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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

Pioneer School

P. W. Sutherland, who called himself "the Lukinite man" wrote several articles of his recollections and memoirs for local newspapers in the early part of the 20th century. This one published in the Sumner Press in February 1919 recalls the first schools in Christy Township. How Times have changed!


"The first schools of Christy Township were generally taught in abandoned squatter cabins, primitive log structures, though sometimes they were built of logs got out for the building for school purposes. This style of houses continued up until the Civil War, directly after which they begin to be replaced by frame structures.


These log buildings were generally pretty much after the same pattern, so that describing one will answer for all. They generally were about 16 x 18 or 20 feet and with a large fireplace open at one end, though this was sometimes varied by a large box stove. Seats were generally a straight pole, split to make two benches 10 or 12 feet long smoothed on the flat side with three legs at each end, made by boring holes and inserting pins in the holes. No backs were made to these affairs, generally from 10 to 12 inches wide, mostly too high, so the scholar sat with his or her feet off the floor so they would swing free from it. A window where a log had been cut out the length of one end of the room, with a broad plank for to write on and shelf underneath for paperwork and books to be stowed in the benches, were expected to serve several pupils on each seat, the number depending on size of pupils, there was a girls’ side and a boys’ side to the schoolhouse and one of the punishments meted out to offenders was to seat the boys on the girls’ side and the reverse the girls to the boys’ side of the room, for be it understood that Solomon’s rule applied in pioneer days, spare the rod and spoil the child, and our parents told us if we misbehaved and got a whipping and coming home complained about it we would get another.


In Indiana, where the writer was born, beech tree limbs furnished the gads and they cut like a rawhide. Apropos of this, the writer was once sent out to get a limb for a switch and cautioned by the teacher to not use the little blade of the knife, a 3- bladed one,- now this is just exactly what he did, though if the caution had not been given he perhaps would not have disobeyed. Result was the switch and a broken knife blade and not a word said to the teacher about the blade from that day to this.


The teacher, to impress the scholars, always came into the school room the first day of the term with five or six switches, which were placed conspicuously in full view and if you were caught breaking the rules one of these would be tossed over to you and you must gather it up and take it up to the teacher and take your medicine, the same being administered with a will. Another thing of those school times was the goose quill pen.


Sumner had no schoolhouse till the one built in 1867. Previously to this most of the schooling of Sumner children was about a mile west of the town which school succeeded the house near Spring Hill. Uncle Samuel Sumner tells how James Swainey, who taught a school there in 1823, was turned out because he refused to treat children. He finally yielded, bought a bucket of whiskey and honey, on which they all got decidedly funny.


In one of the first terms which the writer attended about 70 years ago ye scribe remembers one of the self -same treatings. It was taught in abandoned log dwelling. The teacher, whose name was Joe Crooks, boarded about a mile away, would go back and forth for his noonday meal. This time was seized upon to compel a treat, so when Mr. Teacher came from the noonday meal he is barred out and terms for entrance denied unless a treat was forthcoming. This was refused and turning he made off. Now the school house was by a creek, frozen over with snow and ice good and thick, and when the scholars saw Mr. Crooks was acting crooked in the manner of treating they gave chase. Mr. Teacher was caught after about a mile run. No treat yet, Mr. Teacher is promised a ducking in the water and is carried back to the Creek, the ice cut and then Mr. Crook ceases to be crooked and agrees to treat which we think consisted of apples and sweet cider.


A log schoolhouse is all the kind ye “Lukinite” man ever went to school in and treating and spelling matches, as they were called, were the big incidents happening during terms, but oh! how we could go through Webster's old elementary speller was a caution, but those good old times will come again no more." /s/ P. W. Sutherland

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