Historical Details

Bass, Jennie - Pioneer Teacher

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 01/12/1978

The following is an excerpt from a story written by Mae Urbanek in 1954 for a Delta Kappa Gamma publication about pioneer teacher and homesteader Jennie Bass who died in Casper Jan. 5, 1978. It was published in the Lusk Herald as part of her obituary on January 12, 1978.

Let us go back those forty-three years to Centerville, South Dakota, the home of this ambitious young school teacher who had heard of homesteading in Wyoming, and to whom three hundred and twenty acres of virgin prairie land seemed like an empire. Naturally, her family objected, claiming that she would freeze or starve to death in that wilderness, if she wasn't first scalped by Indians. But Jennie Paulson of Viking descent had keen blue eyes that looked a long, long ways. She was intrigued and determined. But let her tell the story.

"Leaving my school in South Dakota to file on a claim presented the greatest difficulty in my plan of 'going West'. However, after talking it over with the school board members, I was given a week in which to go out and file, and would be permitted to make up the time on Saturdays; so, following that beckoning hand of opportunity, I started West."

"I left my school Friday evening, the week after Thanksgiving, 1911 and went to Sioux City where I spent the evening with my sister. The next day I took the train for Harrison, Nebraska. Immediately after reaching Harrison, I made reservations for the trip to locate a homestead with a group of people who were also interested in taking up land in Wyoming. We drove out in a wagon, to the local Land Office south of Van Tassell, Wyoming a distance of twenty-two miles. A cold wind blew a fierce welcome and the prairies were treeless and grey."

"George Leonard, the U.S. Land Commissioner, informed us that it was necessary for us to see the land before filing, and to locate the corners. This we did. I chose my homestead for two reasons; mainly, because it had a mile of fence on the east side; and secondly, because it included an interesting butte by which I felt certain I could identify my land."

"We returned to Leonard's Land Office on his claim, and filed on various homesteads, and then drove back to Harrison that evening. The next day I took the train back to my rural school near Hurley, South Dakota."

"During the long winter and spring months when I was not busy teaching, I was making plans for going to Wyoming. There were many discouraging days. Friends and relatives thought the venture impossible. My father insisted that one of my brothers accompany me, for which I was secretly very happy. Sydney, who was sixteen, was to go with me until my older brother could come."

"We reached Van Tassell in the spring, the day before the terrible blizzard of 1912. My brother stayed in Van Tassell to unload the baggage, while I drove out with Mr. and Mrs. Leonard to their homestead, where we had rented rooms until we could build my house."

"What a welcome that blizzard was to Wyoming! I had seen them in South Dakota where many trees and near neighbors tempered their fury. During the complete isolation of those three days, the white, smothering blasts beat against that fragile prairie home, but I was busy planning my homestead house, and figuring out the amount of lumber needed with the aid and advice of the Leonards."

"When the storm was over, we hired Lewis Bass to freight the lumber out from Van Tassell. It was a heavy load and took four horses to haul it over the rough prairie. I followed the lumber later in a light buggy, and saw Lewis for the first time, standing on top of a pile of unloaded lumber. I thought he had the nicest big brown eyes, but it was many months later before I decided to marry him."

"My brother and I built the house. First we laid the floor. Didn't one always start at the bottom of things? Then we nailed the west wall together on the ground and raised it; next the east wall; and finally the two sides. Too late we learned that we should have first built the frame and then nailed on the siding. But the building was standing (and it still is), so we did not let this information worry us."

"When the last board on the box-car type roof had been nailed down, we decided to move in. We considered ourselves very clever until it started to rain, and then it was too late to do anything but stay all night in the leaky structure. At first there were just a few isolated trickles of rain; then it came through the boards in streams. My brother retired with a tarp over this bed, but I didn't like sleeping in such a damp place, and so after putting our few possessions under the table, I raised an umbrella over the kerosene lamp and spent the night reading."

"The next day my brother rode his bicycle to Harrison, hoping to get a roll of rubberoid for the roof. It was too far to return that same day, so I spent the second night on the homestead, a very frightened pioneer. The wind blew, the coyotes howled, and about midnight the cattle decided to investigate this strange building on their range. The corners made excellent rubbing places. I couldn't imagine what the strange noises were, but it was moonlight so I tip-toed to the window to see what was going on. When I saw the herd of cattle milling and sniffing around, I wasn't frightened and became a brave pioneer."

"Before too many days the needed paper came, and our home was resplendent with the black rubberoid outer covering, and the blue building paper inside. During the summer we made friends with other homesteaders and time passed rapidly with visiting parties."

"That fall, in order to raise funds for my homestead venture, I secured a school on Old Woman Creek about twelve miles north of Lusk. One of the patrons met me and took me by lumber-wagon conveyance to my first Wyoming school. As we passed the little log schoolhouse I became concerned about its condition. The chinking was gone from between the logs, but my driver informed me that if I was worth my salt, I would fix the open places by stuffing paper and rags in the cracks. I had this done long before cold weather started, and at least we were warm that winter. There were six pupils."

"To finish the requirements on my homestead, every weekend until November I rode horseback to Lusk, took a train to Van Tassell, and was met there by my friends Mr. and Mrs. Morgan who were living in my house that winter, while they built their own. After one night's sleep on my claim I would return the forty odd miles to my school."

"In the spring my older brother came out to file on a claim and build his home near mine. He brought cattle, horses, and machinery, and I could now comply with the government regulation that forty acres by plowed and farmed before "proving up".

"Neighboring homesteaders asked me to teach their children, and this made me very happy. But first we had to attend the annual school meeting in June. Two patrons and I started on the long lumber wagon trip the day before the meeting, which was scheduled to be held on the Fredrick ranch several miles southwest of the Rawhide Buttes. We followed cow trails over hills and down gullies, staying overnight at the Hargrave ranch. At the meeting I acted as spokesman for the new school. Board members were very hesitant about granting the school but finally agreed to pay $40 a month for the teacher, but refused to do anything about a schoolhouse, books, or fuel. With this we had to be satisfied."

"Home again, we decided to make my shack the schoolhouse. So we moved it half a mile west of where my brother had dug a well; removed the partition, and installed a carpenter's bench for the fifteen children to use as a desk. Grocery boxes served as chairs and a painted plaster-board made a blackboard. My mother sent out enough books to supply the children, and we all picked up 'buffalo chips' for fuel. This was the first school north of Torrington in Goshen county. 'Sleepy Hollow School' will always remain a happy memory. I had learned to love the open prairies with their gift of freedom and independence."

Images & Attachments

Jennie and Lewis Bass, March 18, 1914
Lewis and Jennie Bass Celebrate Golden Wedding Anniversary, 1964

Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Bass, Lewis (08/26/1886 - 05/11/1970) View Record
Obituary Bass, Lewis (03/30/1945 - 01/10/2007) View Record
Obituary Bass, Lewis (07/02/1916 - 09/24/1994) View Record