PAWNEE COUNTY HISTORY, Internet home for the honored past of Pawnee County, NEBRASKA

LOWER WEST BRANCH SCHOOL HISTORY

as written by Ed Small,  Hordville March 1960


     I was born and reared in Pawnee County and attended school at Lower West Branch from 1881 'til 1895.

     My parents, brothers, and sisters, my first wife, and two children are buried at Pawnee, so I go back to my old home occasionally to see my old friends and relatives.

     The last time I was down one of my old classmates mentioned to me, "Why don't you write a history of our old school as you are the oldest one now living who went to school there?"  In order to do that it will be necessary to go way back in history one hundred years to the time my Grandfather Waters came into the neighborhood.

     He came from Ohio.  In the spring of 1856 he loaded his family and all his possessions in a covered wagon and started for the West.  He reached the east bank of the Missouri River in the fall, and the family wintered in a vacant schoolhouse.  The next spring he crossed the river at Rulo and started east into the unknown prairie of Nebraska Territory.

     Following the Indian trail, he made the first wagon track up West Branch Creek.  My Mother drove the ox-team that turned the first sod in West Branch Precinct.  He pitched his tent and started to make a home for his family.  It was on the edge of the bluffs north of the creek overlooking a nice bottom field, with numerous springs cropping out of the bank.  Southwest was a large trove of native timber that had been spared from prairie fire by banks on either side.  Thus he had found the two most essential things in settling the wilds of the West.  It was from this grove that the first schoolhouse as built.

     Shortly after this, the Olivers and Lochs settled farther down the creek.   All this land was bought from the Government at $1.25 an acre.  Where my grandfather ever got the money is more than I will ever know, for money was scarse as hen's teeth.

     The Homestead Law was passed in 1862; then the settlers started coming in.  My Grandfather Small took a homestead farther up creek where there were also springs.  After the War, the soldiers started coming in and population began increasing fast.  It was then that the log schoolhouse was built on Grandfather Water's place, about 20 rods east of the Northwest corner.

     And now I must mention another landmark of old days - the Lower West Branch Cemetery.  Grardfather Waters lost a child or two shortly after for lack of medical care and they were buried on the knoll about 30 rods south of the Northwest corner.  A number of old settlers and a few old soldiers were buried there.  My Grandma Waters and Grandpa Small are both buried there with moss-covered monuments marking their graves.  And one of the wonders of Lower West Branch is four monstrous white pine trees that my half-brother, Ira Walker planted on the graves in 1903.  One of these trees is 2 feet in diameter and _0 feet tall.  They are Eastern Pine and I think came from Pennsylvania.  The needles are flexible, with five needles to the bud of dark green color and glisten in the sunlight.

     Going back to the old log schoolhouse; it was not long 'til the population outgrew the schoolhouse.  It was then the new schoolhouse was built in 1873 across the road from the northeast corner of the Waters place.  It is not new anymore but is in good repair and still serves the purpose.  When I was there a few years ago I was talking with three children who were going to school here.  I told them that I went to school in that same schoolhouse when I was boy.  The oldest boy took a good look at me and said, "That must be an awful old schoolhouse."

     I have mentioned the old soldiers adding to the settlement of Pawnee county and will mention a few that I remember:  Captain Fuller, a long-time sheriff of Pawnee County and son Cloud, who was shot by the bandit that murdered be McVittys; Captain Moore, farmer northwest of town; Charley Hare, the drummer; John Little, the politician and my dad, T.C. Small.  Father and John called each other "cousins" on the account of the similarity of their names Little and Small.

     I will now give the names of families I can remember who attended school with my older brother and sister.  East of school was the Hillis place (she was a Cope), then Andrews, Bogues and Smiths.  North was the Brooks, Martins and Bruchs.  West was Small, Metzgers and Katie Inglis.

     Time went on and the population increased, When I went to school, east was McElhose, whose pasture joined the school grounds where we played ball; the Barkers, the younger Bogues, Harringtons.  North were Messmans, Pete _aymaker, the lone wolf son of our Veterinary, Dingwells, the younger brood of Martins, Miles, May Chambers, whose life had a sad ending and the Bruchs.  West was one Smail, Esley Baker, the Tom Turnbulls, Metzgers on the Howard place.  South was D. B. Drakes, Alec Inglis.  Southeast was John Elaine and Richie Turnbull.  John was a musician; played the violin and had traveled with an opera troupe when young.  When we had new music to learn for our entertainments we would go there for help.  John was a thoroughbred hog raiser and was elected resident of the Swine Breeders Association; and that was as near as anyone of Lower West Branch ever came to being President!  His oldest daughter was a wizard in music and later became saleslady in a music store in Chicago.

     The schoolhouse was the Civic Center for all activities; Sunday School every Sunday, sometimes Church, young peoples meetings, basket suppers, ice-cream socials, literary with programs, singing school and writing school.  Sometimes political meetings.

     Our entertainments were all homemade and like the Dutchman's baby, the"cost stinks most".  Our ball equipment was the same.  We shaved our bats out of a club and made our own balls from the tops of old hand-knit socks covered with leather from ladies high-button shoes.

     One of the first teachers I can remember was a Miss Mary Moore, daughter of Captain Moore and a sister of Mrs. James Barker.  Another old timer was an old timer by the name of Babbitt.  He seemed a little out of place in a schoolroom.  He wore glasses and one day he was writing questions on the blackboard.  The old slate and pencils would get a little noisy sometimes; he turned around, ducked his head, looked over his glasses - " A little less racket back there!!"  But none of the teachers taught with a hickory stick.  Another I remember was Miss Anna Cleveland, a pretty girl and good alto singer.  She and my cousin, Edith Bogue, and the two McAllister boys used sing for our entertainments and they were equal with most any barbershop quartet.  But the one that I loved most was Miss Ella Fletchar.  She was a queen in my estimation.  I don't think she could be beat in a schoolroom -- always ready to help and there were no problems with the wrong answers in the book, like some teachers we have boarded in later years.

     It was at this time that the school was at its peak.  Forty-nine pupils were enrolled at this time.

     On Decoration Day Pawnee offered a large flag for the rural school that would march in the best formation in the parade.  It was an inducement to get a large crowd for Decoration, but it didn't pan out too well.  When the other schools heard Lower West Branch was training, they all backed out.  Only one small school from Mission Creek of about 20 pupils, entered the contest.  We had a lot of fun training.  Mr. McElose was drill master in the army and Father was fife major.  The older boys of school age were working in the fields but would get an early dinner, go to practice during the noon hour.  We had an old galvanized float about three feet across, too heavy for one to carry, so Earl Bruch carried in front and Otto Metzger walked behind and used the drumstick.  We borrowed a snare drum from Mr. Smutz who lived in Upper West Branch.  And that was our Marshal Band.  Those little kids would turn a square corner and never miss a step.  It was an event long to be remembered by all the school.

     At that time the County Superintendent was supposed to visit the school at least once during the term.  Ella heard that he was to visit our school some day the coming week.  So she told us we were expecting company and she wanted us to behave as we had company; he would probably make a talk and we should pay strict attention to what he said.  One thing he said was -- "Whatever you learn when you are young and your brain is developing, you will never forget.  You may not be able to call it to mind on the spur of the moment but it is hanging on a peg in there and you will find it".  I thought he was all screwy, but now at my age, I know he was right.  Things happening today are soon forgotten, but I can remember old songs we used to sing and poems and recitations we used to recite when I was in school.

     I guess I am getting like the old man who boasted of his good memory.  He said there just three things he couldn't remember -- he couldn't remember names, couldn't remember dates and there was something else he couldn't remember but I don't remember what it is!

     But this poem I remember was in our reader at school:

I wandered to the village, Tom;
    I sat beneath the tree
Upon the schoolhouse playground
    That sheltered you and me.
But none were left to greet me, Tom,
    And few were left to know
Who played with me upon the green
    Just seventy years ago.

     It was just 72 years ago today since the blizzard of 1888 that swept the state with loss of life and property damage untold.  I well remember that my sister Ella and I got home from school just after the wind hit, and it hit hard!  It had been foggy and misty all day.  As we were getting low for water for stock, my brother Ira had taken cattle to water at the creek one-half mile west.  The storm hit just as he got to the timber.  If it had been in any other direction to drive, he would never have gotten home with the cattle.

     In going that half mile his clothes were frozen to him 'til we had to peel them off like skinning a rabbit.  The next morning a drift of snow hid the barn from the house.  That was once we didn't go to school for a few days.

     There were few days the older ones missed in winter as that was the only time the older boys got to go to school.  The work came first.

     We didn't have modern plumbing in our school, but our restrooms were air-conditioned.  But we didn't call them that in those days!  We had to carry our drinking water from the nearest neighbor.  I remember the old cedar bucket with brass hoops and the long-handled dipper we all drank from.  Sometimes the little kids would dip too deep, get more than they could drink put the rest back in the pail.  There were no germs in those days, at least, we never heard of any.  Any way we were healthy, hearty and happy.

     We played many games at noontime; town ball, as we called it, anteover, _arebase, blackman and ring-around-the-rosy.  "All join hands as around we go, this is a game that we all know,  Come on kids, get busy -- don't stand around and gaze,  London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.  Each girl and boy remember with joy, games of their childhood days".

     And in closing, will say that the fifth generation of the Smalls, John Sharpe's children, are going to school in that same old schoolhouse.





(Presented by the Pawnee City Historical Society -- March, 1999)

Copyright © Dick Taylor, 2007 -- Pawnee County History website


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