Teacher: Dillis B. Ward

Teacher: Dillis B. Ward by Ed Bergh

On April 24, 1863, Dillis B. Ward sat down and wrote a letter to his “Dearest One,” Belle Byles of Grand Mound. In that letter, filled with the affection and vows of a man in love for the first time, he noted that “I have just been out to the Yelm Prairie to teach a three month school there. I do not think I shall like the place very well.” Ward, had taken the job, however, because the sparsely populated Yelm Prairie would provide him with “the opportunity of seeing you, dear good Belle, oftener that I would if I had gone back down the Sound again.”

During the next months Ward wrote a number of letters to Belle from his lodgings on the Yelm Prairie. These letters establish Dillis B. Ward as the earliest known instructor in Yelm. His letters are also the earliest known contemporaneous written account of life on the Yelm Prairie. More than these tempting historical references, however, was the fact that Ward’s letters reflect the overpowering love that he held for the teenager who would become his wife for over fifty years.

There are two places where the school that Dillis Ward taught in could have been located. Historical accounts state that the first teacher in Yelm lived with the Longmires and, by implication taught out there too. Records show that a log school was built on the Yelm Prairie in 1861 and David Longmire remembers hauling logs for its construction. Longmire also remembers that Dillis Ward taught at the school on the Yelm prairie. Also, Ward’s letters refer to the Sheltons, a family which lived closer to the site of the prairie school.

The Story of Yelm includes a “Mr. Dolby” in its list of teachers from Yelm’s beginning of the 20th century past. This Mr. Dolby could be the teacher who first lived with the Longmires. Or, could “Dolby” be a faded memory’s Dillis B. Ward?

Ward makes no note of his teaching in his letters. There are no teaching anecdotes or discussions of the personalities under his pedagogical care. Sundays on the prairie were “quiet” and “lovely,” but “awfully lonesome.” He spent his Sundays alternately reading Belle’s letters and [William Cullen] “Bryant’s Poems.” The letters provided him with greater comfort than the poetry.

Ward wrote: “Everything so still, no preaching or anything of the kind going on.”

Like many early visitors to the prairie, Mt. Rainier dominated the landscape. Even this natural beauty carried his mind back “to the time we looked upon its splendor together.”

In spite of the small number of people living in the area in the 1860s, Ward wrote that “true there is plenty of young company here and the scenery is most beautiful . . . But what do I care for company and scenery.” One glimpse of life on the prairie is Ward’s reference to the mail carrier coming through the “neighborhood” to pick up out going letters. The “no preaching” comment made above was a reference to the fact that Yelm had no formal church at the time and that services were conducted on an sporadic basis with ministers visiting from Olympia or other parts of the territory. In his spare time, Ward helped drive cattle to Olympia, noting that Belle might find his tattered clothes and soiled features something to laugh at. Travel was on horseback, rivers were seasonal barriers to direct lines of communication. Hence, Ward’s complaint that due to the “Shuttes” [Deschutes] River being high that spring he would have to travel to Grand Mound by way of Olympia and then turn south to rendezvous with his “dear Belle.”

In his longest account of prairie life, Ward recounted attempting to get a doctor to return with him to the prairie. Ward wrote in May 1863:

“I arrived in Town [Olympia] about an hour ago – came ‘for’ [after] the doctor for David Shelton. I found the Dr. “drunk” or there about. I have concluded to wait till tomorrow morning, will start out at 2 or 3 in the morning. Maybe the Dr. will be sober by that time. I shall have a good time [sic] starting at that time and riding out to the Yelm in time for school don’t you think.”

Dillis Ward, when he was 15 years old, had traveled across the United States to the Oregon country in a covered wagon in 1853 with the John Denny party. Settling, initially, near Salem, Ward moved to Seattle in 1859 when his half sister married Thomas Mercer and moved north.

Sarah Isabella Byles was the daughter of Sarah and Charles W. Byles, members of the same party that crossed the Nachess Pass with James Longmire in 1853. (Those familiar with the account of traversing the pass may recall that Charles Byles was the man willing to kill some of his cattle in order to fashion a leather rope to lower wagons down the steep trail) Charles Byles was an early proponent of education and according to one author should be considered the father of education in Montesano. In the 1860s his family lived in Grand Mound, south of Olympia.

One account of Ward’s life suggests that he first met Belle while he was a teacher in Grand Mound. Margaret Pitcairn Strachan, writing in the Seattle Times, concluded, “falling in love with one of his pupils was too much for the young school teacher! He stated frankly that he couldn’t teach with her in the school. He quit the job.” Having fallen in love with his teenage student he sought employment elsewhere and courted her from the Yelm Prairie. To Ward this short distance to Grand Mound, seemed like a continent away from his beloved Belle. At the beginning of his stay on the Yelm Prairie he promised to travel south once every four weeks. The weeks between visits seemed like an eternity. Ward’s letters are filled with his love and his longing to be with someone “dearer to me than all else on earth.” Ward endured the trials of being a teacher for “I am happy now for I believe I am loved and the thought that you love me makes me happy.” Ward promised to love her “till death.” He recounted the “the pleasure of your company” and vowed that “I should almost die not hearing from you.”

Belle’s letters to Dillis Ward reflect strong affections for her absent suitor. In April 1863, she wrote: “How can I live here without you?” She worried about her new school teacher and made it a point to relate that while others in her circle might have gone to the local tavern for a dance, she did not. She hinted at her maturity, writing that most of the other girls (who were younger) were afraid to talk to teachers or boys, but “I am not afraid to speak to anybody.” She frequently named couples who were getting married. She reminded Dillis, “you are very dear to me and how happy your letter made me,” and their year of knowing one another was “the happiest year” of her life. More importantly, “I [Belle] was almost as miserable a year ago as I am happy now. No brother at home and no lover any where but now I have a brother at home and I believe a lover not very far off.”

“Heaven has smiled upon us,” wrote Ward in April. He continued, “I used to think I could go through the world alone that I could fight its battles.” Now, however, they could “fight life’s battles together.”

Dillis Ward kept his promise and visited Belle in Grand Mound. Their meetings, as recounted in their letters, were satisfying, but too brief. After meeting with Dillis in Tumwater in May 1863, Belle wrote to him, “so short a meeting is not worth shucks.”

The life of a single teacher on the prairie was of great interest to the locals. On one occasion Dillis wrote that once his letter was handed to the mail carrier he expected “he will tell the whole neighborhood who I write.” Following one of their times together Ward wrote her that “the folks here especially the young ones, of whom there are a good many here were very anxious to know where I had been. I kept them in the dark having my own fun out of it while some one came out to Mr. Shelton’s and told the whole story.” Ward concluded the story with “So I don’t have much peace, but let them talk.”

In June 1863 Ward wrote “schools out next Saturday.” Thus ended his teaching career in Yelm. With his school year done Ward headed back to Seattle. On September 24, 1863 Belle and Dillis were married. Their family eventually included five daughters and one son.

LIFE AFTER YELM

The year 1865 found them at the Skokomish Indian Reservation in Mason County. There they would spend a number of years, Bell would give birth to their first children and Ward would run the industrial school. After that they would return to Seattle where Ward continued his teaching career. While in Seattle he taught, was principal of the North School, and serve on the school board of the Seattle Public Schools.

A Seattle student’s memory gives the reader a glimpse of one of the qualities that made Dillis Ward a successful educator. Charles A. Kinnear was a student of Ward’s during the latter’s second stint in the Seattle. Mixed with childish memories of walking to school in deep snow, Kinnear fondly recalled:

“D. B. Ward was credited with being the best disciplinarian of all grade school teachers in the territory. While the discipline he maintained was well-nigh perfect, yet I ever saw him display any temper. He was always genial, yet his power of control over pupils was something extraordinary, and for years the annual presentation of the banner of the highest degree of order and discipline maintained in school was awarded to him.”

Not only was Ward an educator, but he also spent two years working on a newspaper and twenty-eight years working in real estate. In 1879, he spent a term in the territorial legislature.

When Seattle celebrated its 54th birthday on November 13, 1905, Dillis Ward was among the featured speakers. The gathered crowd moved from one historical site to another and listened as “their” city’s story was retold by those that had been there and those that followed. At the corner of lst and Madison the procession stopped to watch the unveiling of a plaque commemorating Seattle’s first school. The honor of unveiling the plaque was given to Catherine Paine Blaine, the city’s first teacher. A speech was given by one of her first students in 1859, Dillis B. Ward.

Earlier in the day the organizers of the event had unveiled a granite pylon on Alki Point memorializing the city’s first white settlers. Speaking on the shores of the sound was Edmond Meany, one of Seattle’s finest historians and the son-in-law of Belle and Dillis. As his speech touched on the events, people, and hardships of early Seattle, one may imagine that his account was in some small way inspired by the stories of Belle and Dillis Ward.

(Photos provided by a descendent of Dillis Ward, Carolyn Fix Blount)

Across the Plains in 1853

By: Dillis Ward

I.

Preface

Across the Plains in 1853

II.

A Captain Selected

An Early Caller

A Pathetic Scene

Mountain Streams to Cross

In the Buffalo Country

An Enraged Buffalo Bull

III

Indians in Large Numbers Appear

Forced to Go Without Supper

A Deserter

Bent’s Fort

Antelope

Spanish Peaks

Deceptive Distances in Colorado

Where Denver Now Stands

Into the Rocky Mountains

IV

A Dry Camp

Unwelcome Visitors

Other Unwelcome Visitors

A Narrow Escape from Serious Trouble

V

Crossing the North Platte

Mountain Fever

Striking the Old Trail

“A Trading Post”

A Mormaon Trick

VI

Sulphur Springs

Parting of the Way

Hot Springs

A Valuable Horse Stolen

Crossing the Snake River

A Natural Bridge

Death of Rev. Hines

A Stampede

VII

A Hot Day-No Water

The Grand Ronde Valley

At the Dalles and on the River

Nearing the End of the Long Journey

1861 – Teachers’ Convention at Salem

Teachers’ Convention at Salem

Washington Standard September 7, 1861

A convention of teachers of Oregon and Washington Territory was held at Salem, Oregon, commencing July 31st, for the purpose of forming a Teachers’ Institute, and determining on a uniform course of instruction for district schools and academics. The convention was unable to determine upon a series of text-books, and the matter was postponed until its next semi-annual meeting. The following resolutions were adopted:

Resolved, That this Association will meet as Teacher’s Institute, in Salem, on the first Mondays of November, 1861, and March, 1862, at 1 o’ clock, P.M. for the purpose of general and critical courses of instruction to teachers in the est practicable methods of teaching common and higher English branches of education, adopted to District Schools and Academics.

Resolved, That a corps of Professors be chosen at this session, and assigned their respective duties in the above session of the Institute.

Resolved, That the courses of instruction in such institute shall be divided into the following departments: Philology, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Geography and History.

Resolved, That teachers throughout this State and Washington territory shall be entitled to the benefit of these courses of instruction, upon payment to the Professor in charge of the department in which he may desire instruction of the sum of – for each course.

Resolved, That the Professors here be chosen shall be a Board of Managers, who shall have authority to make all needful rules and regulations for the conduct of the Institute.

Resolved, That teachers are especially and earnestly invited to attend these session of the Institute, On motion of Rev. Mr. Lippincott, the resolutions were referred to the Executive Committee with instructions to carry them into effect, so far as practicable.

Mr. Colwell offered the following resolution:

Resolved, That the Corresponding Secretary be requested to prepare and publish an address to the Teachers of the State of Oregon, requesting them, to form County Associations.

1862 – Signed by Superintendent of Public Instruction

Signed by Superintendent of Public Instruction

Washington Standard January 1, 1862

1. Number of Children:

From the most reliable information at our command, we find that the number of children over the age of four and under twenty-one years is 2,141.

2. Number of School-Houses:

We have about fifty-three school-houses in the Territory, and some of them are not worth so much as the name of a school-house. The probable cost of these buildings will not amount to the sum of twenty-six thousand five hundred dollars.

As the country is yet new, and we have just begun to build our school-houses, we would suggest to the directors of school districts, that when you build school-houses, do it well – make them large and comfortable. You may not have to stop in them, but your little ones do. “The thing that is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” Let us prove this in every school-house we build – let each one be an ornament to the district and to the Territory.

3. Cost of Instruction:

From the very best information I have at hand, there is paid out annually about $9,638.22 for instruction out of public school fund.

4. School Registers:

The law requires me to furnish county superintendents with forms for the district trustees and teachers, for keeping their accounts and registers. These forms are to be delivered by the several county superintendents to all the districts throughout their representative counties. This is an important provision, and in fact the only way we can arrive at all the important items of our common school system.

This duty I was unable to perform from want of means to purchase such forms. I hope your honorable body will relieve this office from that embarrassment in the future.

1861 – Office of Public Relations

Office of Public Instruction

Washington Standard Olympia, W.T., December 10, 1861

To the Honorable the Legislature of the Territory of Washington

The act to create the office of Public Instruction makes it the duty of the Superintendent to collect all such information as may be deemed important in reference to common schools, especially the number of children; the number and quality of schools, the number of scholars in attendance; the amount paid for tuition, also, to collect information of the number of school houses, and the amount expended from year to year for the erection and repairing of school houses, and all other matters in reference to the operation and effect of the Common School system, and report annually to the Legislature . . . . .

My report, from the nature of the case, will be very unsatisfactory, from the fact that out Common School system is not yet matured, and the act to create county Superintendents does not make it their duty to report to this office. I have corresponded with all the county Superintendents during the year, requesting of them such information as desired by law. . . .

We have been enabled to visit a number of schools in the Territory, and we are gratified to notice the interest on the subject of education among the people.

Too much can hardly be said in favor of Popular Education. It dissipates the evils of ignorance, which are the greatest hindrances to the progress of our free institutions. It increases the productiveness of labor in all the industrial pursuits of civilized life. When its appliances are wisely arranged it always tends to diminish pauperism and crime, and to promote human happiness. Hence we would urge upon you the importance of developing our educational interests. . . .

We have about fifty three school houses in the Territory, and some of them are not worth so much as the name of a school house. The probable cost of these buildings will not amount to the sum of twenty-six thousand five hundred dollars.

As the country is yet new, and we have just begun to build out school-houses, we would suggest to the directors of school districts that when you build school-houses, do it well-make them large and comfortable. “The thing that is worth doing is worth doing well.” Let us prove this in every school-house we build-let each one be an ornaments to the district and to the Territory.

1863 – Discipline

Discipline

Washington Standard August 18, 1863

No student will be allowed to retain connection with the school whose habits are such as to gender him an unfit comparison, or who will not gender a ready compliance with the regulation of the School. Frequenting of saloon, and attendance upon theaters and balls, are not allowed, but students are required to be at their respective places ob abode at stated hours. A respectful observance of the Sabbath is required, and at 3 o’ clock P.M., each Sabbath, the Students will assemble at the University Chapel to study the Scriptures as a Bible Class.

The reading of the Scriptures, regarded as the only safe book of morals, will be a daily exercise of the school.

History of Yelm Schools (1949)

Overview:  History of Yelm Schools (1949)

Introduction:  The following history of Yelm Schools was written in 1949.   

The first school in the Yelm District was a private school taught by one teacher in a one-room school owned by James Longmire.

The first public school was a frame building, located opposite the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the furniture included just the bare necessities. [Click here for a map that shows a schoolhouse at this location]

ON this timber cruiser map one can find the location of the first Yelm school. It is located at the miidle bottom.

When a tramp set fire to this building, classes were moved to the kitchen of the Tony Alongi home.  A one-room building was erected on the present site of the new play shed. This also burned and construction took place on what is now the lower-grade section of the grade school.  Later, the “L” shape was added.

The cornerstone of the first high school building was laid about 1919.  In this building different students were taught necessitating separate rooms.  Yelm SchoolIn 1941 it was destroyed by fire. The students then went to classes everywhere in Yelm, such as the gym, boiler room and private homes.  The result was the building of the Yelm High School.

The first school busses were “horse power” busses.  Later, the modern vehicles were obtained.  For these a garage was built in 1936.  In 1946 and 1947 two new busses were obtained.

A few years later, the agriculture and shop rooms were added to the garage.

In 1947 a project began which provided for the new lower grade section of the grade school, a large room, an adequate cafeteria, an indoor play-shed, and covered walks extending from the gym high school and grade school.  This project was completed in 1948.

Thus, Yelm schools are classified among the most modern in the West.

(No author has been found for this piece)

The History of Yelm Schools (From: The Story of Yelm)

The History of Yelm Schools  (From:  The Story of Yelm)

At least 22 schools have served the people of this community in the cause of education, and all have at this date been incorporated into the Yelm or Rainier schools. Oldest of all was the Yelm school, which was started as a private school in the Longmire log cabin (formerly McLean Chambers’ cabin). One day when Mr. Longmire was in Olympia, he heard a man remark that he was a teacher by profession.

“Then come and teach for me,” said the pioneer. “You can board at my house and all your pupils will be Longmires. My children went to school in Fountain County, Indiana, and while we were forted up in Olympia but have had no schooling since.” The man accepted, but his name, unfortunately has been forgotten.

When a schoolhouse was finally built, sometime in the early [18]60s it was down on Yelm Prairie, a log structure located across from the present site of the Adventist Church. Several years later a frame building was erected here and was used also as a church and meeting place for the first Grange organization. Very few dates are available from this period but the school was a going concern by 1872 when J. C. Conine taught the first of his four terms there.

Other teachers recalled by old-timers as having taught here are: Lou Jackson (Longmire), Amelia Ditman of Olympia, Anne Broden, Miss Shelton (Van Trump), Seymour Stone, Mrs. Stoddard, Anna Hart, Mrs. M. Alberta Johnson, Clara McKenzie, Zouy Jackson, Lizzie Wadell and Fred Brown.

The Des Chutes district school was the next in the point of time in this vicinity. It too was a log cabin, built in 1876. The site was later occupied by the Morehead school and was a part of the ranch known successively as the Hazlin, Medley and Jensen place. Here the first teacher was Renny Pollard.

The second teacher proved to be the most famous ever to instruct the youth of this locality. She was Ada Woodruff (Anderson), author of Heart of the Red Firs and other novels. The scene of her books was laid in the Bald Hill country and one of their families described was the Longmire family with whom the author boarded. The gold mine discussed was an actual one and the disappearance was just as authentic.

Following her was Harry Garfield, nephew of James A. Garfield, at that time governor of Ohio and later president. He was a gay Lothario whom the country girls did not seem to appreciate.

Following him were Victor Bunnell; Bill Hart of San Francisco, and Harry Hart his cousin, who claimed some connection with the family of President Wm. Harrison; then Amelia Ditman and Emma Chitman [Dittman?] .

The families of La Blanch Reil and Chadotte Winnue, relatives of Joe Laramie; Johnny Milkain and George Leslie, nephews of Yelm Jim; Fred and Dora Berchti (McVittie); the Gardner girls, Moses Kabana and Dick Fiander were the first attending this school.

The Des Chutes district was subsequently broken up into four schools: Laramie, first teacher, Edith Corbett; Moorehead first teacher, Emma Chitman; Bald Hill, first teacher, Ethel Ross; Longmire, first teacher Bertie Cooper; and Hull, first teacher, Fred Grass. These were in turn combined in the Lakamas school where a modern building was erected and where one year of high school was taught. This building is still used as a community center.

Other schools to the south and east, but nearer to Yelm, were: Smith Prairie, Lawrence Lake (Bob Smith), Kandle (Tony), Eureka, Forest, Willow Lawn, and Hewitt (Cook); and in Pierce County, Lieber and McKenna.

West of Yelm were Wells, Rathbun-Morgan, and Lindstrum. All three of these were at various times presided over by Mrs. Alberta Johnson, a very superior woman. Out towards Rainier was the Mt. View School.

Education on the Prairie, 1860-1900

James Lomgmire

Education on the Prairie, 1860-1900 by Ed Bergh
The beginning of formal education on the Yelm prairie is tied to the efforts of James Longmire.   According to the account in The Story of Yelm James Longmire had ridden into Olympia and met a stranger (his name remains  unknown) who mentioned that he was a teacher.   Longmire responded, “Then come and teach for me.”  He offered the itinerant teacher a roof to sleep under and said, “You can board at my house and all your pupils will be Longmires.”  The boarding of teachers with families would remain a part of public education until the turn of the century.   The next part of the story gives a clue as to when this happened.  Longmire detailed his concerns. “My children went to school in Fountain County, Indiana, and while we were forted up in Olympia but have had no schooling since.”  This means that the first school went into operation sometime after the “dark times” of conflict which struck the prairie between 1855 and 1857.   This, however, was not the beginning of a tax supported public school.


Writing in Pioneer Teachers of Washington, Joseph T. Hazart suggested that a Yelm school was in existence even before the turmoil in the years 1855-57.  He based his conclusion on the statement of George Himes, an early Thurston County student.  Himes attended the Ruddell schoolhouse.  He recalled that he was on the three mile walk home from school when he heard, “The Indian war has broken out” from a galloping horseman, John Chambers.   According to Himes’ account, David Longmire, who was attending school on the Yelm prairie, also heard the news of fighting on his way home from school.  If this was indeed the case this would place a “school” on the prairie in 1855, only three years after Olympia set up their first school.   David Longmire, in “First Immigrants to Cross the Cascades,” published in 1917, recounted “I cut down trees and dragged them to the place chosen and then helped to build a log school in which I became one of the first pupils.”   Longmire recalled that one of the teachers in that school was Dillis B. Ward.

Dillis. Ward

Elizabeth Lotz Treat Longmire also described a log school on the “McKenna Road.”  Elizabeth placed another teacher in that school, George Gallagher.

There is an interesting document which does place this school in existence as early as 1861. According to the poll book for the 1861 election the election had been moved from its traditional location, at Ft. Stevens (the actual fort, not the school), to the “school on Yelm Prairie.”

In 1869, James Longmire, in his capacity as Clerk of the Yelm School, was paid $95.75 by the county treasurer to run the school.  In 1870 that amount was raised to $108.75. No details as to the breakdown of expenses has been found.

According to James Mosman, a log school was built a quarter mile east of Yelm at the McLain Chambers place.  Across from the present site of the Seventh Day Adventist church. Herbert L. Conine (son of J. C. Conine, an early teacher in the area) recalled, in a 1936 interview, a school in Yelm in 1870 and that another school was built about 1885.

The log structure was replaced by a frame building.  This must have the building Herbert Conine was referring to in his 1936 interview.  James Mosman remembered the “outdated” building still being used in 1892.  “He [Mosman] confessed that he had prayed for such a conflagration but disclaimed any responsibility for starting it.”

Elizabeth Lotz recalled that it burned down in 1898 or 1899.  While a new school was being built (at the site of the current middle school) students made the Anna Coates home their temporary school

The frame school east of the town of Yelm had also served the community as a grange hall for disgruntled farmers and as a church for the religious.   Considering the fact that school might have been in session only three or four months out of the year it is easy to assume that all of these activities were going on at the same time.  Dow Hughes remembered services at the “small dingy” building in the 1890s.  His attention to the day’s sermon was sometimes punctuated by the sounds of a ball game being played in the school yard on Sunday mornings.

A School Scene 1871

An article in the Washington Standard of Olympia, April 8, 1871, provides insights into the operation of schools in the 1870s.  Entitled, “Items from Yelm,”  the author reported:

The following is the programme of exercises held at the Yelm Prairie School, on Friday, the 31st, at which the parents and friends of the school were present. After some general exercises in reading, geography and grammar, in which the pupils acquitted themselves tolerably well, the following compositions were read:   “A Hunting Excursion,” Robert Grainger; “Yelm Prairie, and Things in General,” Mary O’Neal; “Gardens,” Rosa Girlock; “Fruit,” Willie O’Neal; “Mount Rainier,” Martha Longmire [the future wife of J. C. Conine]; “Birds,” Lizzie Lotz, and “A Letter,” by Lizzie Longmire.   Then followed singing by the school, a dialogue by Lizzie and Martha Longmire, Mary O’Neal and Virinda Pollard, and the exhibition closed by declamations from Fred Girlock, Robert, Frank and George Longmire, Johnnie O’Neal, and others.

A lecture on “Education” was delivered here not long ago, for the benefit of the school, and the attendance indicated that nearly all the Yelmites appreciate efforts of an intellectual character.  The proceeds were invested in some school furniture, which now renders the house quite comfortable.”

Elizabeth Lotz and “The Birds”

Elizabeth Lotz recounted that the winter of 1861, the year after her birth, was the “hardest winter this country has never known.”  That was the year the Lotz family arrived in Yelm.    Ten years later, in April 1871 Lizzie stood before the assembled families of the young scholars and spoke on the subject of   “Birds.”   One wonders what the specifics of her speech were.  Did she talk about birds in the nation or continent?  Did she have pictures of certain birds and read about them in some 19th century equivalent of the encyclopedia or internet?   Possibly she spoke about the birds they knew or the birds that lived on the prairie.  Maybe she explained that a certain bird liked to live in the red oaks.  (The red oak being a tree that survived the period of “burns” conducted by the Nisqually people and now dotted the prairies)   She could have sat under one of those oaks and waited for her bird subject to glide in and then attempt to sketch its image for her school project.  Lizzie might also have made a list of the birds she and others had sited in the area.  As she rattled off names and descriptions many in the audience nodded that they too had witnessed such a creature.

The School Scene According to the 1880 Census

The 1880 census provides a snapshot of education in that year.  There were two people identifying themselves as teachers in the Yelm area. One was Robert Kandle who lived near the James Longmire farm.  Years later, when The Story of Yelm was published informants referred to the Kandle school.   Undoubtedly this is a reference to James Longmire’s neighbor.  Where “his” school was located is unknown at this time.  Another teacher living in Yelm in 1880 was 15 year Margaret O’Neal, the oldest daughter of Abijah O’Neal, a farmer and sometime postmaster of Yelm.  It is possible she was instructor at the log school on the McKenna Road (Or, possibly, she boarded during the school year in Olympia and taught there)  In what was developing into the town of Yelm, the school enrolled thirteen students, ranging in age from 7-14.   The number is small they can easily be listed here:  May Jane, William, & John O’Neal; Melissa, Martha, and William Longmire; Newton and Rina Pollard; Frederick and Rosanna Wagner; and Albert and Elizabeth Lotz.  (The latter were listed according to the census record which identified each as “attending school”)

A Final Word

James Longmire and others on the prairie wanted to bestow the benefits of formal education to their children.  The Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Washington Territory described the formal justification for that belief when he wrote in late 1861:

“Too much can hardly be said in favor of Popular Education.  It dissipates the evils of ignorance, which are the greatest hindrances to the progress of our free
institutions.  It increases the productiveness of labor in all the industrial pursuits of civilized life.  When its appliances are wisely arranged it always tends to diminish pauperism and crime, and to promote human happiness.”

Signed by Superintendent of Public Instruction

Washington Standard January 1, 1862

1. Number of Children:

From the most reliable information at our command, we find that the number of children over the age of four and under twenty-one years is 2,141.

2. Number of School-Houses:

We have about fifty-three school-houses in the Territory, and some of them are not worth so much as the name of a school-house. The probable cost of these buildings will not amount to the sum of twenty-six thousand five hundred dollars.

As the country is yet new, and we have just begun to build our school-houses, we would suggest to the directors of school districts, that when you build school-houses, do it well – make them large and comfortable. You may not have to stop in them, but your little ones do. “The thing that is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” Let us prove this in every school-house we build – let each one be an ornament to the district and to the Territory.

3. Cost of Instruction:

From the very best information I have at hand, there is paid out annually about $9,638.22 for instruction out of public school fund.

4. School Registers:

The law requires me to furnish county superintendents with forms for the district trustees and teachers, for keeping their accounts and registers. These forms are to be delivered by the several county superintendents to all the districts throughout their representative counties. This is an important provision, and in fact the only way we can arrive at all the important items of our common school system.

This duty I was unable to perform from want of means to purchase such forms. I hope your honorable body will relieve this office from that embarrassment in the future.