Niobrara County Schools - History Highlights

School Map 1, 1911
School Map 1, 1911

School Map 2, 1921
School Map 2, 1921

Picture #1 - Fred E. Dale
Picture #1 - Fred E. Dale

Picture #2 - Maria Kushner was an early teacher in the Bobcat School.
Picture #2 - Maria Kushner was an early teacher in the Bobcat School.

Last updated: September 15, 2008

Library Archives
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Compiled March 1964

The State Legislature, in Chapter 20, Wyoming Session Laws 1911, set the boundaries and classification of seven new counties. Niobrara County, one of these was formed by moving the eastern boundary of Converse County approximately forty miles west from the state lines of Nebraska and South Dakota, making a new county approximately sixty miles from north to south and forty miles from east to west. Lusk became the county seat and the first corps of County Officials was elected in the fall of 1912, taking office the first Monday of January 1913.

The County Superintendent of Schools was, at that time, elected on a partisan ticket. All candidates got on the Primary ballot by filing a "Petition for Nomination" and paying the required fee. The one receiving a majority vote in the Primary election became his party's candidate in the General Election.

The duties of the County Superintendent were much the same then as now. However, the only qualification required was that he or she be a qualified elector. The salary was $660 per year with necessary expenses in a third class county, which was Niobrara's classification at that time. Schools were to be visited yearly and a four day Teacher's Institute was to be held each year. The expense of the latter could not exceed $150.00.

The first Institute was held in the early fall of 1913. Rev. D. B. Atkinson, President of Jireh College, his wife, Mrs. Ruth F. Atkinson and Miss Clara Prahl, University of Wyoming, were obtained as instructors for the first Institute.

All schools were taken over from Converse County and no new schools established the first year of Niobrara County's existence. It may be interesting to know that Audrey Cornell (Mrs. Harry) nee Barber was the first native Niobrarian to teach in that county. (Note entered 2/11/2013: Further research indicates that Audrey Barker was a teacher at the Node School from 1914 to 1916 according to Jimmy and Carmen Shane in "Node, The First 100 Years". In "Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors", the Jassman school is mentioned as being started in 1914, held in a granary building on the ranch and the teacher was Nellie Barker Cornell. Nellie was Audrey's sister.)

All schools in towns and those where rural post offices were located, took the name of the post office, e.g. Lusk, Manville, Kirtley, Warren, etc. Most other schools took the name of the family on whose land the school was located, e.g. Side, Zink, Thomas, 77 Ranch, Horseshoe Ranch, etc. The Trestle school was named after a long trestle on the C. & N.W. Railway near there. The Robber's Roost school was named after a creek, which was no named from the legend that thieves, robbers and crooks had a hide-out there.

There were few maintained roads in 1913 and also few fences, so the most common mode of travel was by horseback, following trails or cross-country. This was the mode used by the first county superintendent of schools. As most of the traveling was done in the winter season it was necessary to dress accordingly. The costume consisted of "long-john" underwear, heavy socks, khaki trousers, woolen shirt, high topped laced boots, knit sweater, mackinaw coat, cap with lined ear flaps, gloves and mittens for real cold weather. The first county superintendent also wore chaps. A change of underwear, socks and shirt were carried in a roll behind the saddle, also a pair of pliers to take down fences when necessary.

My most memorable experience occurred in the middle of November 1913. I had visited the Oscar Jones School, had lunch and then started for the Jim Williams School on Cheyenne River, some 20 miles to the northeast. The trail took me through the Dick Pfister ranch on Mule Creek where I stopped to say hello. Pfisters were in Edgemont, South Dakota for the winter but I knew the ranch hand and he invited me to stop and shoot jack rabbits, which were very thick at that time. We became so interested that I forgot about time and the two hour ride I had before me and it was nearly four o'clock when I left. I did not know the route but the ranch hand pointed out a land mark in the Black Hills and a shale butte to the south and told me to follow a line between the two and I would come to the Cheyenne River near the Williams Ranch. I had travelled nearly an hour when a gray cloud began rising in the northeast, quietness seemed to settle over the land, and soon a light snowfall began. I could scarcely see the south land mark and the one in the Black Hills was lost in the haze. Darkness overtook me and I had not yet reached the Cheyenne River breaks. The snow thickened but I heard the faint barking of a dog and veered in that direction. I reached the breaks, but here I could not hold a definite direction but had to let the mare pick her way over the hills and through the gullies. I knew I would drift to the right with the wind but there was nothing I could do about it but keep on going. Suddenly, as I topped a slight hill I caught a flash of light to my right but it did not come again. I yelled and yelled, no response, there was nothing to do but keep on going. The contour of the land leveled and I knew I must be out of the breaks. Presently the mare stopped and refused to go on. I could see nothing but in trying to urge the horse she turned and my foot caught on a barbed wire. I dismounted; I had struck a fence between the posts. Walking, I led the mare to a post, got my pliers and pulled the staples. I couldn't hold the wire to the ground and she refused to cross. I had to pull the staples from two more posts and staple the wire down to the ground at the middle post before she would cross. I re-stapled the wires. My horse must have smelled something familiar for she pressed eagerly forward and was soon standing by a building. I could hear sounds of habitation but there was no light. I rode round the building and came to a door on which I knocked, at the same time calling out. The door opened, a young man peered out. When he saw us he came out and invited me in, first showing me where to stable the mare. I found I was in South Dakota about five miles east of the Williams ranch. Supper and bed were gladly furnished and the next morning, I went on to the Williams school.

The foregoing was contributed by C. C. Browning, who now resides in Cheyenne, the first County Superintendent of Schools in Niobrara County as was the following map (see School Map #1) showing the location of the schools at the time the county was formed.

J.P. Costlow, an early day teacher writes:
I came to Lusk in the early part of 1911, and stayed until fall when I returned to Indiana and taught the 1911-12 term. In the spring of 1912, I again came to Lusk which has been my home since that time.

My teaching career in Wyoming began in the fall of 1912. I was engaged to teach at Kirtley. I taught two terms in this community, 1912-13 and 1913-14. During this time I boarded with the O. P. Harnagel family. The school house at Kirtley was then located about one mile south of the present Harry Sides ranch buildings. I believe the building in which school was held is the present Kirtley Hall.

The families represented at the Kirtley school when I taught them were: Sides and Sporleder, ZumBrunnen, Deuel, Williams, Church, Harnagel, and Myers. It is interesting to recall some experiences. To this day, I can picture a wagon coming into the school yard on a cold and blustery day with Harlan Lohr driving. From under assorted blankets and tarps, ten Lohr and Sporleder children would come bouncing out followed by Harlan. This family was never late, I might add.

At this time there were several communities in the county where no school houses were available, and school was held in bunk houses or in homes. This condition prevailed in the Young Woman community and school was held in the bunk house on the Hubbard ranch. This ranch is now owned by Charles Rejda. This was my next school and in attendance were: Percy, Vilna and Helen Hubbard, Howard Claus and Dan Hanson. Dan, of course, lived on the old Hanson ranch, which is now owned by Dan. The Claus boy lived on the old Barber ranch which is presently owned by Glenn Crofutt. After some six or more weeks at Hubbards, this "traveling school", as Dan so aptly calls it, was moved to the Anderson ranch and school was opened in the bunk house there. This ranch is still in the Anderson family and the property of Gaylord Anderson. Attending here were the three Hubbards; Bill Olson, a cousin of Stephen Anderson; Stephen Anderson; Sadie and Dan Hanson. This school closed sometime during the summer of 1914. I am indebted for much of the information on these two schools to Dan Hanson and Stephen Anderson, whose memory of these schools far surpasses my own.

A school house was located on Old Woman Creek, and was known as the Bonsell school. The building was located on the original homestead of Sarah Henry, an aunt of Bill Bonsell Sr. Bill Bonsell named here is a grandfather of Roger Bonsell, the present owner of this ranch. This school building, if it still exists, would be where the house on the ranch belonging to Russell Bonsell stands and between the Bonsell ranch and the Goddard and Sheridan ranch on Old Woman Creek. School opened in this school the fall of 1915 with me as the teacher. Pupils enrolled were: Helen Sheridan, a sister of Allen Sheridan; Adelia and Charlotte Bonsell, daughters of Jim Bonsell; Lydie, George, Russell and Ray Bonsell, all children of Bill Bonsell, Sr. During this 1915-16 term, I boarded with Dan Goddard, father of John Goddard.

C. C. (Chuck) Browning was the first County Superintendent of Niobrara County, and the schools I taught to this point were under his supervision. Chuck, his wife Gail, or "Jack", as she was familiarly known, and I had met at Marion, Indiana Normal school. I joined them in South Dakota, where they were both teaching, and Chuck and I came to Lusk together.

In December of 1920, after my return from World War one, Miss Amy Christian, county Superintendent at that time, called me to her office and informed me of a vacancy in a school in the Sunnyside community north of Van Tassell. I made application for this school, was accepted and moved my family into a house on the Burkhart homestead, near the school house which was also located on this property. The owner of this property was the father of Mrs. John Siemsen. School was begun at Sunnyside the first of January, 1921 with the following pupils: Leona Fleming; Mary and Rosie Heckert; Phoebe and Hazel Roberts and Ray and Gladys Heckert.

The last school I taught was at Van Tassell. This was the 1921-22 term. Mrs. Charles Calhoun taught the lower grades and I taught the upper four grades. In my department at this school, the following pupils were in attendance: Harlan Zerbe; Arthur and Dorothy Mashek; Blanche, Kenneth and Glenn Erlewine; Lydie Van Sant; Ray and Rolla Heckert; Lawrence and Blanche Calhoun; Lercy Siethcus; Sylvia Friedman; Don Thielbar; Monroe Derrick and Alice Hamaker.

- contributed by Mrs. Effie McLain, one of the original Royal Valley settlers consisting of Roy McLains, Charley Allens, A. J. Simons, Byron Moody, Sarah Sanburn, Archie Sparks, Will Blackmore, E. O. Kint, L. R. Van Tassell and Mr. E. Kirby. Effie has always been interest in school affairs:
I began teaching in the Silver Springs School (forerunner of Royal Valley school) in the fall of 1910 and taught there three years. The first year the pupils were: Cyrus Blair, Harry Blair, Percy Blair, Fred Blair, Mary Blair and Merta Blair; Clarence and Floyd Simon; Maurice and Lucile Moody; Myrtle, Clara and Ralph Milburn; Ethel Remington; Brian Remington; Dana Barber; Elgie, Clint, Evelyn and Bessie Tudder. The school board members were: Ed Arnold, Ed Barber and Jesse Hall.

Rev. Bernard Long held Sunday school and church at the school house through the summer. This school house was located one and one half mile southwest of Roy McLain and then was moved a mile and a half north of its present location on the school section.

The Royal Valley school, about ten miles south of Lusk was unique in that it got it's name, Royal Valley, from a settlement of people who came from Royal, Nebraska in 1909 and took up homesteads in this community. The patrons of this community met the above named school board to ask that a school be built eight miles south in the center of the community and to find how much money could be allotted for a school house. The patrons did all the work and in 1917 a nice, one room school was built.

Presently there was a need for more room, so the patrons again went before the board and obtained enough money to build another room the same size as the original. The work, as on the original building, being donated by the patrons.

The Royal Valley School was the first "Standardized" school in the state of Wyoming. How proud this community was when the "Shield" was attached to the school house by Mr. A. A. Slade, Commissioner of Education at a public celebration on November 8, 1919. Mrs. Della Grebe was County Superintendent of this county at that time.

This school building was not only used for school purposed, but the neighborhood literary society put on several home talent plays to buy equipment for the school. The Farm Bureau held its meetings there once a month. We held Sunday School and Church with Rev. Jacobs, who had a homestead near Jay Em, conducting the services. Also a Baptist minister came out from Lusk during the summertime. We also held our Red Cross meetings there during World War I, where we did a lot of sewing. This school was discontinued after the school year of 1935-36 as all of the pupils were ready for high school.

The community still holds many happy memories of the good times we had in this school house.


- contributed b Mrs. Jennie Bass, an early day pioneer and teacher:
When I first heard about the possibility of taking a homestead in Wyoming, I was very much interested. Many of the people in our community had homesteaded in the early days in South Dakota and I had heard about many of the trials of those early days.

I left my school, near Beresford, South Dakota on Friday evening following Thanksgiving 1911 and took the train to Sioux City, Iowa where I visited my sister that evening and the next day took the train to Harrison, Nebraska.

Immediately upon my arrival, I made reservation with a group of people who like me, were going to take up land about four miles south of Van Tassell. We contacted the local land office and were informed that it was necessary to go out, look the places over and find the corners of each homestead. I decided that I wanted the place with a mile of fence and an interesting looking butte on it. I felt certain I'd be able to recognize the place by these two land marks. We returned to the land office, made our filings and returned to Harrison that evening. The next day I took the train back to my school in Dakota.

Needless to say people were anything but helpful as most of them thought I was lacking in brightness to plan on taking a homestead when without effort I could continue to teach in my home state. Nothing however, made me change my plans and at last they gave me some constructive ideas. Dad insisted that one of my brothers should go out with me. This pleased me for even though I would not acknowledge it, I was a little skeptical about my eventual bravery. It was decided that my youngest brother would go with me and that later my older brother would go out and if he like it take a homestead, too.

We arrived in Van Tassell a day or so before the terrible 1912 blizzard. My brother stayed in Van Tassell to take charge of our baggage and I drove out to the Leonard home where I was to stay until we could build a house. My brother and I built the house and although neither of us knew much about building, the drawing I had made proved to be a great help. After the last board was in place we conceived the brilliant idea of establishing residence immediately. We brought what was needed and still felt the idea was sound until it started to rain. My brother said he was tired enough to sleep any place and retired with the rain dripping on him. I however, put as many of our possessions as possible under the table and raising the umbrella over the kerosene lamp, read the greater part of the night.

The next day my brother went to Harrison to get the rubberoid for the roof, making the trip on his bicycle and since Harrison is about 22 miles away could not get back that same evening. I spent that second night on the homestead a very frightened pioneer. Our house was completed soon and was quite comfortable.

I had found that the Teacher's Institute would convene in Douglas the last week in August 1912. Miss Maude Dawes was county Superintendent of Converse County at that time which included what is now Niobrara County. When I arrived at the institute, I asked Miss Dawes about the possibility of getting a school near Lusk. She was most kind and in no time at all it was decided that I was to be the teacher in the Old Woman Creek school north of Lusk about a dozen miles.

After the Institute was over, I took the train to Lusk, where Mr. Bonsell, one of the patrons met me. Again I had a lumber wagon conveyance to my school. On the way to the Bonsell ranch, we passed the little log cabin school house. I asked to see it and Mrs. Bonsell complied with my request. The building was in a sad state needing chinking between the logs. Mr. Bonsell said that if I was worth my salt I'd fix the open places by stuffing paper and rags in the cracks. To prove my worth the children and I did the need repair work before cold weather. At least we were warm.

Since the residence requirement on my homestead would not be complete till November, I continued going out to the homestead every weekend. I rode horseback to Lusk, then by train to Van Tassell, then by lumberwagon to the homestead. After my residence requirements were completed I no longer made these trips and enjoyed staying in my boarding place.

The school consisted of the two Bonsell families, Adelia, Charlotte and Dano Bonsell, the children of Jim Bonsell; Lydie, Raymond and Johnny Bonsell, the children of Bill Bonsell.

When school closed in the spring I returned to the homestead where I later taught school in my own homestead shack. In order to use it for a school house, it was necessary to move it about a quarter mile west where my brother had built his house so we could have water, cook in his house and have school in mine. My Mother sent out enough books to use as text books and school started the first of July. The last day came and "Sleepy Hollow School" was but a memory.

Later I taught several years in the first grade in the Lusk town school.


*****

By 1921 Niobrara County had 13 districts with 61 rural schools, two elementary schools and two high schools (Lusk and Manville) employing 88 teachers. The following map (See Map #2) shows the location of the schools and the school districts and was compiled by G. L. Pfeifer, son of C. W. Pfeifer who was County Superintendent of Schools at that time.


*****

During the period from 1921 until 1949 some schools had been consolidated and some had been discontinued. Also districts 12 and 13 and districts 8 and 10 had been combined.

In 1948-49 Niobrara County voted to become a one county district thus becoming the first in the State of Wyoming to do so. We now have 8 rural schools, 3 elementary schools and one high school.

We have a nine member school board elected from the various areas of the county, three members from the Lusk-Node area, two from Manville-Keeline area and two from Lance Creek. One from Van Tassell-Kirtley area and one from Fairview-Indian Creek-Cheyenne River and Seven Mile area.

There are several advantages in a one county district: equalization of taxation, county wide salary schedule, all rural schools have teacherages equipped with electricity and oil heating systems and furnished with refrigerator, stoves, bed, table and chairs.

*****

The Bobcat School was in an area that at one time was also known as the "Dale Post Office." According to information in the 1947 booklet entitled Pioneering on the Cheyenne River, "Fred Dale (see picture #1) was a pioneer horseman of this section of the country. He first located a horse camp just over the line in South Dakota and was there for several years. About 1900 he came to Wyoming and filed on a homestead on the Cheyenne River, at the mouth of Alkali Creek. Soon after this he was instrumental in establishing a postoffice in this community which was called Dale in his honor. Mr. and Mrs. Dale ae the parents of one daughter, Maude. Mrs. Dale and Maude who spend the summers on the ranch and return to Edgemont in the fall so Maude could continue her studies. Maude was married to Fred Campbell and they still reside on the Cheyenne River and are the parents of one son, Edward Dale." Fred E. Dale's daughter [Maude Dale] married Fred Campbell whose sister, Mary F. Campbell, married Lincoln Baltzly, another pioneer in the Cheyenne River area. Mary F. Baltzly came to Wyoming in the spring of 1903 and located at the mouth of Robber's Roost. Mrs. Baltzly also taught school for two terms in 1906-1907. This was the first school established in this community and was located about half a mile west of where Highway 85 now crosses the Cheyenne River. Mary F. Campbell Baltzly was born July 28, 1861 and died August 26, 1944, and is buried in Edgemont. Another early teacher of the Bobcat School was Maria Kushner. (See picture #2)




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