I drove "over to" Barnesville today to go to the County Fair and help out a friend who asked if I would spend 2 hours as the hostess at the preserved country schoolhouse on the Fair Grounds. "Over to" Barnesville: my family’s way of describing a trip to Barnesville and we made plenty of them; it was my Dad’s birthplace and mine also. His brother and his 3 uncles lived there all their lives and his sister and her family lived on the Homestead Farm begun my Dad’s grandparents in about 1866…that farm is just a bit east of Barnesville. We had plenty of connections and we went "over to" Barnesville for a lot of family things in the days when I was growing up. We also described driving to other towns these ways: UP to Hitterdal, Ulen, Twin Valley and Fargo-Moorhead. DOWN to Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls and Minneapolis/St Paul, and Chicago. OVER to Perham, Frazee, Lake Park and Audubon..and of course, Barnesville. It is funny how we describe geography in words because if we paid attention to the real geography we would drive DOWN to Fargo, and UP to Fergus Falls. Oh well, I can’t get over saying those things about driving places…so I DID drIve over to Barnesville this morning.
I met my friend Rose at the little schoolhouse which sits right beside the 4-H building where they serve meals and snacks and other food and drink. The school was a small one compared to a few other one room country schools I have seen in my day. My mother taught in 3 districts from 1929 to 1933 when she married my Dad and getting married almost always ended one’s career as a teacher. Married women were expected to stay home and take care of household things, husbands and children when they came along. It was just the way it was back then.
While I spent two hours in the little school, I looked at the many pictures the Clay County Historical Society has put up..pictures tracing the history and the students and teachers of many Clay County rural schools which exist no longer….only this little school and the Woodland District 3 east of Rollag which is also preserved survive. The others were hauled away to use as granaries or other farm buildings or were converted into homes. The rural school in Cormorant Village has been made into a lovely community center. I found so many familar friends in those pictures; in the late 1940′s and the beginning of the 1950′s the rural schools began consolidating with town schools and bus service into the country began to grow. It was always exciting for us "townies" to get new kids in our class as the rural schools came to town.
Today I read through the meticulously kept records of country school districts which have been preserved by the County Historical Society. I found my Mother’s name listed as a teacher in the various districts she taught in til she settled in her home district of Woodland 3 in 1931 where she taught til her marriage. I found other teacher’s names I have known over the years and where they taught. There were once 115 rural schools in Clay County! They were spaced every few miles thoughout the county and there were jobs for 115 teachers too. There was a County Superintendent….most of the years it was filled by Ellen Anderson who was a native of Rollag like my Mother. I recall going to a big festival each spring in our Community Building where all the rural schools gathered for a whole day of singing, performing special solo acts from individual school districts. I can still see my cousin Curt, who went to a rural Tansem Township school, as he danced with others in a lively square dance that their school soloed in for the County Music Festival. I can still see him dancing..he was wearing a nice blue suit with a red shirt and as he danced his tongue stuck out one corner of his mouth the whole time, so engrossed was he in getting it right in every step, allemande, dosie- doh and swing your partner!!! Those country school festivals were wonderful and the crowd at the festival was always huge! It was a day in town for the kids from the country and they enjoyed it as much as their audiences did.
One thing I read today really stood my hair on end. There was a newspaper account of an incident…a crime..that occurred at a country school in Spring Prairie Township northeast of Glyndon MN. There was also a handwritten letter by "Louise" a lady I remember so well who lived in my town when I was growing up. Louise had been a school girl that fateful day in March 1913 when a disgruntled "boyfriend" of the teacher in that school showed up with a gun, determined to shoot the young woman who had rejected him as her beau. He entered the school almost as soon as the children were begining the school day but he did not brandish his weapon then. Towards the middle of the day, after noon recess, he and the teacher walked into the cloakroom entry to talk it out. It did not work; she ran into the schoolroom shouting "Boys, help me!" as her rejected boyfriend began firing his gun at her. She was hit several times as the children watched in horror and the man shouted at them to get out and "go to that place!" as he pointed toward a neighboring farm. (I left this unfinished…sorry..here is the rest of it) The children were so frightened that they ran out of the schoolhouse without getting their warm jackets, boots, etc. March of 1913 was one of the coldest on record so many of the students sustained frostbite in their frantic escape from the crazed man in their schoolhouse. Toes and ears were frostbitten and painful but the time they reached shelter in the neighboring farmhouse.
Meanwhile back at the school, the rejected boyfriend (both the teacher and the boyfriend were Ulen natives with "Ulen names" I recognized) began to chase the fleeing teacher, shooting at her as she ran out of the school through a back door and over to a church that was nearby—-but unfortunately the church was locked up. The teacher ran around the outside of the church with the boyfriend in pursuit still shooting at her, hitting her seven times but none was a fatal shot. Finally he caught up to her after shooting her in the neck, after which she fell down. He thought he had killed her (he had not) and went close enough to her so she heard him say, "I guess you have had about enough" and then he turned his gun on himself and succeeded in killing himself.
When neighboring men came to the school quickly (after hearing from the children what was happening at the schoolhouse) they found the "boyfriend" dead on the ground and the teacher at her desk inside, crying helplessly. She had managed to crawl into the school house and sit at her desk, hoping the help would arrive shortly. They men brought the teacher to a neighboring farm where she was taken care of for about 3 days til they could get her to the nearest hospital of the time….Northwest Hospital which later became the old St. Ansgar…not the building that still stands now but a much older smaller hospital nearer to the river at about the same area in North Moorhead where the present, non-hospital St. Ansgar’s building still stands. She recovered from her gunshot wounds over a period of months and was released from the hospital to return to her parents’ home. She never went back to teaching again (not surprising). She became a nurse and worked in that capacity as a supervisor of nursing at a Grand Forks hospital for many years. She never married. She did live to a reasonably old age, but lived with one of the bullets lodged in her neck, as the doctors at that time could not remove it without killing her in the process. People who knew her through her lifetime said she was a remarkable woman who survived the most awful day of her life in March 1913 but went on to be a true servant to others as a nurse.
A letter written in handwriting is also kept in a folder in the schoolhouse. It was written by "Louise" who was present the day of the shooting as a school girl. Many years later she wrote the letter to her friend "Ruth" explaining how things went down that day. It was a dramatic description, well written by Louise when she was an older woman. Her memories of that day were still so vivid…just like the day it happened and she described the whole thing from the time the man walked into their schoolhouse til the students fled from the shooting. Several students were treated in the old fashioned way at Louise’s home, for frostbite when her older sister rubbed snow on the frostbitten toes and fingers. The teacher was also kept and taken care of at Louise’s home til they could get her to the hospital. I imagined what it was like in those days….no telephones, probably very difficult snow-blocked roads….it took days for the people who lived in that school district to get the teacher to the hospital in Moorhead where Dr. Hagen, a name from Moorhead’s history that was familiar to me, took care of the teacher until she was completely recovered.
We react in horror to present day acts of violence…..many gun incidents..way too many…and we think this is only a current phenomena. But I found out in that little old school house on the Fairgrounds, that violence, anger and its tragic results existed long ago at the beginning of the 20th century when the children in District 54 were so horrified at seeing their teacher shot and wounded by a crazed, rejected boyfriend.
Before I left the Fair yesterday, I ate lunch at the Barnesville FFA food booth. It was for "old time’s sake", remembering the days when 2 of my boys were FFA members and their chapter also had a food booth…the local FFA still has a food stand but they specialize in making "malts". I was going to have a malt before I left, but eating lunch….the "special" at the Barnesville FFA stand, I did not have room for a malt. When my boys were FFA-ers, I served my time in the hot small "kitchen" for the food stand, making batches of barbecued hamburger, frying regular burgers, mixing up baked beans and potato salad. I could see the Moms and FFA members cooking in their little hot kitchen off the B’ville FFA booth on Friday and I breathed a silent "thank you" that is was not me, in there!!!!
I also took the street in Barnesville where 4 significant old homes still stand. Close to the north edge of the town is the small house where my Dad was born when his family lived "in town" before they moved to "the Homestead Farm" when my great-grandparents needed the oldest son to take over the farming. Right across the street from that small home is the large and beautiful home of my great Uncle Syver who , I think, was a banker in Barnesville, for many years. The big 4-square home has a stone-masonry porch. I wish I could see inside the place. I have a feeling that is beautiful and sturdily built as old homes from the early 1900′s are most of the time. Then I drove south on the same street and passed my Uncle Carl’s first home that I recall visiting as a very young child. There is a black and white snapshot taken at that home….there is still a bit of snow on the ground and some of my cousins are wearing winter jackets…we who were the smallest and youngest must have been brought outside in our dress up Sunday best for the picture taken with our Grandpa Hans. Two oldest cousins are missing; I think they might have gone "downtown" to Lakies’ restaurant where teenagers of the time gathered, or maybe they were at a Sunday matinee at the theater in Barnesville. Then I drove further south and saw the stone masonry church where I was baptized as a baby and also the second home my Uncle Carl who moved about half a block south on the same street. That was the house I remember best….the place of so many wonderful times especially the week of Christmas when all of us gathered for a family Christmas "gathering". (we did not call it a "party"..our family was too staid and proper and opposed to parties which indicated card playing and alcohol consumption…NOT for us!)
My drive and stay "over in" Barnesville, my birthplace, was completely satisfying and a half day well spent, pleasant and happy as I revisited many places I identify with my childhood. Now I wish I had driven by the house where my parents and I, as a baby, lived. It is almost kitty – corner from the Barnesville school buildings. Next time I will go by that house too, when I drive "over to" Barnesville.