Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Schools of Clay County

Sutton’s Wolfe School Museum operated through the 1962-1963 school year, well past the time that most of the county’s rural schools had consolidated into “town” school.

The spring of 1954 saw the closing of most of the country schools in northeast Clay County as “redistricting” changed the lives of grade schoolers compared to older siblings and neighbors. For decades, the coming-of-age moment for farm kids was that jump, a big jump from the eighth grade in their neighborhood one-room school house to their freshman year in town school.

This is the map from the 1940-1941 school year, before the Navy took a bite out of Clay County.
Notice, if you can see them, the five little red dots around Harvard. Those were the country
schools that were part of, and administered by the Harvard School system. District boundaries
also appear in red outlining the seven to nine square miles of each school district.
Town school classes were typically at least twice the size of the entire rural school student body. Thirteen-year olds found that leap daunting enough. From a small tight-knit group of about a dozen neighborhood friends, early teens were suddenly thrown in with a couple of hundred strangers. That was the normal pattern for decades. Redistricting was a one-time event that put seven and nine-year-old kids, all kids in that five to twelve bracket through the experience.

Later generations accept rooms with twenty to thirty classmates from kindergarten on as a routine part of school. The wholesale change that accompanied redistricting probably had an impact on many farm kids. Just saying.

We take the early rural school system in Clay County largely for granted. But it was not an inevitable phenomenon. Universal public education was the consequence of specific public policy very early in the history of the country. I mean really early.

We should credit Thomas Jefferson for setting the foundation for universal public education. We might call him a zealot on the topic. Jefferson was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in late 1776 in the midst of war with Britain when he set about changing Virginia’s legal code to correspond to the principals alluded to in the Declaration of Independence earlier in the year.

The educational directories preserved the list of all teachers in the county that
year, including salary, teaching certificate level and the enrollment of each
school. This page is for District #2, the Sutton Schools for the year 1952-53.
His “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” is the part of that work that is most remembered but another topic was “A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge.” He summarized his education plan in 1781 as follows:

“This bill proposes to lay off every county into small districts of five or six miles square, called hundreds, and in each of them to establish a school for teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. The tutor to be supported by the hundred, and every person in it entitled to send their children three years gratis, and as much longer as they please, paying for it. These schools to be under a visitor [i.e., superintendent], who is annually to choose the boy of best genius in the school, of those whose parents are too poor to give them further education, and to send him forward to one of the grammar schools [high schools, in effect] of which twenty are proposed to be erected in different parts of [Virginia], for teaching Greek, Latin, geography, and the higher branches of numerical arithmetic. Of the boys thus sent in any one year, trial is to be made at grammar schools one or two years, and the best genius of the whole selected, and continued six years, and the residue dismissed. By this means twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually, and be instructed, at the public expense, so are as the grammar schools go.”

Jefferson’s bill did not pass but he was able to implement bits and pieces of that philosophy and was recognized for his groundwork as modern public education in this country took shape in the 1830’s.

I hesitated to include that quote but could not resist, for several reasons. First, it illustrates that Jefferson was thinking past the moment, the Revolutionary War, to consider how to construct the new country if the war was successful. Second, Jefferson planted the seed that society had a responsibility for basic education even of children of the poor. Latin? Sutton High taught Latin into the ‘ 60’s.

There are a few other things that reflect how certain words were used and defined 225 years ago. “Genius”, “residue”, “raked” are a few.

It is important to remember that Jefferson and the Founders did not make up the philosophical foundations of public policy out of thin air. These were the educated “elite” of the day with at least one common trait: they read. Various positions of society’s relationships and public policy had already been thoroughly discussed, debated and the talking points were published decades and generations earlier, mainly by Europeans: Locke, Rousseau, Mill, Montaigne and several Greek and Roman thinkers.

A lot of useful discussion happens when smart folks ponder issues over more than 2,000 years. Those seeking public office are well advised to understand, or at least be familiar with some of that discussion.
School group pictures usually were taken in the spring, often on the last day of
school. This school Fillmore County District #64 just east of Sutton in 1922.
We have many such pictures at the Sutton Museum, though not well organized.
Does that sound like something you'd like to help with?

Jefferson’s direct contributions to our universal public school system began very early when he headed on a committee in 1784 working out the land management scheme for open western lands. (Open in the sense of unpopulated, disregarding indigenous people, as they were.) That committee originated the concept of parceling open land into ten mile squares further divided into “sections”. Surveyors later tried five and seven-mile squares before settling on six. Our townships were just surveyor units.

The Land Ordinance Act of 1785 provided that five of the 36 sections in a township were reserved for public purposes. Section 16 was designated to support schools in the township. Sections 8, 11, 26 and 29 were held back to be sold by the government when/if the market drove up the value. (Just found that last tidbit on Wikipedia – need to check it out.)

Didja notice? Jefferson managed to implement his plan for public support of education two years before we had a constitution. The Oregon Territory Act of 1848 added Section 36 for school support.

Another curiosity. Sections were originally numbered starting in the southeast corner of the township and heading north using the “snake” pattern we’re familiar with. That may be even more weird that the current pattern.

So, how was Mr. Jefferson’s desire for universal public education implemented in Nebraska, and especially, in Clay County? Largely as he envisioned it. His suggestion for one school per township did not survive, perhaps due to travel demands. Districts of from seven to nine sections became typical with four or five schools in each township.

Districts were numbered sequentially starting with District #1, the Corey School just north and east of Sutton. Mr. A. A. Corey was an early settler. Sutton Schools was assigned Number 2. Schools numbered 3 and 4, Spring Ranch and Prairie Rose were off in the southwest corner of the county in Spring Ranche Township.

Schools were identified both by number and a name. The name often came from the farmer who owned the land. Some other names were descriptive, even poetic. We had Sunnyside, Lakeside, Blue River and Blue Valley, Prairie View and Plainview, Liberty, Pleasant Prairie and Mulberry Grove. Our Wolfe School Museum shared their category with Carlson, Wachter, Hartley, Peterson, Kitzinger, Kreutz, Grubb and Grosshans. There were two Nuss schools, both in School Creek Township about six miles apart, Districts 8 and 16.

Though some early schools were placed in Section 16, in Clay County only 71 in Leicester and the Spring Ranch schools did. None were in Section 36 of their township.

Our primary source for details about county schools is the annual Educational Directory that was published by the County Superintendent. We have copies from school years beginning in 1925, ’27, ’30, ’31, ’32, ’34, ’40, ’44, ’45, ’46, ’47, ’48, ’52, ’53, ’62, ’63 and 1986. Some came from Bertha Lobeda of Fairfield, a few from Herbert Nuss of Sutton but most are from Clarence Johnson who served on the District 16 school board for several years. We’ve tried to find directories from surrounding counties but have struck out, completely. We’d like to hear from anyone with copies of these directories – we’d appreciate any donations but would be grateful to be able to copy that data.
The county superintendent published the educational directory
annually. A lot of  school and county history is packed into the
fine print of each.

A common question we field at the museum is along the lines of “How many schools were there in Clay County?” It’s a bit hard to answer.

The question is usually aimed at the one-room country schools but let’s generalize.

County schools were numbered inclusively from District #1, the Corey School near Sutton to District #80, the Richview School just north of Ong. Except there is no District #48 listed even on our earliest directory. There may have been one that closed before 1925. Numbering then skips from 80 to District #101, the Trumbull town school. So, there were 80 schools, plus maybe #25. There must be a story about why numbering skipped the 80’s and 90’s. Anyone know?

Town schools were numbered districts and should be subtracted from our list of 80 schools. Sutton is District #2; Harvard, 11; Clay Center, 70; Fairfield, 18; Edgar, 12; Ong, 64, Trumbull, 101 and Glenvil was District #49.

The village schools shouldn’t count as one-room country schools. They were larger and for a time, some went through the 10th grade. Those would be Inland, District 72; Eldorado, 67; Saronville, 73; Verona, 43; Deweese, 75 and Spring Ranch was District 3.
So we’ve deleted 14 schools from our list leaving 66 one-room country schools in Clay County. True? Not true.

Harvard District #11 not only operated the Harvard town school but also operated five one-room country schools circling the town, each about two or three miles distant. They appeared under the Harvard system as N.W., N.E., S.W., S.C. and S.E. indicating the direction from town. So, we want to say that there were 71 one-room country schools in the county. At least until the early 1940’s when the Hastings U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot wiped out six of the county’s schools: districts 51, 61, 31, 56, 57 and 15 causing Plainview, Grubb, West Lynn, Glenwood, Weber and Lone Tree to disappear. Now we’re back to 65 schools, post-NAD.
This map is seven years later than the former map, school year 1947-1948
and showing the Nevada-shaped land mass that was one of Clay Counties
major contributions to World War II. Smaller plots were taken for the Harvard
Air Base and, it seems, for a rifle range. The air base was an Army Air Corps
aircrew training school. Was the rifle range also Army? Was it "taken" land?

Our Sutton neighborhood had nine of these schools in School Creek and Sutton Townships. Districts 5, 66 and 8 were in a straight line, west to east in the north of School Creek. They were called Becker, Grosshans and Nuss. District #16, the other Nuss school, and my K-5 school was two miles west and one and a half north of Sutton. District #1, the Corey School was just north of Sutton, but I repeat myself.

District 9, Carlson School was in Sutton Township a mile east of the Saronville south road; 20, called Sunnyside was on the road between sections 28 and 29 about six miles southwest of Sutton. District 13 was the Wachter School four miles south and just to the east and the Lange School, District 79 was just east of the Sutton road on Highway 41.

Just two miles to the east is the Fillmore County line and although we don’t have any of those Educational Directories, “The Fillmore County Story” edited by Wilbur G. Gaffney does have a map showing districts 8, 29, 31, 66, 64, 62, 89, 74, 63 and 61 were schools in Grafton and Bennett townships just east of Sutton.

The story of these country schools was a big part of Clay County’s past which has largely faded into the fog of history except when someone digs around in obscure sources for an article like this. Or, until someone visits the Wolfe School Museum on North Way Avenue in the extreme southeast corner of Sutton Park where the visitor may trigger a distant memory of their own country school, or more likely, try to make sense of something a grandparent once told them.

Showing our country school to kids is a satisfying part of working with the Sutton Museum. We are especially proud to be a part of the Sutton Schools 4th grade Apple Valley study block when we can provide a hands-on, eyes-on visual aid of what those schools really looked like.

This article first appeared in the December, 2016 issue of Sutton Life Magazine - www.mustangmediainc.com


The People Before the Settlers




The People before the Settlers
By Jerry Johnson and the Sutton Historical Society

This map identifies the geography of major tribes on the plains. The map is part of an extensive private website
at www.fransrealm.com which has numerous interesting photos and comments.

We have choices for dating the beginning of Sutton. Luther French filed for his homestead in 1870; the first waves of settlers arrived in 1871 and there were two incorporation attempts.

Sutton residents chose the second of those incorporation attempts in 1874 to celebrate the town’s 65th birthday with a shindig in 1939. An old friend of early Sutton helped the town to celebrate. Sioux Chief Black Horn returned to remind residents of a story of those days.
Sioux Chief Black Horn posed with Mrs. Laura
(Schwab) Lewis at the 1939 festival celebrating
Sutton's 65th birthday.

Various accounts tell of a band of Indians who traveled about in the Central U. S. during the 1870’s. Their itinerary included a few weeks camped in the Sutton Park each summer. One of the local merchants, likely Isaac Clark developed a rapport with this band earning their business for their annual shopping needs. Chief Black Horn was 78-years old in 1939 putting his date of birth in 1861 and a pre-teen or early teen during these visits during those first years of the Sutton settlement.

We usually being the Story of Sutton with Luther French’s dugout in 1870, but the Chief reminds us that the Sutton area, the Great Plains, the U. S. and indeed, the whole hemisphere had a population with a history before Luther French.

The story of Native Americans covers a lot of territory. From the Inuit of the Arctic to the Tehuelche people at the southern tip of Patagonia there were scores of different ethnic groupings, each with many different tribes or nations and each of those made up of separate identifiable people who may have been even further divided.

The Pilgrims encountered the Patuxent or Pawtucket tribe of the Wampanoag confederation and on the east coast. Wikipedia lists eighteen different tribes along the Pacific Northwest coast. And in between there were many tribes and sub-tribes.

For instance, we know there was a Sioux tribe. But there were “Seven Council Fires” of the Sioux nation including the Yankton Sioux, the Teton (or Lakota), Mdewakanton, and four more with names you are unlikely to recognize.

And the Lakota people further divided themselves into yet another level of seven bands or “sub-tribes” with some fun names: “Brule” or “Burned Thighs”; “Ogalala” or “They Scatter Their Own”; “Sans Arc” meaning “Without Bows”; “Hunkpapa” translated to “End Village” sometimes “End of the Circle”; “Miniconjou” or “Planters Beside the Stream”, “Black Feet” (not to be confused with a distinct tribe further west) and “Oohenupa” or “Two Kettles” or maybe “Two Boilings”.

The family of Mrs Laura (Schwab) Lewis and her
daughter Mrs. Dorothy (Lewis) Johnson donated the
tie and moccasins worn by Chief Black Horn in that
photo above - on display at the Sutton Museum.
The point is that we may encounter any of several names for any specific group of Native Americans.

Another fuzzy topic concerns where various tribes were located. Some communities were nomadic and even the ones that tended to settle in one place also drifted about.

For instance, there are the Omaha and the Ponca tribes. Their ancestors were part of a larger group near the Ohio River when they split off moving to Minnesota and later to South Dakota. The Dakota tribe drive them down to the Missouri River about the year 1500.

The Ponca and Omaha separated in 1650. The Omaha tribe settled along the Bow River in Nebraska and moved to their current reservation site in Dakota County in 1855. They sold part of their land to the Winnebago ten years later.

The Ponca moved to the Black Hills after their split with the Omaha tribe and later lived at the mouth of the Niobrara River. The tribe was forcibly moved to Oklahoma Indian Territory in 1877. Several died on the trip including the daughter of Chief Standing Bear. His son died soon after arriving in Oklahoma. Standing Bear attempted to return his son’s body to Nebraska but was arrested for defying orders to stay on the Oklahoma reservation.

The Omaha Daily Herald and the public followed the trial at Fort Omaha where, in a landmark case, the court ruled that an Indian was a “person” and that Standing Bear and the Ponca tribe should be allowed to return to their home in Nebraska.

Unfortunately, their home had already been taken from the Ponca people and only 225 of the 800 returned to Nebraska.

The Omaha and Ponca qualify as members of the tribes of the Plains Indians. What other tribes are counted among the Indians of the Plains and specifically, who lived in our area?

The most common answer is the Pawnee. It’s a good answer but there were many other tribes among the Plains Indians. There are more than a dozen dioramas at the Hastings Museum describing the Plains Indians. Their list includes the Pawnee, the Omaha and Ponca, Winnebago, Santee Sioux, the Plains Apache, Missouri and Oto tribes, Teton Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho,

The Pawnee tribe was a dominate tribe living in Nebraska and Kansas. There were four distinct bands who moved north from the Arkansas River during the 1770’s. The Skidi, Chaui or Grand Pawnee, Kitkehahkis and the Pitahauerats were the names of those bands.

Tepees? So primitive. This display at the Hastings Museum shows the cross section of a Pawnee earth lodge. 
The Pawnee suffered a common fate of most Indian tribes when they first met Europeans. It was a group of Santa Fe traders who crossed paths with the Pawnee in 1832 infecting the tribe with smallpox causing the deaths of more than 3,000 within a few days. A long history of living with diseases had allowed Europeans to gradually build up a resistance to common diseases. Native Americans had no chance to develop such immunity. Pawnee population may have peaked as high as 10,000 before smallpox and cholera cut their numbers down to about 600.

Native Americans were killed in violent encounters with Europeans and between themselves, but those numbers paled beside deaths by disease.

Population estimates of the number of indigenous people in the Americans before Columbus vary widely from lows around 20 million to a high of about 100 million. Most scholars chose something in the middle feeling comfortable that between 50 and 60 million people lived in the western hemisphere. European population in 1500 was just over 60 million.

The Pawnee were among the more sedentary natives of the plains becoming successful farmers. Our common stereotypical idea for the home of an Indian is a tepee. The tepee was common. It was a handy house for someone who lived a nomadic life, picking up and moving often. The Pawnee and other Indians with a stationary lifestyle developed a more permanent structure, the mud house or earth lodge.

The Hastings Museum has an excellent display describing the construction and nature of the earth lodge. Lodges were circular and as large as 45 feet in diameter with wooden posts and covered with grass and sod. Sod houses of white settlers were a reminder of these earth lodges, though not many housed as many as 30 people as might live in the Pawnee lodge.

Pawnee hunters, the men, normally took two hunting trips a year for buffalo and deer giving them a diverse diet.

The Santee Sioux have a reservation in Knox County on the south bank of the Missouri. Their story includes a period when they were squeezed into a narrow strip by white settlers and rose in armed rebellion in 1862. Eighteen hundreds of them were arrested by the U.S. Army and 307 tried, convicted and sentenced to hang. Protests to President Lincoln resulted in reprieves for all but 33 who were hanged in the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

The Missouri (meaning “having wooden canoes”) were closely related to the Oto and were once in the same group as the Winnebago and the Iowa tribes. They were soundly defeated by the Sauk and Fox Indians scattering among the Osage, Kansa and the Oto.

They were living near the mouth of the Platte River in 1805 but were nearly wiped out by smallpox in 1823. The tribe ceased to exist by the 1930’s.

So, we see that the story of the Native Americans of the Plains is a long slide from millions of people living and often prospering for a long time before contact with the French, Spaniards and especially the English settlers brought disease, loss of land and a tragic loss of life, very many lives. But where did the Native Americans originate.

Scientists such as anthropologists, archaeologists and others have long understood that the indigenous people of the Americas originally came from Asia about 20,000 years ago across a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska at a time when the ocean level was a few hundreds of feet lower.

DNA research has confirmed the connection between Native Americans and Asians east of the Yenisei River in the middle of Russia. Very recent studies show that indigenous people in the Arctic are not closely related to those people further south suggesting there were two separate migrations across the land bridge.

That’s a long history for the people who inhabited our area before Luther French dug a home out of the bank of School Creek. Our own history in Sutton is approaching 150 years and is seriously dwarfed.

But our history has been long enough for the story of the Native Americans to have faded. Even just sixty years ago my contemporaries in Sutton rode their bicycles north to walk newly worked fields along the Blue River where arrowheads could be easily found. Does anyone still do that? When did that part of growing up in Sutton end?

There is a rich assortment of online web sites that preserve the story of Native Americans. I recommend the trip to the Hastings Museum to see their exhibits on the subject and I urge parents to introduce their kids to those exhibits. There was a rich and interesting history on the Plains before European settlers arrived.

Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca nation was successful in a court case leading to the finding
that Native Americans were indeed "people", perhaps Nebraska's shining moment in the
history of civil rights. 

This article first appeared in the November, 2016 issue of Sutton Life Magazine.


1917 Office holders, Fed, State & County


This is the list of office holders at the Federal level, Nebraska and Clay County in 1917.




place holder

Glenvil's Dort dealership and other county car dealers

There were lots of car companies 100 years ago before a series of disappearances and consolidations eliminated most names.

This ad appeared in the Fairfield Auxiliary newspaper in April 1917.






A fellow in Portland, Oregon had this 1917 Dort Fleur de Lyse for sale a few years ago. Pretty spiffy wheels.



1986-87 Clay Co. Educational Directory

































1963-64 Clay Co. Educational Directory



























1962-63 Clay Co. Educational Directory


























1953-54 Clay Co. Educational Directories


Under Construction