Thank you for taking the time to read our first musing. I'm Melissa Bosworth, the proud Executive Director of the Eastern Plains Healthcare Consortium. Our idea to bring health services together from the plains of Colorado began in 2015, with a desire not only to keep our doors open, but also to open collaborations of professionalism and community building. Today, most rural economies rely upon their hospitals as one of the top employers. Further, without these hospitals, community members would be left without access to care, often resulting in dire circumstances. Within the past ten years, more rural hospitals have closed across the country than all previous years combined. But... with an unwavering spirit and continual innovation, we are fully dedicated to avoid that statistic by sharing our resources.
We have a rich history, not only of time, but also from blazing through history, sometimes unconventionally. Let's take a trip through time...
When looking at the image to the left, we can see that the Eastern Plains comprises nearly a third of the state, but only 2.1% of its population.
EPHC comprises over 9,000 miles of the Great Plains, and a cumulative population of 20,808. Interestingly, if we use federal definitions of rural, the population would equate to an urban area -- albeit it barely. Yet, when we divide the population by the square mileage, the entire composition of EPHC is considered frontier. The current accepted definition of a frontier location is less than six people per square mile, and EPHC's service area is 2.3 people per square mile. I hope this gives you, the reader, a clearer picture of the remoteness of our communities.
During the 18th century, the Spanish had moved north and attacked several Comanche tribes along with southern border of the Eastern Plains in the state. This provided a landscape where the native tribes would be continually in need to defend their land, for the next 100 years.
When speaking of the history of the EPHC area, we must first give credit to the native inhabitants of the land. There were multiple tribes that lived in the area, with one of the most prominent being the Arapahos. Buffalo was their major "industry," although sedentary agriculture practices were common in Kiowa County by the Jicarilla Apaches.
The image above depicts an Arapaho family who was forced to resettle in Oklahoma by the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867. All the native tribes living in the EPHC area were driven out of the state to make way for homesteading and safe passage by white settlers. Resettling occurred in Oklahoma, Montana and Wyoming.
During the same time, technically between 1858 and 1859, the Colorado Gold Rush began, and the EPHC area was along a direct route to the mountain towns where gold was being mined.
Multiple homesteading legislative opportunities were enacted in the late 1880s resulting in more than 30,000 applications. Here, white settlers were encouraged to lay their claim to land to promote agricultural production. During that time, the weather had been unusually pleasant, providing ample precipitation for crops. Over 12% of homesteading applications were submitted by women, of which over 40% were approved.
We now now that the high levels of precipitation were an anomaly to the area, and a drought ensued in the 1890s. The weather balanced to normal levels again, although another large drought occurred in the 1930s, right amidst recovery from the Great Depression. Lasting eight years (1932-1940), the infamous Dust Bowl plagued the Eastern Plains. Crop production was reduced to 16% of its normal production. Residents living in the EPHC area still tell family stories, and it's a mark of pride and resilience for those families that remained in the region.
Between 1940 and 1960 the production of corn, alfalfa and non-drought resistant wheat became profitable. Rain levels were normal, but significantly higher levels of water were needed to feed crops. In the mid-1960s, technology arose that allowed farmers to access the Ogallala Aquifer, an enormous underground water reserve. Unfortunately, with the speed of water usage, a 2014 study from the University of Colorado showed that the aquifer will begin depleting in 2023. Government incentives have been initiated to slow this rate.
The image on the cover of this musing depicts a female pointing a gun. She was protecting her land from local miscreants, but I, however, think this image represents much more. Dating all the way back to native inhabitation of the EPHC land area to today, there are correlations. These people display humble resilience, a true grit that is admired by more urban populations. Yet, the communities don't act in any way to impress the cities. Instead, it's a sense of pride and a way of life that has remained for generations. Children are are raised to respect their neighbor, be in awe of the vast amount of land and Mother Nature, and continue to promote lasting traditions.
My family homesteaded in this area from Sweden, although I was raised in the city. I feel that my roots are still here, and it is a genuine honor that I get to work with these communities to help them tell their stories for years to come.