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 Texas : Features : Columns : History by George
by Louise George
Louise George
Author: Personal interviews with Texas Panhandle men and women born in the early years of the twentieth century rewarded me with hundreds of stories illustrating their everyday life. I like to share those stories just as they were told to me.
Folks who grew up on Panhandle farms and ranches during the early part of the 1900’s used to say, “Why son, when I was your age I walked barefooted four miles to school, etc.,etc.…” They don’t use that story much anymore. It has outlasted its usefulness. Their children stopped needing the lecture years and years ago. Typically, their grandchildren or great-grandchildren growing up in town have parents who either coax them into a nice warm car and take them to school or, if they are old enough, hand them the keys to that nice warm car. Children growing up on farms nowadays have a nice warm bus to pick them up, at least until they get their own car. They can’t imagine walking, riding a horse or driving a buggy of some sort for miles, in all kinds of weather, hot or cold, wet or dry, to get to school. They don’t know what they’re missing.

Mill Boyd, of Dumas, was born in 1911 in a small community near Memphis, Texas. She lived in Memphis for a time but later moved to a farm. She told about walking to school when she was in the second grade.

“I never will forget when we moved from Memphis. My father bought a farm out a ways from town, and I left the main school in town to go to a little country school. I guess it was about a mile from our house. I don’t think there was more than six or seven kids out there. Up the road was a family named Webster, and they had a son named Roy. He was the same age I was, and he’d come by and go to school with me. We’d walk together. Well, the first day of spring, he came barefooted. Oh, I begged my mother to go barefooted.

“‘No,’ she said, ‘You can’t take your shoes off.’

“One morning after I begged again, she said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what we’ll do. I’ll go up to Mrs. Cudd’s house, (the Cudds lived a half a mile from us up on a hill, and down below was the school, Goldsmith School) and if it warms up enough for you to take off your shoes during recess and coming home, I’ll put a white sheet on the clothesline, and you look out and if you see that sheet, you can take your shoes off.’

“I couldn’t listen to the teacher for looking out the window to see if there was a white sheet on the clothesline. Finally, that white sheet appeared and I got to take my shoes off. I looked out and there was that sheet and man! I shucked those shoes in nothing flat. We had more fun walking home in the sand. Isn’t it silly what you remember?”

When Earl Rauh started to school in 1919, he lived on a ranch near Four Way, about twelve miles south of Dumas. His father was foreman of the ranch and he taught Earl to ride a horse when he was very young. By the time he was in the second or third grade, he knew his horses well enough to use one of them to reap a bit of revenge.

“Dad taught me to work. I started when I was four and went to herding cattle and I worked from then on. That was a big advantage when it was time for me to go to school. It prepared me to make that eight mile ride to the Crawford place by myself. I’d ride over there on Sunday afternoon and stay till Friday afternoon and then ride home for the weekend. My folks might have taken me a time or two, but mostly I rode a horse. The Crawfords had five girls and the teacher lived with them and taught all of them and me.

“Dad assigned me three horses, but I rode old Baldie most because he was the one I liked. I had old Buttons and Dutchie too. Old Buttons had a white spot between his eyes and that’s how he got his name. When I rode him one of the cowboys, Harve, stayed close to me because old Buttons, every once in a while, he would cold jaw. He would start running and you couldn’t stop him – at least I couldn’t, I wasn’t very big. What they’d do was chomp down on the bit real hard and then they’d stick out their heads and run. They’re just liable to run off a cliff or something. They just go crazy. Anyway, Harve had to stay close to me to get him stopped if he did that, and that’s why I never did ride old Buttons to the Crawfords. Dutchie was alright, but he was real particular about what was on the back of the saddle. He’d pitch them off every time.

“The first year I went to school in the Crawford house. Then after that, there was a family that lived in the Bivins camp about ten miles southwest of the Crawford place, down pretty close to the river. There was a girl in that family, so the school district decided to move in a one room school house halfway between, so that girl could stay at home and not have to live with someone else to be able to go to school. That way she could come to school and we could too.

“Those Crawford gals, they really picked on me. There were five of them and they was all older than me and they’d all pick on me. I’d ride down on Sunday and then we’d take what they called a jigger wagon to school. It was kind of a buggy with no top. They had that and it was pulled by two horses. It only had one seat and part of them would sit there and the rest of us sit behind that and hung our legs off the back. We had a gate to open, a wire gate, and they’d make me get off and open the gate and then they’d run off and leave me and I’d have to walk the rest of the way to school or to the house, whichever way we were going. They were just as ornery as could be. I got to where I was riding old Baldie to school. I could open the gate and I had transportation. I would ride him and let them ride that jigger wagon. But every now and then one of the girls would want to ride behind me. With old Baldie that was alright, he didn’t care. But one time I rode Dutchie down there and Edna wanted to ride with me. Well, he bucked until she fell off. She got so mad at that old horse. She couldn’t ride with me when I rode Dutchie.”

Zuleika O’Daniel, of Tulia, lived in the same farm house where she was born until she married. She started her education at Wise School near her home. She and her horse, old Kid, had quite an exciting experience one morning upon arrival at school.

“I rode horseback about a mile and a half to school. It was cold riding in the wintertime and hot riding in the spring and fall. There was a lane out in front of the schoolhouse, and we had a big yard at the school. I always came around the corner of the school yard in a dead run. A neighbor boy, his mother was a good friend of Mama’s, had to unsaddle my horse in the morning and saddle it in the afternoon when I went home, and I’m sure that’s the reason he wanted to kill me.

“He and another older boy stretched a wire real tight across that lane about two feet high, and of course, if my horse had tripped across that, it would have throwed me no telling where. Anyway, that neighbor boy chickened out and threw his hat under the horse. The horse nearly threw me anyway, but it saved the horse from tripping. The teacher gave them both a whipping and expelled the other boy from school. He really shouldn’t have been going to our school. He was in another district. They had kicked him out everywhere he went, and our teacher did too. The neighbor boy, well, the teacher lived with his parents, and I’m sure that’s what saved him. He knew better, he was just influenced by the other boy. But, the Good Lord saved my life that day.”

Cindy Kennedy lived on a farm near Wildorado and walked to school. The Good Lord also looked after her and her sister on various occasions.

“When Elizabeth and I went to school, we had to go through a couple of pastures. One day we were on our way to school, walking through one of those pastures, and we looked up and here came this bull and all these cows just as hard as they could come, right toward us. Scared the living daylights out of us! We began running as fast as we could. It was plowed ground, in rows, and it’s hard to run across that, but we ran as fast as we could and man! we got to that fence and down we went and under it, and just as we did, the bull and all those cows went running by.

“We were scared to death to go home that evening because we had to go through that pasture. Mr. and Mrs. Miller, our teachers, took us home. The next morning we didn’t want to go to school, but my dad let us ride the horse. We had an old horse we called Dan. Old Dan dumped me off on my head one day too. I got up on him and dropped the reins, and I was reaching over and I leaned way over his neck to try to get a hold of them. He didn’t know what I wanted and he just ducked his head on down, and I went on over and off on my head. It kind of knocked me out for a little bit, but I got up and went on home.”

J. T. Brown was born and grew up on a farm about ten miles southwest of Dumas. He went to a small country school near his home that only went through the seventh grade. Beginning in 1927 he had to go to school in town.

“I remember my first morning going to Dumas schools when I was starting eighth grade. I was to ride my bicycle up the road here two miles and catch the school bus that came right by there. But, I missed it. It had done run, I had got a late start or something. Anyway, I decided, well heck, I’m not going to miss the first day of school. So, I just rode my bike on in to school which was about ten good miles. And there wasn’t any roads whatsoever, just a cow trail all the way into town. So, I rode my bicycle all the way in to school and back home. I was pretty well used up that night.”

No doubt, farm children in that day and time often got home from school “pretty well used up.” None of the folks who shared these stories seemed the least bit resentful, though. In fact, by the smiles on their faces and the sparkle in their eyes as they shared these tales, you might think they had a really good time on the way to school.

© Louise George
"History by George"

August 17, 2004
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