Thunder Butte

October 07, 2005

The Schoolhouse

The winters were severe, the storms terrible, and the schoolhouse was seven or eight miles from our Thunder Butte Creek ranch. Joe and Neal and Cecilia were still in grade school. I was probably three or four years old. Because of the distance and the terrible weather, my parents decided we should move closer to the school, at least my mother and us kids. My dad found an old shack somewhere, moved it to the schoolhouse, added rooms onto it, and my Mother moved us there, by the schoolhouse for the winter. It worked pretty well, for the most part. Since I was such a sprout (undeveloped child), my memory is limited to certain wild and wonderful parts of our existence there.

One of my best memories was that of the teacher, a young man, nice looking, clean and neat, with very thick glasses. This teacher was a real strange duck, though. He was about thirty and very gullible. I used to play around the outside of the schoolhouse when classes were in session. My brothers—not being the world’s greatest students—while looking out the windows, would signal me to come to a rear window. When I came up to the window, they would pull me inside, install me in a vacant desk at the rear of the room, and give me paper and a pencil to draw with. After days or weeks at this pastime, the teacher would ask the class, "Now who is the child in the back?” The kids would then start up a clamor about something totally unrelated and the teacher would forget all about me.

My brothers Joe and Neal were the natural leaders of the students. One trick they played on the teacher, I thought to be pretty amusing. At recess time, they would start up a clamor and pretend to be chasing some animal. The other kids would all join in and, although everyone was wise to the game, the teacher never caught on to what was happening. Someone would yell, "There he goes!" and start running in a certain direction, yelling, and waving arms. Someone else would say, "Here he is—git him!" and the chase would erupt in another direction. Well, teacher got in on the chase and the poor man, being half blind, would think that he saw the rabbit and run off with all the kids. Soon they had him running over the hill and out of sight of the schoolhouse. By then, most of the kids would tire of the game and either go home or return to their studies.

Although my sister Cecilia never got far in the academic world, I always felt thankful to her for getting me started. Night after night, Cece would drill me on the ABC`s and finally had me reading at a primitive level. Since I was attending school regularly then, via the window, the teacher supplied me with a first grade reader and even had me up in front of the class, reading.

This poor guy, the teacher, had a lot worse problems than his bad eyes. One day he sent all of the kids home to get kerosene. Since everyone used kerosene for their lamps then, it posed no special problem. The kids filed back to school with buckets and cans of kerosene. The teacher, in those days, lived right in the schoolhouse. He usually had a cot behind the stove and that was his home. Part of his equipment was a big washtub. When the students came back with the kerosene, this teacher poured the kerosene into the washtub, disrobed and proceeded to bathe himself. The kids all ran home in a panic and told their parents. The father’s got together, tied up the teacher, and delivered him to the sheriff. The poor guy was later committed to an asylum for the insane.

--John Crowley
Mike Crowley Friday, October 07, 2005


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