Friday, February 27, 2009

The One Room Schoolhouse

Imagine yourself sitting in a classroom during the 3rd grade. You are careful to sit up straight and tall, to not rest your elbows on your desk, and to not even giggle. You may be tired from your three-mile walk you took to get from your house to school that morning, and if you look around you can see the other 16 students in the room all of which are in a different grade than you. Oh, if you feel you have to go to the bathroom, you will have to go outside behind the school where the outhouse is.

The name of the school is District 16 Wigle (pronounced like wagle) Creek School. It was named after Jesse Wigle who was the first white settler in Dakota County, NE in 1856.It is the school my mom attended up until the 7th grade. My grandma taught at this school for about 5 years.
By Lori Herrera
Southeast Community College

Do you know what kind of school you are in? If you are thinking a one-room schoolhouse, you are right.

All of us can probably come up with someone we either are related to or at least someone we know who went to school in a one-room schoolhouse.

As for me, my grandma taught in a one-room school, my mom, who was taught by my grandma for a few years, went to a one-room schoolhouse, and my cousin who is actually just four years older than me, also went to a one-room schoolhouse.

Today, I would like to help you take a look back at what Gulliford in the America’s Country Schools, considers the backbone of American education, the one-room schoolhouse. I will give some information regarding the beginning of the one-room schoolhouse in the Midwest, the few supplies they had, the students that attended, the curriculum they learned, and the teachers who taught it, and the discipline the teachers enforced.

According to the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, as the pioneers moved into the Midwest during the 1860s, they brought with them the strong values of a good education. We know just how important education is today by looking at the classifieds and how many jobs are requiring some sort of post-secondary education. Parents back in the pioneer times sent their kids to school to become highly “educated.”

The main subjects taught included the three R’s: readin, ritin, and rithmatic. Children also learned obedience, courtesy, manners, respect, and how to be sociable.

Education was taken very seriously. School time was a time to concentrate and bad behavior was not accepted or taken lightly. One form of punishment involved being hit with a rod. Students would be hit three to four times on the palm with the rod if they giggled, were not paying attention, or if they recited poorly. If a boy behaved really badly he would be hit with the rod on the shoulders or on the back. The girls would have to sit on a one-legged stool in the corner.

Other forms of punishment involved the dunce cap, loss of recess, cleaning the floor if the student littered or spit on it, writing “I will not…” sentences, having to stand with the student’s nose in a circle that was drawn on the blackboard, or having to sit on the girl’s side of the room if the school was separated by sex. My grandma said that the worse punishment she gave was spanking two boys on their butts for speaking “dirty words.”

Now that we have looked at how serious schooling was taken, let’s look at the teachers who taught at the one-room schoolhouses. The teachers of the school may have been in charge of the students, yet it was the community who chose them. We all know what it is like to have a boss; yet pioneer teachers really had all the parents to answer to.

According to Kerry Graves, author of Going to School in Pioneer Times, the teachers of the one-room schools were often men or women who had an interest in teaching and who had gone through the basic 8th grade schooling. There were women teachers, but sometimes a man was preferred because a lot of people thought that a man would be able to keep the older boys in line better. Teachers often started teaching at a young age like at 16 or 17. My grandma started teaching when she was 18.

Teachers were also given other tasks to do besides the actual teaching. When I asked my grandma about a memory that stood out to her about teaching in a one-room school, she said how being a “janitor” was one responsibility that she took very seriously. She said and I quote, “I remember walking to school on cold mornings, my fingers were too cold and stiff to unlock the door. I needed to start the round black heating stove. I tried to be at school at least an hour before the students arrived so that the room would be warm.”

Keeping up the schoolhouse was mainly the teacher’s responsibility. Students would also do their party by either bringing in wood for the stove the next day, bringing in water in the morning, and cleaning the chalkboard. Now that we have looked at back at some facts about the teachers, let’s take a look at a couple challenges the one-room school faced.

The teachers faced two challenges while teaching, teaching different grade levels all in one day and not having a lot of supplies. I am sure we have all witnessed the challenges that can be present in just trying to teach one grade level in a classroom. The one-room school was for kids in kindergarten through 8th grade. The ages could range from four-years-old to 21 years old. There were usually only a few students per grade level. Sometimes there might not be any students in a certain grade.

There were minimal supplies for the students to use. The children would write their lessons on slates. There were a limited number of books. Just think of how hard it would be to teach to a variety of age groups at one time and with only minimal supplies.

Today, we looked back at some of the characteristics of the one-room schoolhouse which is considered the backbone of American education. We looked at how the pioneers brought with them their strong values of education in the curriculum that was taught and the seriousness of behavior present at the schools, we saw some of the characteristics of the teachers, and we saw how two of the challenges of the one-room school, which were limited supplies and a variety of students affected the one-room school.

As we can see, most characteristics of the one-room schools are a thing of the past. Yet there is one thing we should hold onto which is that education is valuable and should be taken seriously.


Graves, K. (2002). Going to school in pioneer times. MN: Capstone Press.

Gulliford, A. (1984). America’s country schools. Washington D.C.: The Preservation Press.

Wishart, D. (2004). Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Homestead Congress invites our readers to reminisce on their memories of one-room-school houses.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Oklahoma Land Rush

“As noon approached, thousands of buggies and wagons edged up to the starting line. Black smoke rolled from the stacks of locomotives…” (McMahon, 1968 p72). Imagine the feelings coming over thousands of future homesteaders as they wait for the gun to signal the new beginning of their lives as future landowners.

By Stacy Kristek
Southeast Community College

Through the different texts I have learned a lot of information about the Oklahoma land rush that I would like to share with you. I would like to inform you about the Oklahoma land rushes that were made in the 1880’s and 1890’s. We will talk about the several different land rushes that were made into the Oklahoma territory, how the settlers made the rushes, and what they had to do to keep the land.

There were several land rushes into Oklahoma. The first was on April 22, 1889 at noon (McMahan, 1968). There were 11,000 quarter sections to claim (Newsom, 2001). This land rush got many people interested in the Oklahoma lands and in homesteading. According to Lucy Neumann in her book titled The Lust for Land, the lands in the April 22, 1889 rush are now know to us as Guthrie, Kingfisher, Edmond, and Oklahoma City (2000, p. 126).

The biggest land rush was on September 16, 1893 at noon. More than 100,000 people were lined up to race for the land (McMahan, 1968). There were 6,500,000 acres available for homesteading and that was split into 160 acres apiece (Newsom, 2001). The last race for land was a small one in 1895 (McMahan, 1968).

You may be asking yourselves just how these future homesteaders were able to make the land runs. There were many ways of transportation. Can you imagine being on the starting line on a horse or covered wagon waiting for high noon and the cannons to go off?

Oklahoma rushers traveled by fast saddle horses (McMahan, 1968), these rushers were in the lead of the pack (Newsom, 2001). Other rushers traveled by covered wagons. The wagons were loaded with their belongings and family members and usually pulled by old work horses. And other rushers traveled by the Santa Fe Rail Road (McMahan, 1968). The railroad was running slow trains through the district for the people who didn’t have a horse or buggy to use (McMahan, 1968). The railroad sold around 7,000 tickets but the cars were loaded with over 10,000 people (Neumann, 2000, p. 127).

So now you know just how rushers were able to go out and run for the land they wanted to homestead but what did they have to do to keep their land?

In order to keep their land, land rushers had to meet the criteria to be eligible. They could not already own more that 160 acres in any state or territory. They had to be a citizen of the U.S. or have filed intentions to become a citizen. They had to be the head of household or over 21 years of age (Doughty, 1998). The rules to keep the land once it was claimed included establishing within six months of the claim residence in a house upon the land and cultivation of the land continuously for five years (Doughty, 1998).

So, that is how the Oklahoma land rush was achieved in the late 1880’s and 1890’s. Now you know just how the pioneers made the run into the Oklahoma territory to participate in the land rush and what they had to do to keep their land. I can see it now:

Noon has passed and the smoke has cleared. Thousands of new homesteaders now have a stake in the land, so they rush off to the land office to file their claim.


Doughty, G.W. (1998). The homestead laws. Ponca City, OK: North Central Oklahoma Historical Association.

McMahan, I. (1968). Highlights of American history. NY: Golden Press.

Neumann, L. (2000). The lust for land. Arkansas City, KS: Jayhawk Publications.

Newsom, D. (2001). The Cherokee Strip. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln Acts: Homestead, Pacific Railway Act, Morrill

The year 2009 marks the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, considered by most historians to be one of America’s greatest presidents.

Lincoln was born in Kentucky on February 12, 1809 and guided the nation through the trauma of the Civil War. As President, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which in principle attacked slavery and guaranteed the abhorrent institution’s end—contingent, of course, upon the North’s victory over the Confederacy. He also signed into law some of the most visionary and important pieces of legislation in American history, including several bills that charted the course of settlement and development of the American West. Among these was the Homestead Act of 1862, commemorated and interpreted by the National Park Service at Homestead National Monument of America, located near Beatrice, Nebraska.

Over the course of 123 years, the government distributed more than 270 million acres of land to homesteaders. Thirty of the 50 states had homesteads in them at one time or another, including such geographically diverse areas as Florida, Iowa, the Dakotas, New Mexico, Washington, California, and Alaska.

Approximately 1.6 million homesteaders (about 40 percent) “proved up” on their lands by fulfilling all requirements and taking title from the government. Millions of people of different ethnic origins, ages, and backgrounds took advantage of homesteading, hoping to use the Act to help them fulfill their own personal visions of the American Dream of land and home ownership. An estimated 93 million homesteader descendants inhabit the modern world.

The 1860 Republican Party platform on which Lincoln was elected to the presidency specifically called for the passage of a homestead bill. Visitors to the monument will see, in an exhibit entitled “Legislating Westward Expansion,” a copy of that platform, as well as a copy of a letter written to President-elect Lincoln in January 1861 by a Canadian hopeful for passage of the Homestead Act once Lincoln took office.

The Act proposed to make up to 160 acres of public land available to any qualified applicant. There was no charge for the land (besides administrative costs totaling $18.00); rather, the homesteader agreed to live on it for five years, cultivate and improve it, and build a dwelling upon it. If the applicant had done so to the government’s satisfaction within those five years, the U.S. government transferred permanent title to the land to the homesteader, who at that point took possession of it as private property.

Men and women, black and white, young and old, married and single—nearly anyone qualified to homestead. The law became effective, interestingly enough, on January 1, 1863—the same day as the Emancipation Proclamation—and remained active until 1986.

Homesteaders exponentially increased America’s agricultural output and helped build the nation into an agriculture empire, and the exhibits at Homestead National Monument of America show the visitor how farming technology evolved from hand tools to mechanization. The equipment needs of homesteaders helped continue the Industrial Revolution and led to many new mechanical inventions, demonstrated in the monument’s “Unleashing an Agricultural Revolution” exhibit.

Immigration to the United States increased after the Civil War, and many of those coming here sought the “free land” about which they had heard so much in their home countries. At the monument, artifacts such as immigrant trunks, wooden shoes, and household items show how immigrants made their journeys to America, what they brought with them, and how they lived once they arrived.

The law also impacted American Indians, and the monument’s award-winning interpretive film, Land of Dreams: Homesteading America, captures the essence of the both the American Indian and homesteader perspectives on the Homestead Act.

In addition, millions of acres of scientifically unique and valuable prairie ecosystems were destroyed. Over 100 acres of Homestead National Monument of America has been restored to tallgrass prairie, and visitors are encouraged to walk the more than two miles of trails to experience this diverse ecosystem for themselves. Finally, the Act led to increased land speculation, mortgaging of farms, and many attempts to farm lands not suitable for agriculture.

The impacts of the Homestead Act—both positive and negative—are still felt across modern America, and many consider the Act to be one of President Lincoln’s most important legacies. Other laws President Lincoln signed worked hand-in-hand with the Homestead Act to forever change the landscape of the West.

On May 15, 1862, just five days before approving the Homestead Act, he signed a bill creating the United States Department of Agriculture, calling it “the people’s department, in which they feel more directly concerned than any other.”

On June 19, 1862, he signed a bill outlawing slavery in U.S. territories, ending the specter of the spread of slavery into areas likely to be settled by Northern-sympathizing homesteaders.

He approved the creation of a transcontinental railroad by signing the Pacific Railway Act on July 1, 1862, and did likewise for a national land-grant college system with his approval of the Morrill Act the very next day. The visions for the American West of congressional leaders, farmers, immigrants, industrialists, abolitionists, and others were made possible by the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

“The whole concept of the Homestead Act was certainly unique to the United States,” said Mark Engler, Superintendent of Homestead National Monument of America. “At a time when people in many parts of the world were barred from owning land unless they were royalty or first-born sons, the U.S. government offered millions of acres to just about anyone who wanted it. What greater gift could a nation offer its own people and those from all over the world? The Act was very successful in many ways and less successful in others, but it certainly is among the most important laws President Lincoln signed during his time in office.”

What do YOU think was Lincoln’s most visionary, important act? What is his greatest legacy? How would America—and the world—look today had he done something differently? What do you think those 93 million descendants and the thousands of living homesteaders would say?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Homestead Days Irish Dancers

At Homestead Days 2008 the Lincoln Irish Dancers shared the story of Irish immigrants that made their way to Nebraska and a homestead.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Land of Dreams Homesteading America

Congratulations to Homestead National Monument for their recent recognition for the award winning film Land of Dreams: Homesteading America. Produced and directed by Chuck Dunkerly the film covers a 130 years of homesteading history including an interview with the last homesteader Alaskan Kenneth Deardorff in 22 minutes.

The movie Land of Dreams: Homesteading America was selected to receive a CINE Golden Eagle Award in the Professional Non-fiction Division Arts and Exhibits category. CINE rewards excellence and quality in non-theatrical and video works.

The premier of the movie was held in Beatrice, Nebraska city-host of Homestead National Monument. The film can be seen at the Monument or purchased from Eastern National gift shops at Monument.