Thursday, January 2, 2020

Abbie Bright, Schoolteacher

Sedgwick County, Kansas 1870.

The great southern cattle drives still headed north out of Texas, fording the Ninnescah River on their way to Wichita, the railroad and the eastern markets. Buffalo still roamed the Kansas plains. The Osage Trust Lands were opened for settlement, but it was still two more years until the Osage finally ceded their rights to Kansas lands.

Philip Bright, an enterprising former Union soldier from Pennsylvania, took up a homestead claim straddling the Ninnescah River one mile west of present-day Clearwater in Sedgwick County. There he built a dugout and kept a diary. After first visiting her brother Hiram in Indiana, Philip's sister Abbie came to visit.  While there, she acquired 160 acres as an investment. She too kept a diary.

Edwards Historical Atlas, Sedgwick County, Ninnescah Township 1882

Abbie decided to stay and taught school. She was paid the handsome sum of $40 a month with $2 for room and board. School commenced in October after the fall harvest and was for a period of 4 months. Like many schools, it stood at a a lonely crossroads, a simple wooden structure with a single door and three windows on each length of the building. When time and money allowed, a steeple with a bell was built. Abbie's schoolhouse probably had none. As the winter was approaching, someone dumped a pile of soft coal before the schoolhouse to heat the single black stove.

One room school, Sedgwick County Kansas circa 1870-1880, photo Kansas Memory

She began her term with 11 students, noting that more would join the group once the corn was harvested. She counted among her students "waifs" who had been sent from the east to be adopted by local families.

In 1873, Abbie married William M. Achenbach, a school teacher and farmer. The couple lived in Tama County, Iowa near Gladbrook. They had three daughters.

Abbie Bright, circa 1870-1873

[Note. Some grammatical and spelling changes, a few additions. The diary can be found online, Kansas Historical Society]

Dec. 19. Did not get home Friday. So no mail for over a week. The boys went to town, and I sent letters along to be mailed. No one seems anxious for the mail but I. Last Saturday was my twenty-second birthday. Age creeps on, but I fear it does not bring the expected wisdom with it. Last Saturday, I spent the day sewing and answering letters. The other week when I was up home, I made of a black and green wool goods, a suit for little Oakley, and he is to wear it when he has his picture taken. This is a snowy Monday. There are but six scholars at school.

Dec. 20. Yesterday p.m. Mr. Woods came for his children, and I had a sled ride home. Coleman Butler brought us all up this morning. The sleighing is good. It is so cold it will last some time. We are all invited to a party to night. Bess [Belle Butler] and I would rather stay home but to please the boys I expect we will go.

Dec. 21. We went to the party last night. James Hunter came around this way for us. There were seven in the sled, and we had a merry time. More boys there, as usually at their merry makings, than girls--and I danced until my ankles hurt. I do not like to refuse any one. Some lack polish, but they are mostly well-meaning, up right boys. There are to be several other parties soon, but I shan't go. I feel too stupid next day. It is very cold--only six scholars to day.

Dec. 23. I shall leave school out early today and go home. I'll have a cold ride, but am so anxious for mail. There was a party last night, but I would not go. This morning I ate breakfast standing by the cookstove, and started to school when some were still in bed. I like to have the room good and warm when the children come. Have a good stove and plenty of coal. The kitchen is a leanto, and cold. This morning I washed at one end, and by the time I wiped my face, and walked to the other end to comb, my hair was frozen. I am glad my hair is shingled [often short and curled, in Abbie's case long, popular during the Civil War], it don't take much combing, and another cold morning I will not wet it.

Dec. 28, 1870. Christmas is past. I spent it at my brother's home with the children, and a plenty of apples, nuts, popcorn, homemade candy and cider. I had a pleasant time. It was so cold Mrs. Bee did not want me to come up Friday, but I was determined to go. She gave me a pair of drawers to wear, that were made out of a blanket, and they kept me warm, except my feet, which were frost bitten a little. If women rode crosswise like men, how much warmer and better it would be. Kit seemed to like the outing, and traveled well. There was no school Monday. I came down by way of Fees Hall in the p.m. When I turned the corner there, a team came up behind me to pass, but Kit would not let them pass. She started to run, and run she did for three miles, with the team close behind us. A little way from Mrs. Bees they turned off, and Kit slacked up. That was the fasted riding I ever did. They say Kit never lets a team pass her.

Jan. 2, 1871 Did not go home last Friday as I had school Saturday to make up for Monday. Went to church at Grows Grove yesterday. When we came back Mr. De Terk was here. He gave me a pair of kid-lined gloves, with fur at the wrists, very nice. They are a philopena forfeit. [As philopena is game in which a person, on finding a double-kernelled almond or nut, may offer the second kernel to another person and demand a playful forfeit from that person to be paid on their next meeting.] There is a sort of craze, playing philopena around here. The snow is gone and so is the sleighing. One evening last week we spent at Moffit's home. Their little girls come to school.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Plymouth, Kansas

History is like a garden, unless tended well, weeds grow and flowers get crowded out.

Highway 50

I was driving back from Kansas City one evening, and as I am want to do, I decided to leave Interstate 35 at Emporia and take Highway 50 across to Strong City, then south on Highway 77 south past lovely Cottonwood Falls and home to Wichita.

Plymouth One Room Schoolhouse

Plymouth, Kansas

I had barely made it past Emporia when I spotted a one room schoolhouse at Plymouth, a way station on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. It is a fine structure made of wood with a row of eight windows on the west side and none on the east. A cupola where the bell used to ring sits precariously atop the slanted roof. Stone cutters carved large limestone rocks to make a walkway to the front door.


Plymouth Schoolhouse

There is precious little to be found about the schoolhouse. In 1929, Laura M. French gave us an article in the Emporia Gazette newspaper. Her recollections, however, were more about the founding of the tiny community of Plymouth, first settled in 1857 and platted in 1858. John Carter, a Friend from North Carolina built the first house in Plymouth. And before the railroad, stage coaches used to stop for meals here and quench their thirst from the deep well in the well house, next to Carter's spacious house.


Early History

The Civil War started, the men of Plymouth formed a militia and life went on. Schools were important to any budding community and, so, Laura French tells us of the first school in Plymouth. It began in 1862 and was taught in Mrs. Barbara Campbell's house across the street from the Carter house. Quoting Laura French, "Miss Mary Hammer was the first teacher, and Mrs. Ella Spencer - now Mrs. Brown - was the second." In 1864, a first schoolhouse was built.

See also, William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas, LYON COUNTY, Part 19, Plymouth.


Plymouth School 1882

Of life in 1929, Mrs. French says, "In Plymouth village are a well built schoolhouse and nothing more, referring to the school that was built in 1882. The door is locked, the windows shuttered, the house stands alone, but well tended. Someone cares.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The naming of Butler County, Kansas

Kansas was quick to build one-room school houses to educate its children. Butler County was the same.

Homestead claims were generally 160 acres and four families could be found in a square mile. Large families created a need for one-room schools and it was a common sight in the 1860's and 70's to see children walking barefooted or riding a horse bareback, a mile or two to school. At first, the school house walls were simple plaster, stone, or log. Later, when time and money allowed, formal structures were built and the wall were papered with wallpaper. Always, one would find hanging an American flag, a map of the United States, and a picture of the first president of the United States, George Washington, along with one of the late Prsident Abraham Lincoln.

Nowhere, would one find a picture of Andrew Pickens Butler.

The Kansas Territory was battleground for Abolitionists and slaveholders. Conflicts erupted between Free-staters and Border Ruffians, so that between 1854 and the beginning of the Civil War, Kansas Territory was known as Bleeding Kansas.

Andrew Pickens Butler, (US gov. photo)

Butler County, being in the southern regions of Kansas Territory and primarily a reserve for the Osage and Cherokee tribes avoided most of the troubles associated with Bleeding Kansas. An odd settler and his family entered the area prior to the Civil War, but it was not until after the war that real settlement took place. Chelsea was the county seat before it was moved to El Dorado.

Butler County was named for Senator Andrew Pickens Butler of South Carolina (1796 - 1857), who co-authored with Stephen A. Douglas the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Butler advocated on behalf of slaveholders and states rights. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 set the stage for Bleeding Kansas and eventually, the Civil War.

Butler is also best remembered for an event that took place in his absence. In May of 1856, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, gave a speech titled the "Crime Against Kansas", abusing Butler personally, along with Senator Douglas, and the entire state of South Carolina. The speech can be found online.

In temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, the six foot two inch Senator from Massachusettes waxed on and on, as most senate speeches of the time did. In part he called the Senator from South Carolina a Don Quixote, a deluded knight believing himself chivalrous who is in bed with a harlot called slavery. Senator Douglas, he called, a squire, Pancho to Butler's Don Quixote.

Two days later on the floor of Congress, fellow South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, a relative of Butler, beat Sumner on the Senate floor with a gutta-percha cane while fellow South Carolina Rep. Laurence Keitt brandished a pistol and held off other senators from coming to Sumner's aid. Sumner survived the attack but it was 3 years before he could return to the senate. Brooks was tried in the District of Columbia for the assault and convicted, then fined $300. Brooks resigned his seat in congress and re-elected by an enthusiastic South Carolina electorate who sent him canes to replace his broken and shattered one.

It was the "Bogus Legislature," of 1855, Kansas Territory's first governing body, which was given the right to name many counties on behalf of southern politicians. Thus, Butler was given its name, but also  Davis, Wise, Lykins, Douglass, Jefferson, Calhoun, Bourbon, Breckinridge. Franklin. Weller, Anderson, Dorn, McGee and Godfrey counties. Many of these names were later changed, but some remained.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Clay Center, District no. 41

A return visit to Clay Center school after an earlier one, December 2012.

Clay Center, one room school, Dist. no. 41

Clay Center in Butler County, Kansas is not much more than a place name. Its location is 210th street southeast and southeast Cole Creek road. 

You get there if you are heading east from Douglass towards Latham (10 miles), or if you are going south from Leon to Atlanta (9 miles). An old automotive building at the intersection proudly proclaims the name Clay Center. A house stands on the northwest corner and a one room schoolhouse, District No. 43, is on the southwest lot. The north branch of Rock Creek flows by wrapping around the schoolhouse and proceeding in a southwesterly direction. 

C. M. Price pre-empted the land at Clay Center after it was opened up to settlement in 1870, paying $1.25 an acre. The Kansas State Board of Agriculture Biennial Report of 1878, notes that school district no. 41 was established as early as 1874.  

Early settlers planted corn and other crops, in addition, raised cattle, horses, and mules for market. The township was organized in 1879 and a one room school was built soon after. The population of the township in 1880 was 410. 

south view

view from the west

Clay Center

1905 atlas showing Clay Township, Butler County

close up

The school is well-maintained.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Enterprise School, Hickory Township, Butler County 1893-84

Who knows why this one room school was called "Enterprise"?

My guess follows the sentiments of Vol. P. Mooney, who wrote an early history of Butler County.The settlers who came in their Prairie Schooners, had little money to their name and much hope. They were enterprising. They had to be for they had to outwit the weather, the prairie fires, and the grasshoppers. Settling the land was not an easy thing and after the crops were planted one of the first things settlers did was to build a one room school and educate their children, hoping for a better tomorrow.
Enterprise school, Hickory Twp, Butler Co., Ks.

The school was built in 1883 and here we have the winter class of 1893-94 taught by F. M. Leatherman. I feel a little sorry for Walter Seymor, the boy who is standing off to the right side of the class picture.

The earliest settlers on these Osage Trust Lands arrived in 1868 and took up claims on Hickory Creek. Hickory Township was organized in 1875. W. S. and C. W. Buskirk, acted as county surveyors. They had several children in the 1893-94 class.

District school no. 143 was located on the Dennis homestead adjacent to the Southerland property in the southeast corner of Hickory Township. Hickory Township itself is in the southeastern part of Butler County, south of Beaumont.

southeast Butler County, Kansas 1885

Mooney's History of Butler County, Kansas

Enterprise school, no. 143, Butler County, Kansas

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas on the prairie

Western Kansas is for the most part undulating prairies whose soil was formed thousands of years ago by the slow erosion from rain and wind of the Rocky Mountains to the east.

The Pawnee River flows through the area for 200 miles before it joins the larger Arkansas River. Small creeks, Buckner Creek and Saw Log Creek, in turn, feed the Pawnee, and in wet years the water is abundant. A thin line of timber forms along the banks of the river and creek, the principal variety of trees being ash, oak, sycamore, cottonwood, box-elder and hackberry. The bottom lands that can be farmed constitute about one-tenth of the prairie, the rest consists of hard limestone and the soft sand that is the result of the wind-blown erosion.

The climate is healthful, even invigorating, but it can be harsh. In wet years, the rains grow the crops and water the cattle, but in dry years, the crops fail and the cattle go thirsty.

Chistmas on the prairie

The following excerpt about Christmas on the prairie is by Kate Thompson Gilmore Bowen (1853-1928). It was written in December of 1925 to the Jetmore, Kansas "Republican," a newspaper still in print. The county was organized in 1879 and by 1885 had a population of 1,779. Jetmore, the county seat, can be found a bit north of Dodge City.    
Dear Republican,

...[Reading the Republican] sent me to thinking of a Christmas tree and entertainment I participated in when the settlers were all new and most of them poor. There was not an evergreen tree within a hundred miles that I knew of!

We had moved to Hodgeman Co Ks in the spring of 1885 and brought a family of five little girls. As Christmas of 1886 drew near, we realized we had brought them away from many things they had always enjoyed at that season of the year. We realized it was up to us to find the best substitute we could.

The first district school had begun that fall in the little school house - which was of sod. Our little town had a good little Sunday School every Sunday and preaching every two weeks. Mr. Reed was our superintendent and it was a union school. All the families met there to plan for a Christmas tree and entertainment. We counted our pennies and sent Mr. Will Burns to Dodge City with our money and a list of oranges, candy, green tissue paper (as near the shade of evergreen as he could find).

We chopped down a good sized hack berry tree - its top reached the ceiling- and cut the green paper in long strips half a finger length and fringed each strip as deep as possible, leaving only a plain margin to wrap around the bare limbs of the tree. We wrapped the whole tree and you, who did not see it, have no idea how pretty it looked. Popcorn was strung with needle and thread and festooned around it and oranges fastened on and dozens of little pink mosquito netting bags filled with candy and hazel nuts and a pretty red apple for each pupil (the later contributed by families who had had them sent from Nebraska) with an occasional tin horn, picture book and the little school house lighted by the biggest and best lamps the country side afforded.

I want to tell you it was a pretty sight.

We had a really fine program. One especially fine program comes to my mind, which some of you will remember called "Little Grandpa and Grandma Blackeyes". Little Jimmie Henderson and Little Effie Meyers took the parts and I can see them yet. Each with their sparkling black eyes and dressed for the part, and a little pupil stood between them to recite the piece.

In all of the county, there two cottage organs, our own and the Leeper’s. We put ours in the wagon and took it to the school house. Ella Leeper played nicely and she was our organist and the songs were the fine old Christmas hymns "Joy to the World" "Low in a Manger", and "Merry, Merry Chiming Bells", and many others that for generations have rung out in the Christmas air and cheered the hearts of God'd people.

The little school house was crowded and without even standing room. Many were there that had never seen a Christmas tree and many were carried back to their childhood and younger days in their old homes back East.

Tender memories were awakened long dormant and as we separated that night and rode home under the lovely Christmas stars that seemed to me to always shine brighter in the clear Kansas night we all felt the solemn influence of our Christmas entertainment.

Changes came to many of us before another Christmas.

My dear husband did not live to see the summer and sleeps the long slumber on the hillside of our ranch. And I and my little family had gone East and left forever the lovely rolling prairies with the beautiful sunrise and sun sets and the pure wholesome air, and those dear neighbors.

These and many many more thoughts of 39 years ago.
The original letter is available online. Kate Bowen married Jasper Clay Bowen in 1871. She was 33 at the time she wrote the letter, her oldest daughter was 14 and her youngest two. The letter was contributed to The Kansas Collection by Nancy Hampton Attey, the great granddaughter of the author.

Settlers began to arrive in Hodgeman County in 1877. With the Timber Culture Act of 1873, they were granted an additional 160 acres of land when they planted at least 40 acres of trees over a period of several years, allowing homestead claims of 320 acres. Schools always followed the settlers. The one in the following story was sod because of the absence of timber on the western prairies.

The numerous crop failures are evidence of the difficult life in Hodgeman County. The first sowing of wheat was cut short by hail. Then three good years followed with an interruption of a drought in the fall of 1878, before the failure of the spring crop in 1879. The settlers managed to get by on less than a housand milk cows with a small crop of sweet and Irish potatoes, turnips, pumpkins, squashes and melons. A summer crop of millet, broom corn, rice corn and millet succeeded in but half of the county. In the fall and spring of 1880 the wheat crop failed.

And so we are reminded, the real things in life have not changed. It is important to make the most of what we have and be happy with simple pleasures and to share those with family and friends.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Make the Right Choice

Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, Tom Sawyer, and on and on. Everyone has their own favorite coming of age story, the one that marks the passage from childhood to adulthood. 

I suppose that I keep coming back to the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse because, in a way, it symbolizes a coming of age for all of us. Who, after all, doesn’t remember a time in their life when the major worry was if the homework staid dry when it rained, or what was packed for lunch in the brown paper bag. 

These were the halcyon days before the summer storms.

Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse, Chase County, Kansas

An ancient schoolhouse, a country road, and a modern highway, all these things suggest change. Life moves on and yet we remember the past to see how far we have come. Perhaps the perspective on where we are going is best seen from the past. 

Teachers taught the basics - the three R's, reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic, plus a little geography. From the little schoolhouse on the prairie, countless children were introduced to a world of literature and exciting possibilities. The Nature Conservancy, which operates the school, observed, that some of these children stayed to run the family farms, some moved away to conquer new worlds, and all cherished the memories of the little schoolhouse on the prairie.

The journey from child to adult is memorable. No matter whether swim in choppy waters or cool streams, there is bound to be confusion, complexity and, now and then both heartbreak and fun.

In an era of shrinking school budgets, it is nice to remember that the quality of education is determined by the quality of the teacher and the effort one student puts into learning.This is still the America where we say anyone can grow up to be president of the United States. And just looking back at the last 50 years we come up with this list:  Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman all came from humble backgrounds.

The one room school is a symbol of the choices in life we make. Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken comes to mind.

We two to the cool creek raced. In the distance rang a bell, and I— Quickened my pace. Two roads diverged on the hill, and I— I took the one to school, And that has made all the difference. 

This post is another update on the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse in Chase County, Kansas