Hopkins County Folk Lore
By Contributing Editor, Carolyn Buntin Eveland
In this modern day when our schools are filled with hundreds and sometimes even a thousand or more students, it's hard to imagine the humble beginnings of our learning institutes, the one room school. Today our students have the privilege of science labs, computer technology, foreign languages and foreign student exchange programs, Arts and Humanities and on and on. The subject of schools recently came up in a conversation on a visit with my mother, Glenna CARNER BUNTIN DUNBAR in Hopkins County. I found it so insightful; not only from a family point of view but also added greatly to the interest I have in Hopkins County history. After reaching this conclusion I thought I would share this information with my fellow genealogists that are researching Hopkins County as well. So if you care to join me in the reminisces of my mother and the one-room schoolhouses of the early 1920's, please read on.
The first school my mother attended in Hopkins County was the Kirkwood Springs School. To get to Kirkwood Springs, head out from Dawson Springs on Hwy 109 towards Providence. At Beulah hang a left. A few miles down the road hang another left. You'll have to ask directions because you'll never know when you get there. There are no signs to point the way and no storefront advertisements proclaiming that you are now in Kirkwood Springs. In the heyday that surrounded Dawson Springs in the late 1800's this community also had it's mineral wells and a hotel. The only thing you will see on this trip that remains of the once busy community is a tiny, white church still known as, what else, Kirkwood Springs Church. There are individual homes along the roadside and some set back into the trees. There are small, aging homes while others are modern and more spacious. A nice blend of the old and new but the countryside remains almost untouched. Services at the church have been held for years and years intermittently and still continue today. Oh by the way, don't go there when it's been raining for a few days. The road still "gets washed out" in the low places and cars are "lobble" to "flood out" when "easin' through the backwater." For you city folk that aren't familiar with country talk, I'll try to explain what I just wrote. The road is one lane and graveled. In some places it follows and crosses a creek. When downpours last or in some cases, just a few hours, the soil becomes so saturated that it cannot absorb the rainwater any longer. The water then travels down the sides of the hills to the creek. The shallow creek then overflows from the excess water and spills over the road and fields. In other words a mini flood. Afterwards the roads are full of ruts, gullies and potholes. Thus "washed out." When you hear a country person say "lobble" they mean, something is likely to happen. "Easin' through the backwater" simply means driving your vehicle slowly into the water covering the road. Since you can't see the perimeters, you're driving blindly so to speak. You can drive right into a ditch or your car can become flooded when water gets into the system leaving you stranded. In that case you just know to roll up your pants legs, hike up your skirt and start walking to the nearest house. If you want to wait, someone will come by eventually to view the "washed out road" and pull you out.
The school is no longer there nor is the general store that was known as P. B WINSTEAD's that was in business when my mother attended school in that community. The store had a grinding stone and the local people brought in corn for Mr. Winstead to grind into meal for them. My mother walked about three miles each way to attend classes at Kirkwood Springs one room school.
Mother remembers her teacher's names as Thurman HOWTON and Bell WINSTEAD. She remembers vividly her school primer in which they read stories of the Three Little Bears and Chicken Little. I will admit a secret here and now that only my immediate family knows. When I was little, the nickname my mother always called me was Chicken Little. I wonder if I reminded her of the main character in that story which learns a valuable lesson of if in some way I physically resembled that chicken. I suppose I'll never know because she says that she can't remember now why she called me that. But I caught this little smile on her lips when she said it, yes I did and I'm almost certain that she does remember. I think that she just doesn't want to hurt my feelings by confessing that her youngest daughter reminded her of a chicken! Years later she nicknamed me once again. This time it was Sarah Jane. She pronounced it Serry Jane and I can still recall that it was always in a fond way and not at all like tone she used when she hailed me as Chicken Little. At least the name sounds better than the last moniker she stuck me with but I'm afraid to ask who this person was and why she thought I deserved that title. Being compared to a barnyard hen does something to one's self esteem so I shall leave Miss Sarah Jane to the annals of my mother's memory. In this case I shall choose to remain blissfully ignorant.
My mother brought her lunch from home, which was sometimes a fried egg biscuit sandwich. Other days it would be fried bacon and cornbread or "whatever we had." Recess was held in the middle of the day and that's usually when the children ate. Games of Drop the Handkerchief and Hide and Seek were enjoyed by the female students. The boys played ball or tag or spent their leisure time in pestering the girls. The teacher presented lessons in "ciphering," reading and writing. Age and class grouped the students on perspective sides of the room.
About three years later the family moved into the Dawson Springs area. They lived near the Olney community on what is now Log Cabin Road. We took a ride down this road and Mom pointed out the now empty field where her home once stood. Across the road from the field was the property and home once owned by my grandfather, Billy BUNTIN. The property was sold to other relatives at some point in time and is still known by local geriatrics as the Tom DAVIS place. Although the house is gone I can still remember playing there as a child with my cousins in this little four-room house. Perhaps the Davis house had resembled my mother's home across the field. I could imagine that it did in any case.
As I watched my mother look across the field now grown with tall brown grass, talking adamantly, pointing and gesturing to where the house and outbuildings once stood, there was a mixture of faint emotions playing across her sweet face. There seemed to be a lingering sadness in the words she used to describe the hard life they had to live and for the people who no longer stood in that yard and worked the farm. There wasn 't much laughter in her voice or her eyes and I was immediately drawn into the picture she drew for me. Pictures of work, of poverty and hardship, and of illness. She shared with me the dreams she had for herself, dreams she said she knew could never come true. There were five birth siblings belonging to this family. My mother and her brother O. C. CARNER were grandchildren taken in by their grandparents and the youngest of the brood. This brought the total of little mouths to feed to the number seven. One of the earliest memories my mother recalls is at the age of four years. She would stand on a stool in order to reach the kitchen table where she rolled out dough for the homemade biscuits she made for breakfast almost every morning.
Pointing to where the school once stood, her face began to brighten and the words flowed from her in an unbroken chain of childhood memories. I was once again transported back in time with her to the days of her youth. I stood with that beautiful child, possessed of curly black hair and green eyes and marched with her into the HOWTON one room school.
The school once stood also on Log Cabin Road and it was a short walk this time from home to class. People lived nearby now and the family didn't abide in near isolation as they had in Kirkwood Springs. School was fun and several children attended that my mother became friends with. Some classmates even became part of our family. The NEISZ sisters were Opal and Connie. Connie later became the young bride of my Uncle Truman CARNER and they are still part of our family today. Siblings Emma, Marvin and Louise HOBGOOD attended along with Zella Ruth, Sidney and Edward POE. My mom also recalled Raymond BROWN as one of the boys who came to school there. Two of the teachers were Gertie SMITH HALE and Pauline DILLINGHAM. It was sweetly nostalgic indeed to hear these ladies still referred to as Miss Hale and Miss Pauline by my eighty-two year old mother. These teachers taught the basic three R's along with geography. All the states of the Union had to be memorized and the capitals of them as well. The "Ciphering Matches" was a "big day" for the rural schools of Hopkins County. On a given day each month, one school would gather up the students and off they would go to a neighboring school to participate in math and spelling contests. Each school was visited in succession and great excitement prevailed on these days.
It seems that the teachers of Howton School went the extra mile where their female students were concerned. Each girl was taken home to spend the night with both Miss Dillingham and Miss Hale until every girl in the school had been given the pleasure of visiting these teachers. The girls would be given spare clothing if any was to be had, a fine dinner and the added delight of becoming a member of the family for one night. Of course one had to share a bed in many cases with a member of the teachers family but that was understood and in those days, "nobody thought anything about it."
Both the Howton and the Kirkwood Springs schools were built almost identically. In the front of the school, not the back in these cases, were the cloakrooms. One was used by the boys and the other by the girls. There were shelves for books and lunches and pegs for hanging up coats. The older girls would use these rooms sometimes to dance with each other or gossip about boys when class wasn't in session. The proverbial blackboard was always in front of the room. In those days a teacher was lucky if there was an actual, honest to goodness desk provided for them. Usually it was a table of some sort where the instructor graded papers and worked on school lessons. The student's desks were all connected with a seat, a desk in front, another seat, and so on. Both schools were heated in winter by wood or coal stoves. The Howton School had a coal stove standing in the middle of the room. An older boy was usually appointed to start the fire before the other students arrived. On very cold days the students wore coats all day long and lunch was spent gathered around the old stove. The stovepipe reaching to the ceiling would be glowing red from the flames shooting up from inside the stove. A broom made of field sagebrush and wired to a stick was utilized in sweeping the floor and normally done by the teacher. The schools had a well for drinking water. Water was drawn and poured into a "drinking bucket." At the Howton School each student was to bring a cup of their own but all dipped water from the one pail with one dipper in use. Not all the children had a cup so they drank from the common dipper. The same games were played as mentioned previously with the boys and girls usually divided into male/female activities. There were two outhouses behind the school. One for the boys of course and one for the girls. According to Mom girls always took a friend with them when the call of nature came. While one used the facility, the other guarded the door from the attacks of mischievous boys. These boys thought it was the best thing in the world to embarrass their female classmates by flinging open the door therefore revealing the poor girl seated upon the toilet seat. Seems like some things never change. From the tone of my mother's voice, I do believe indeed that she was caught at least once seated primly upon the "hole."
There was great excitement and some fear one day at the Howton School when my mother was about thirteen years old. As the students were all reading quietly the door burst open with a loud bang. There in all his glory was the community drunk, and drunk he was. This person shall remain nameless as he still has relatives living in the area today. This grown man proceeded to torment the teacher and woo her with his "charming" ways. Known to have one of the finest singing voices in the area, he began to postulate and sing at the top of his voice. At one point he stood upon one of the desks and began to hop from one desktop to another over the children's heads. The smaller children cowered in their seats while the older boys commenced to cheer him on. The lady teacher remained calm and talked in a low voice. When asking him to leave didn't work and common reasoning fell on deaf ears, she proceeded to ignore him the best she could. Finally he left of his own accord but school was dismissed for the day. In the days to follow, worried mothers were assured that their children could return to school with no threat of the drunk returning. The word had been passed that this man had been paid a "visit" during the night by the concerned male gentry of the area. Although he never returned to school, he did continue drinking with minor and serious scrapes with the law until his old age. He died several years ago a broken and sick old man.
There was only one thing my mother asked me to relate to the readers of this story. So this is her request and I am obeying her wish. She said, "Be sure and tell them we had prayer in school, and every day too and it never hurt anybody." Each day began with the students reciting a Bible verse. Most of the students made sure they had a "fresh" verse for each day. However some of the boys repeated day after day the same verse, "Jesus Wept." The teacher would sometimes read a chapter from the Bible or have a student do it. The session ended with a prayer usually given by the teacher. After that the Pledge of Allegiance was recited by the class and the workday began. Until recently when Mom's eyesight began to fail, she still began each day by reading the Bible. Until the day I married and left home, I could hear her praying each morning as I lay in my bed.
My mother and those she attended school with did grow up, work hard and overcome poverty. She was never afraid of hard work and has proven that every day of her life. For Mother's Day this year my brother and his wife gave her a large print Bible. She has shown me the Bible the last two visits I have had with her. How I would love to lay in my bed snuggled under quilts that smelled like sunshine and from the next room, in the hushed silence of early morning, hear her voice, reading from that new Bible.
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Copywrite © 2000 by Carolyn Buntin Eveland All Rights Reserved
If I might add just a little to this wonderful story. My husband and his siblings talk about their days of attending the one-room school in the section of Hopkins county that became Webster county in 1860. They walked a good distance to the school everyday. He tells of the pot bellied stove that he or one of the other boys would go to school early to light and get the room warm before the teacher and the other students got there. I think his favorite story tho . . . or at least the one he recites the most . . . is that the teacher taught grades 2, 4, 6 and 8 in the even years and taught grades 1, 3, 5, and 7 in the odd years. This made no difference if you started school in an odd year so that you started in the first grade. When he started tho, his first year of school was the 2nd grade, then the 1st grade the following year, etc. He attended grades 2, 1, 4, 3 and 6 in the little one room school. He completed grade 6 and should have attended grade 5 the following year, but his parents and family moved from out in the county near Slaughters to Madisonville. When school started the following fall in Madisonville, he was placed in the 7th grade, which meant that he skipped a year. To this day he gets tickled when he thinks about skipping the 5th grade.
Nancy Trice, © 2000