on something else. I don't know what it was now.

Bertha: Maybe it will come back to you.

Mr. Ratliff: That forest tower do you remember it being in the mountains? Me and Wayne Curry topped that out. For the past 15 years I've been scared of heights. We straddled on the top of that with ropes and put the top on it. That's the way they built it--126 feet high. Since then they've tore it down. Wayne Curry--a big tall fellow. He sat down and straddled that thing and his feet reached over to each side.

Bertha: Well he must have been a big man.

Mr. Ratliff: I'll never forget that.

Bertha: How did you feel since you were afraid of heights?

Mr. Ratliff: I didn't mind it then. I said since then--the last 10 or 15 years.

Bertha: Oh, Okay.

Mr. Ratliff: Heights gets me now. I just think about a high place...

Bertha: And it bothers you.

Mr.Ratliff: Yeah it bothers me. But then it didn't. Oh Lordy Mercy, I couldn't do that now But that was fun then.

Bertha: You all just worked five days a week then you had weekends off?

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah we'd have weekends off. Unless you was an a special duty. Ya know, somewhere.

Important People

Monica: Who was in charge of the camp at Bastian?

Mr. Ratliff: What,.Honey?

Monica: I said who was in charge of the camp at Bastian?

Mr. Ratliff: At the time I came in here, we had had forest foremen--You know Wallace Bruce, Capt. Harris, he was in charge of the whole works, and Lt. Curry, Dr. A.J. and another Lt.; but I've forgotten his name. They were the camp commanders. You know, the forestry foremen--Pete Shrader, Wallace Bruce. Gosh, I can't think of all of them names. But there was five of them. Mr. Davidson, that's Mack and them's daddy. Oh okay Charlie Burton.

Monica: Did they give you a hard way to go; were they rough on you?

Mr. Ratliff: No, not really. They was real nice.

Monica: Well, that was good.

Bertha: Was there a doctor in this area?

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah, there was a doctor there. Doctor A.J. did I call his name?

Bertha: Yeah, you called his name and he was a medical doctor?

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah, he was a medical doctor. And there was Dr. Walker here in Bastian, Dr. Davidson in Rocky Gap, and two doctors at Bland. I think, there was five doctors in Bland County at t-hat time.

Bertha: Well, that was good.

Mr. Ratliff: There was one in Hardwood.

Bertha: Well, okay, I guess they knew if they had anything major they had to take care of it locally.

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah, that's right.

Monica: Because it was too hard to get to Bluefield.

Mr. Ratliff: We didn't have no ambulance then.

Bertha: Was the food and stuff pretty good?

Mr. Ratliff: Yes, it was, honey. Claude Carter was a good cook. Be was a cook. He was good too. He could make some fine biscuits and gravy.

Monica: Yeah,.we know how you like gravy.

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah.

Bertha: Did they kill their own hog meat and beef?

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah, they had--no they didn't kill their own meat; is that what you said.

Bertha: Un Hun.

Mr. Ratliff: No, it came in from somewhere; I don't where. But they had good food.

Bertha: But they hauled everything in--they didn't have gardens and grow...

Mr. Ratliff: No.

Monica: What was the one project that you really enjoyed doing?

Mr. Ratliff: I don't know. I enjoyed the forest better then anything. Just getting out through the woods and seeing nature. I've always enjoyed that. That's the reason every chance I'd get I'd get I'd go with them out on the forest trails or whatever they was doing.

Bertha: How long did you work at the C.C.C.?

Mr. Ratliff: A year.

Bertha: Eight years.

Monica: A year. One year.

Bertha: Oh, a year okay.

Mr. Ratliff: I believe the third or first day of April. I'm not sure. Ask Zareda, she has got the record down there. She'd know exactly. We left Ft. Monroe the last of March. Seems like we was sometime delayed or something for a while. The best I can remember it was the first of April. Round about the first of April. We go in Bastian and started cleaning and pitched tents. Boy, we had a job We had to run the cows out. We got our tents pitched.

On Being Poor

Monica: Do you think the C.C.C. Camp was a good organization?

Mr. Ratliff: I do, honey. I think it was wonderful. It started poor people to eating again and surviving. It was getting desperate. I know we was, a big family of us. Like I said we was on a poor farm. Things was hard to get. You didn't have nothing to buy with. I think it was the greatest thing that happened to the.country--when Roosevelt came out with that.

Bertha: So you were hungry sometimes at home before you came here?

Mr. Ratliff: Well, not exactly hungry, honey. My mother always scraped up something to cook us for dinner. But while I was away from home I've been hungry, trying to get back home, you know.

Bertha: Un Hun.

Mr. Ratliff: It was rough. Like I said it was a big family and each one had to come with their part in order to survive. We worked on farms to take in something to eat--a side of meat, flour, or something. You know, to help out the rest.

Bertha: So you worked on other people's farms to help out?

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah, when the depression hit, I was working down in Dewpoint, in Bell, West Virginia--helping my brother. He was a foreman and I was making 85 cents 'an hour, which was good money. That was 28 and 29 when the depression hit. I got laid off down there and came back to Floyd County and went to work on a farm for 75 cents a day.

Bertha: That was a big difference wasn't it?

Mr. Ratliff: A lot of cut.

Bertha: Now where did you say you were working with your brother?

Mr. Ratliff: Dewpoint, down in Bell, West Virginia, down next to Charleston.

Bertha: I hadn't heard of that town before. It's new to me.

Mr. Ratliff: Across the river, Ohio River, was where we was at. Between... any ways not far from Charleston back this way.

Bertha: You met your wife here in Bastian. She was already living here. Who was she?

Mr. Ratliff: Was a Bailey.

Bertha: A Bailey.

Mr. Ratliff: Mary Iris Bailey, her nickname was Pet. I went to the Navy Yard in 31. 1 was just here to there until I finally settled where I live now. We just moved everywhere. I followed plumbing and electrical work practically the rest of my life. I mean the rest of the time I worked. I hope it wasn't the rest of my life. The rest you know up until I retired. Then a--good while after I retired.

Bertha: How long was the C.C.C. Camp in Bastian? Do you know?

Mr. Ratliff: I believe in 45. I believe. It went out while I was in the Navy Yard. Around about the same time the railroad went our. It was 45 when I came back from the Navy Yard, when the war ended. And I've been here ever since.

Monica: Why did they take away the C.C.C. Camp?

Mr. Ratliff; Well they just done away with it, honey. I guess people were in better shape. It just wasn't needed anymore. Forty-five or 46, 1 don't know when it was they finally did away with it.

Tricks and Pranks

Bertha: Was there some things that happened while you was at the C.C. Camp that you can remember? That are still interesting? Anything that happened or tricks you played on each other or things that you done. Maybe you don't want to tell that, we can cut the tape player off.

Mr. Ratliff: I'll have to bypass that, honey. They played all kinds of tricks on each other. Some mischievous tricks.

Bertha: Well, you were a bunch of boys, did you all get close to each other? I mean like brothers?

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah, like sticking matches in the soles of their shoes and striking another match to them, while they were asleep.

Monica: What a way to wake up.

Mr. Ratliff: I remember that.

Monica: But did they get mad or soon forget and just pull another trick?

Mr. Ratliff: Fainted just about trying to get the shoe off.

Bertha: Was there anyone that was hurt bad or anything?

Mr. Ratliff: No one that I recall was hurt bad with just tricks like that.

Murder, Mayhem, and Accidents

Bertha: Were there any bad accidents in the woods or anything like that during that time?

Mr. Ratliff: We had one boy that was murdered in the mountains, up there on Brushy Mountain. We never found out who done it--one of the C.C. boys. That's the only thing that I can remember though. That really happened you know that I can think about.

Bertha: Did he have some money or something that they thought they knew why or anything?

Mr. Ratliff: I don't remember if he had any money or not. I think they thought it was more or less over a girl.

Bertha: Well . . .

Mr. Ratliff: Jealousy or something. One boy died--Clifton White while he was in there. They had the camp changed the name of it to Camp White for a long time. Then another Captain came in and changed it to something else. I don't know what the name of it was when they left you know--what they called the camp, Camp Obadiah or something like that one time.

Monica: What did that boy die of--just an accident in the woods?

Mr. Ratliff: He died in the hospital of pneumonia. He was a good old boy. When the captain thought about changing the name of it I asked him, I said how about changing the name of it to Camp White. And he knew the boy too--he said that's not a bad idea; So we called it that. Later on the changed the name of it again. I don't know what it was when they pulled the camp.


Bertha: Did they give you a choice about sending the money back or did you have to send it?

Mr. Ratliff: No that was automatic you see that was the sole purpose of going in there.

Bertha: Was to help your families.

Mr. Ratliff: Parents.

Bertha: You said you made forty-five dollars because you were a section leader so you made--

Mr. Ratliff: Fifteen dollars extra.

Bertha: What about the people who only made thirty dollars a month how much did they have to send back?

Mr. Ratliff: Twenty-five.

Monica: They only got to keep five dollars?

Mr. Ratliff: They only had five dollars to blow.

Monica: Only five dollars a month--good day I wouldn't know how to act if I only had five dollars.

Mr. Ratliff: That was a lot of money then.

Bertha: Well you had your place to live and was clothes provided?

Mr. Ratliff: Oh yes.

Monica: What did you wear uniforms?

Mr. Ratliff: Denims mostly. Old army pants you know like W. W. I veterans used to. What they called 11 pistol barrel pants". Real full choked, you know, hard to
get over your feet. Laugh

Bertha: Narrow down at the ankles.

Mr. Ratliff: That's right Mr.Bob Dunn's wife she altered them for us. She took them and cut and took the stitch out of them and made a patch to put in there wedge like so far and made bell bottom paints out of them.

Bertha: So they would go over your feet and stuff easier. Did they provide your shoes?

Mr. Ratliff: Oh yea.

Bertha: And everything?

Mr. Ratliff: Everything.

Bertha: So really to have five dollars a month and you had fifteen dollars that was a lot of money.

Mr. Ratliff: It was, it was.,

Bertha: Was there a store in Bastian, a general store you could buy from?

Mr. Ratliff: Oh yeah. There was Blessings store down there and Kitts store and a Hardware store and I remember that's all. There was three stores in Bastian.

Bertha: What was some of the things?

Mr. Ratliff: Four, Shufflebargers.

Bertha: Oh yeah. What was some of the things you used your spending money to buy?

Mr. Ratliff: A bottle of pop once in a while.

Bertha: Bought tobacco?

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah, we bought some tobacco. Sometimes we'd have to pay somebody to get back from Bluefield when we was over there. Give somebody some gas money 50 cents or something.

Bertha: Do you remember how much a pop or tobacco--do you remember what those prices were?

Mr. Ratliff: A nickel.

Bertha: For a pop?

Mr. Ratliff: A nickel for a pop, yeah, a nickel for a bag of tobacco. Cigarettes were ten cents a pack, I think. You could roll them. They had rollers too you could buy. Put your tobacco in your paper and lay it down in there, pull that lever and then it would roll the cigarette.

Monica: Were you all allowed to drink in the camp any -- alcohol or did they tell you you couldn't?

Mr. Ratliff: Wasn't supposed to. Bootleg, Moonshiners all kinds of whiskey back then. There was a lot of boot leggers in Bastian.

Bertha: Was there?

Mr. Ratliff: The Kitts and goodness, I don't know, I couldn't name them all. Some of them made it, a lot of them that didn't sell it drank it.

Monica: So everybody played their part, huh?


Bertha: What time did your day end--when the men came out of the mountains?

Mr. Ratliff: After supper. Men normally came our around 4:30 or 5:00. Supper time was at 6:00.

Bertha: And after supper they were free to do what they wanted to?

Mr. Ratliff: That's right.

Bertha: So I guess there was a lot of courting going on?

Mr. Ratliff: Yeah there was some courting going on.

Monica: Where did you all go to court?

Bertha: There was families that lived there, like Sarah Dunn and them already lived here, didn't they?

Mr. Ratliff: Sarah and Mary, my wife, were buddies. They growed up together. Me, Claude, and Thurman Kidd, we all courted together, a whole lot. You know all at the same time. Thurman was going with Nora. And Claude was going with Sarah. And I was going with Pet--Mary Iris was her name but she went by the name of Pet all the time.

Monica: When you went courting what did you do?

Mr. Ratliff: We just set around, talked, went around a whole lot, just walked.

Monica: Just walked--un Hun.

Mr. Ratliff: I did write to my mother when I was away from home.

Bertha: Did you go through all the years of school you could go through? How many years of school did you go through?

Mr. Ratliff: I went three or four years to the fourth grade--never did finish that. I couldn't.

Bertha: Well.

Monica: Because you had to farm and everything--is that why?

Mr. Ratliff: I had to work and support the rest. I just thank the Lord, he gave me the knowledge to pick up enough to get by. I learned trades and I got by. I can read and write good enough to where I can read it anyway. And my mother could read it.

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