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From Bolivian jungle to N.D. ranch

by Luann Dart

Cathy & Ramon Barnes
Cathy and Ramon Barnes ranch in the Hettinger area. The two met at college, after Cathy moved to the United States from Bolivia, where her parents were missionaries.
Courtesy PHOTO

Cathy Barnes remembers baking for her family when she was 12 years old, using a kerosene stove in the jungles of Bolivia, South America.

The two burners on the stove were lit, then an oven was lifted onto the top of the stove to use for baking, Cathy described.

“My brother always said that he ate the burnt stuff, because he got more that way,” she said with a laugh. “And my brothers were always known as bottomless pits.”

“It was very, very primitive, but it was a step up,” she said. For a time, Cathy’s mother cooked over an open fire and baked using a cast-iron roaster placed in the coals.

“I had seen Mother bake that way, so I felt like I was doing pretty good,” Cathy said. Cathy baked cookies, candies, pies, cobblers and cakes using the oven on the kerosene stove.

“We had no running water, no electricity, no vehicles. Town was two miles away and we walked,” she said. “That’s why we were all bottomless pits. We got lots of exercise when we were kids.”

The family also hunted to obtain meat, so Cathy has eaten everything from anteater to alligator meat, a world away from the Angus beef raised on the ranch where she now lives in North Dakota.

Cathy and her three brothers were homeschooled in those same Bolivian jungles, where their missionary parents spent most of their lives.

“It was definitely a different upbringing,” she said.

While her brothers were born in the United States, Cathy was born in Bolivia, and lived in the country off and on, before returning to the United States to attend college in Montana, where she met her husband, Ramon.

“When I was dating my hubby at college in Montana, I learned how to make cheesecake, as I firmly believed, and still do, that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! I gave Ramon a cheesecake for a special occasion,” she said. “It’s amazing he married me, as I later fixed cow stomach for him (a Bolivian delicacy) shortly before we were married.”

Married for 36 years, Cathy and Ramon raised five children, who are all now adults, on their Hettinger area ranch, Prairie Pines Angus, served by Slope Electric Cooperative. They also have seven grandchildren, with an eighth expected soon.

Cathy admits she doesn’t help too much with the registered Angus cattle raised on the family ranch, mainly due to a phobia she acquired while living in Bolivia. There, herds numbering in the thousands roamed the plains, wilder and not dehorned.

Instead, she concentrated on raising her family, cooking three meals a day and homeschooling the children. Now, she works periodically as a cook at West River Health Services in Hettinger.

“I love to cook,” she said.

Cathy discovered the recipe for Veggie Sandwiches at the hospital, where the staff enjoy the light, healthy sandwich.

“They are so good,” Cathy said, “and we are always looking for something healthy to eat.”

The Strawberry Smoothie is another healthier recipe that is quick and easy to make.

Cathy didn’t learn many of her cooking skills from her mother at that kerosene stove in Bolivia, but describes her mother-in-law, the late Helen Barnes, as her mentor in preparing everything from scratch.

“She was known far and wide for her cooking,” Cathy said.

Cathy also enjoys playing piano at church and working with children.

“Any time I can teach a child, whether how to know Jesus as their savior or how to cook or bake, I feel a deep well of satisfaction in me,” she described.


Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area.