All In The Family... Another Trip Down Memory Lane... Life in The Nebraska Sandhills...
We had a small horsebarn at the little country school I attended, but I never rode horseback to school. In fact, in my seven years (1958-1965) at Duff Valley District 4, the Fowler kids rode horses one day-- just for fun, I think. They had to tie the horses to the barbed wire fence because the school barn wasn't usable, and they never rode horseback to school again. No one else ever did, either.
Barn in the Schoolyard
The barn behind the Duff Valley schoolhouse was a relic from the early days when ranch kids rode horseback if they lived too far away to walk to school. The barn had enough room for six or eight horses, and some of the kids probably rode two-to-a-horse.
Sometime, Duff Valley School had changed from the old-time desks of the late 1800's to one-person desks that were still being used. The old-time desks were stored in the barn along with a few broken pieces of classroom furniture, some busted-up fruit crates, an old door, and some old lumber that still had nails in it.
Behind the barn, someone had nailed boards between two cottonwood trees that grew close by. We were strictly forbidden to climb that makeshift ladder to the roof, but the big boys sometimes hid on the roof when we played "Hide and Seek." When the person who was "it" went around the back of the barn, they'd slide down the front side of the roof, leap to the ground, and run "home." We little kids were in awe of their nerve, even while we were angry at their cheating.
Playing in the Old School Barn
We weren't supposed to hide in the barn or play in there at all because it was unsafe. But one year, we had only five girls in school -- me, my sister, and three of the Horner girls. We were such good kids that our teacher, Mrs. Schubert, probably couldn't believe her luck. That winter, she let us play in the barn with the strict rule that we had to stay out of the stall that had the lumber with nails in it.
Oh, the fun we had. We invented a little play about a wedding. (We were fascinated with weddings.) I was the groom, and Velda was the bride. Or maybe it was the other way around. I can't remember, but we stood up together. Carolyn was the preacher, and she arrived on stage by sliding down the old door we had propped against the hay manger. The two little girls were the ringbearer and the flower girl.
Mrs. Schubert let us use some of the school's Christmas program curtains and we strung them from the rafters. After much rehearsal, we invited her out, performed our drama (including several new verses to "Here Comes The Bride",) and then served cookies for the reception. She must have been amazed at our fertile little minds.
The barn appears at far left in this summertime photograph of Duff Valley School, my alma mater. The school was still in use at the time of the photo, but it closed soon thereafter and the neighborhood children went to a new two-room consolidated school at Rose, a wide spot in the road about 30 miles south of Bassett, with a post office, a store, and a community hall.
Stories From My Parents' Childhoods
A generation or two earlier, it was a common thing for ranch children to ride horseback to school. Both my parents did so. My mother's round trip by horseback was probably six or eight miles. Mama told about taking a hot baked potato in her pocket in the morning. It kept one hand at a time warm on the way to school, and it was also her lunch. Grandpa Sees was a potato farmer, and it was the 1930's. They got by with what they had.
In 1940, when my mother graduated from high school and got her first job as a teacher in the Lavaca community of Cherry County, Nebraska, her contract included a horse to ride to school.
My father and his younger brother and sister made a ten-mile round trip by horseback. My Aunt Cleona wrote in a letter of memories, "All them good old days riding horseback to school facing that old northwest wind and so cold you could hear the screech of horsehooves on the snow."
My father was the oldest child, and when his little brother started school, he rode double behind my dad. One horrible day, his little brother had an accident of the worst sort in his pants at school and my dad had to take him home. Daddy had a vivid memory of the humiliation and then the long trip home. When he told us this story, we laughed but his face still showed a little of the pain of that day.
These stories sound "long ago and far away", but not even a century ago-- not even seventy-five years ago-- many children of the prairie rode horses to school. The communal memory of Midwestern country folks of my parents' age contained many stories of those horseback journeys, and this is my small contribution to the preservation of a few of those tales.