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April 2001

Dale’s Trails
East Eagle School
Dale Wurts and Carol Jennings

East Eagle School, a country school, was so named because it was located toward the east edge of Eagle Township in Hyde county, South Dakota. There were also North Eagle and South Eagle schools. We don’t remember school being held in South Eagle School. North Eagle had the Gibson, Blasdell, Harter, Kruse and Parker kids and was also a polling place where elections were normally held. These schools were built around the turn of the century and were somewhat portable, as they were set on rock foundations; as the population of the township changed a school could be moved to a more populated area.

The three Wurts’ kids started their schooling at East Eagle. Dale went there for six years, Carol for four, and our brother Roger for two; then the township school board decided to combine East Eagle and North Eagle schools with all students attending school at North Eagle. At that time there were five students in East Eagle – three Wurts’, one Smith and one Tislau. The Wurts’ went to North Eagle but Joanne Smith and Leroy Tislau decided to attend school in Highmore.

East Eagle School was located one half mile east and one half mile south of Wurts’, right on the top of a hill in our pasture or field at that time. The main building was about 20′ by 50′, more or less. The front entrance was to the south. The first room was a place to hang our coats. It had a stand for the water cooler which was a two piece crock that filtered our water. On a regular basis someone has to scrape the bottom of the top section with a razor blade to get the “impurities” off. The coal bin was to the east of this first room. The door into the main learning room was near the left wall. Behind this door was a small empty corner that Dale became well acquainted with. There was kerosene cooking stove on a table where are teacher prepared fantastic meals for us, our first experience with “hot lunch”. The blackboard was across the front of the classroom with a roll-up map, an American flag and pictures of Abe Lincoln and George Washington above it. The teacher’s desk and the recitation bench were also near the front. There was a globe and a bell on the teacher’s desk. Each grade sat on the recitation bench for class.

The school was heated by a big old coal-burning stove in the center rear of the room. It was a big round thing with three big rings. The bottom ring had the grates and the ash door, the next ring was taller and had the fire door where wood and coal was put in, and the top ring was supposed to capture and save some of the heat and not let it go up the chimney. The whole thing stood over six feet tall. There were no best seats; in the winter you cooked on one side if you were close to the stove and you froze if you were next to the wall. Your feet were always cold.

Outside we had a barn to house any horses that were ridden to school. In the barn there also were a few extra desks and some planks that were brought into the schoolhouse to make extra seating for the audience at our Christmas programs. We also had those other two little buildings. One was named “GIRLS” and the other was named “BOYS”. One Halloween someone tipped them over. We don’t know who but the Tislau boys came the next day and set them back up.

On Dale’s first day of school Dad and Mom took him there. After leaving Dale there and going back home, Mom cried. Dad couldn’t understand why she was crying. At first Dale would run away from school and go home. Mom or Dad would take him back, only to have him run away again; then one day the teacher came to the farm and got him. That ended his running away.

Each day, before and after school, we had the flag ceremony. Two students were in charge of raising the flag each morning, of lowering it each evening, and of folding it properly. They did this for a week and then two others were put in charge. The rest of the students stood around the flagpole with their right hands over their hearts.

On Fridays we held a YCL (Young Citizen’s League) meeting. We learned how to be an officer and how to conduct a meeting. We were assigned “duties” such as sweeping the floor, cleaning the blackboard and erasers, emptying the trash and caring for the flag, duties that we had to report upon at the next meeting. If we had done our job all week we would say, “I did my duty” and if not we would say, “I did not do my duty.” At home doing our “duty” was our way of saying we had to go to the biffy; Carol couldn’t understand why we had to report this at YCL.

In the spring there was a county YCL meeting in Highmore, the county seat of Hyde county. We could enter the spelling or speaking contests. We exhibited the art projects we had made during the year; if they got a purple ribbon they went to the State Fair. During the afternoon we had rally day with all kinds of races.

As kids we had a small terrier dog, white with black spots, that was always with us kids. Skippy would go to school with us every day. Mom would try to keep him home but he would head to school as soon as Mom let him out of the house. He knew what the school bell was for – when the teacher rang the small bell for recess Skippy jumped up, ready to go out and play. He always slept during class. There also was an old yellow cat the roamed the neighborhood during the summers. One year this cat also came to school. It always slept on the floor during class until one day the teacher, Miss Bawdon, stepped back and stepped on the cat which bit her. She let all of us go home so that she could go to the doctor. The poor cat never got in again. This cat roamed the neighborhood all summer, very seldom coming near our farm until winter. It apparently lived in the straw and hay piles. It would be around the barn all winter where there was warm milk twice a day and other food.

Carol remembers the Christmas programs as being special. All of the students had a part in it; each one had to learn a saying or a poem and sing lots of Christmas carols. We also had a Christmas play; each of us learned a part and recited it from memory. It seemed to go well until we got up in front of our parents. We had curtains that we pulled across the room on a wire to cover our “stage”. Carol said, “All winter long I had to wear long brown socks and overalls but for the Christmas party I got to wear a dress and anklets. What a treat!!” We exchanged gifts which Santa passed out and then we had treats – popcorn, peanuts, and other Christmas goodies. The whole neighborhood came.

In 1940/41 the kids in our school were Arnold Rittel, Leroy Ratzlaff, Laverne Smith, Joanne Smith, Elda Tislau, Leroy Tislau, Eugene Smith, Dale Wurts and Carol Wurts. The teacher was Kate Bawdon. Our brother Roger started school when Dale started the 5th grade.

Kate Bawdon was our first teacher. Our memories of her are not all that good. In fact we remember her as being old and mean. Carol says, “I was afraid of her.” In fact, Carol was so afraid of her that she would get sick and vomit; the teacher would lay her down on the bench at the back of the room and wrap her in a blanket. Carol said that she would get so hot but that she was too scared to say anything. Carol also recalls that Dale could not keep his mouth shut so he stood in the corner behind the door on a regular basis. She remembers thinking, “Shut up or you will go back to the corner.”

It was hard to learn in the one room school unless you were quite interested in the class. The teacher would go from class to class, working on the day’s lesson; it would drive you up a tree if someone were a slow reader. Miss Bawdon was not a very good teacher; we all had reading problems. Miss Bawdon would send Carol out to her car to tutor Leroy Tislau. She hated that but that is probably why he learned what he did. Can you imagine a second or third grader teaching a classmate? Miss Bawdon had an old two-door Dodge car, a ’36 or ’37 business coupe, with a storage area behind the front seat. She would put some of us kids on the seat with her and pile the rest into the huge trunk and off we would go to visit some other school. One of us had to hold the trunk lid part way down so that none of us fell out.

The greatest time of any school day was recess. We had the imaginations of several farm kids so lots of things happened. When school started in the fall one of our dads would mow the schoolyard; all of this hay was just waiting for some kids. We would take sticks and, working side by side, would “rake” the hay into piles to play in. Eventually we would get it into the horse barn but it was very seldom used for horses. Sometimes Dale rode Daisy to school when he had to get the cows from the fields across the road from the school. The barn had good hiding places and fort possibilities but many times we weren’t allowed to play in it.

There were always a lot of gophers living around the north part of the schoolyard and we learned to catch them with twine snares and cans. We would have them tied up at the end of recess and by the next recess they would have chewed off the twine and were gone. One fall we made a twine spiderweb all around the back of the school to the fence. It was a fun game; we made up rules either to go under or over the web to get to the other side. We played “anti I over” with half of the kids on each side of the schoolhouse. We would toss a ball over, hoping the other side couldn’t catch it.

We played a lot of kittenball but they were rather lopsided games – the kids were either big or small. The bigger kids could hit and pitch so much harder than the smaller kids so that it wasn’t much fun. There was one real good game; Elda Tislau was pitching and Lavern Smith hit a line drive right into Elda’s eye. That ended the game and boy did Elda have a shiner!

In the winter we played Fox & Goose. We would make a big circle in the snow, with spokes, that looked like a big wagon wheel. Someone was chosen to be the fox and tried to catch the others by staying on the paths. We also went to dad’s pond which was a short way from the school yard. We could skate all noon hour which was lots of fun on nice days. It seems we had a lot more snow in those days so we had more material for good snow forts and snowball fights. Another fun thing was standing along the road when snowplow came by and letting the snow fall over us. It wasn’t too good an idea because at times there were hard things in the snow such as rocks and ice. Once the driver of the snowplow stopped and asked us not to do it again or we might get hurt.

One year the schoolboard was going to be real nice to our school; they got us a basketball – nothing else, just the ball. Our teacher, Miss Bawdon, would let us play catch with it inside but it couldn’t touch the floor. If we dropped it we had to wipe it off and put it away.

One fall we had skunks under the school. They were friendly – they slept during the day and didn’t bother us – but we could always smell the nest. One evening after school several of us proceeded to tease the little creatures. Boy, would they stink when shot with a beebe gun. School was closed for several days until the smell eased up a bit; then somebody fixed the foundation so that the skunks couldn’t move back in.

Kate Bawdon taught there six years. The mothers felt that we had had enough of her method of teaching, that we weren’t learning as we should. Mom went to see Tom Smith, the head of the school board, and suggested a change. Tom said, “OK, we will get a new teacher.” We were blessed with a young and very pretty teacher named Rita Oligmueller. Not only was she fun to have around but we began to learn more and more. This was her first year of teaching. She always had the upper hand. Dad always told us that the teacher was right and that if we got into trouble in school we would be in bigger trouble when we got home.

Our new teacher didn’t have a car or a place to stay that was close to the school – her dad’s place was about 15 miles south and east – so mother said she would put her up. This proved to be very interesting as we had a small two-bedroom house and three kids. We made it. During the week Rita and Carol shared Mom and Dad’s bedroom, Mom and Dad had the couch, and Roger and Dale had the back bedroom. This was in the days of no indoor bath, no running water, and no electricity. We had to carry in the water we used and carry out all of the wastes in a slop pail to the hogs. Years later Rita told us that since that was her first teaching job she also did a lot of learning but that having five enthusiastic students made her teaching job a joy, and that “… and the Wurts family made me feel a part of the family, as Goldie was a fantastic mother and gave us many hours of quality time.”

A typical day when Miss Oligmueller taught began at 9:00 AM with a flag salute. She usually read a chapter from a book for 15 minutes before studying began. The recitation bench was by her desk and that’s where the various classes were held. 10:15 to 10:30 was the first recess and time for a snack. 12:00 to 1:00 was the noon hour, 15 minutes to eat and 45 minutes to play. The bell rang at 1:00 and then we were back to the classes. 2:15 to 2:30 was afternoon recess and maybe a snack if we had anything left in our lunch pail. After the last recess we had another class or two but this time was often used for art, music, or a YCL meeting. Rita can’t remember having discipline problems with any of the students. 4 o’clock was dismissal.

Miss Oligmueller would send Dale to school early to get the old stove going and warm up the school. Boy, did he think he was important – for a while, anyway – and then it got to be a chore. One morning when he got to the school house he found that someone had left the kindling lying outside by the step. It was covered with frost that started to melt as the fire got started. Needless to say the damp wood didn’t burn very well. Dale was still trying to get a fire going when she got there. No big deal, she took control and we soon had a roaring fire.

Miss Oligmueller was our teacher for one year and then the school board felt that it was too costly to run two schools. East Eagle School was closed, the schoolhouse was sold and moved away and that was the end of East Eagle School.

This page was last updated April 1, 2001.
Copyright © 2001 by Dale Wurts and Carol Jennings

table of contents
guest material
April 2001