J. C. Conine – Yelm Teacher & Much More

Joseph Conine:  Early Life

Joseph Cowan Conine was born on August 25, 1839, in Ashland County, Ohio.  He was born on his father’s (Otto S. Conine) farm located near the town of Perrysville.  His mother, Mary Cowan Conine, was the daughter of Irish immigrants.  Joseph was the eldest of (possibly) nine children.  Education was important to the Conine family.  At the time of the 1860 census, not only was ten year old Joseph and a seven year old brother going to the local schoolhouse, but so was 5 year old Bartley. 

In 1852, the elder Conine decided to leave his native Ohio for Clarke County, Iowa.  What inspired this move to Hopeville, Iowa is unclear.  Settlers moved into the area in the early 1850s.  The first newcomers were inspired by the communitarian ideas of the French social philosopher, Charles Fourier.  Whether the elder Conine was inspired by this radical philosophy of “sharing” is also unclear.  Nevertheless, Conine traded the flat lands of north central Ohio, for similar terrain near the Iowa-Missouri border.  In 1860, Otto Conine ran the only hotel in Hopeville.

                                                Joseph Conine:  Teacher

At the time of the 1860 census Joseph Conine, 21, was working as a teacher in the common school in Hopeville.  He had begun his teaching career at the age of 17 and like so many teachers of the era he lacked college preparation.  When he enlisted in the army he identified himself as a “professor.” Teaching would remain part of Joseph’s life for decades to come.  How he prepared for his profession is not known at this time.  There is, however, a tantalizing account of the school that Joseph might have worked at during that year.  Writing in 1935, Mrs. Ella Ashley recalled the only school in Hopeville at that time.  In the late 1850’s or early sixties the original log school house was replaced by a frame building.  She believed that the new building was possibly eighteen by thirty feet.  There were “always two teachers, the one who taught the larger scholars had one end of the room in which there were two long desks with a long bench.”  Joseph would have probably signed a contract for a term of three months.  One term lasted from December to February, the other from March until June.  Ella Ashley thought that the teachers of the era might have been paid $20 for working with older students and $15 for those working with the younger scholars. Ashley remembered that the teacher “had to go early in the winter and make the fire or hire it done.”  Joseph ran a multi-age classroom.  “No such thing as a grade [level] was ever known, beginning with learning the letters, each child went on to learn all they could.”  Joseph’s professional life, however, was about to interrupted by events in the nation.

Joseph Conine in the Civil War

Nearly sixty years after its conclusion Ella Ashley recalled the war taking away the young men of her community. 

Looking east from my old home, where Owen Chew now lives, half mile away, two went to the army, Cyrus and Wilson Huff. Wilson came back alone. From a home not a half mile north, Wash Nelson went and never came back. About a half mile northwest, Lem Garrison went, never to return. A short distance west of the Garrison home Conines lived, two, Joe and Bart, went from there. Six near neighbor boys and only three came back.

In 1858 a newspaper was established in Osceola, the largest town in the county.  One can imagine Joseph following the events of the era from copies that circulated in the county.  Stories about John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry and Abraham Lincoln’s run for the presidency in 1860 would have certainly caught his attention.

When Lincoln was inaugurated in 1861 southern states had already been seceding from the United States.  Ft. Sumter surrendered that April.  The first battle of Bull Run was fought that summer.

On August 2, 1861 Joseph enlisted in the army for three years.  Army records described him as five foot six inches tall, with a fair complexion and blue eyes.  Before there was a draft or a signing bonus Joseph threw his lot with the United States.  Whether his motivation was to save the Union or promote equality, Joseph Conine was going to be a soldier.  At Council Bluffs, Iowa men from throughout Iowa met their commander Grenville M. Dodge (later to be involved in the building of the transcontinental railroad). By the middle of August 1861, Joseph and the rest of Company I (commanded by William E Taylor), 4th Iowa Infantry boarded steamboats and headed down the Mississippi to St. Louis.   From St. Louis the unit moved by railroad to Rolla, Missouri.  Joseph was a private in the lst brigade, 4th division of the Army of Southwest Missouri.  There the company remained until the spring campaign was ready to move south.

Once the regiment was fully assembled at the Rolla, Missouri training resumed in earnest.  The “partially uniformed” men were ready, but the War Department had yet to meet the exigencies of the times.  Old Prussian rifles provided to the recruits proved faulty and thirteen exploded when fired.  Col. Dodge finally took it upon himself to visit Gen. Fremont’s headquarters back in St. Louis in order to secure suitable clothing, weapons, and other necessities.  The men built barracks and moved out of their tents.  Once inside the barracks the largely country men and boys suffered from “measles, mumps, and pneumonia.”

In a speech he gave to the 4th Iowa veterans after the war Dodge recalled, with pride, his role as leader of that regiment:

You will all remember that when at Rolla, and whenever I had an opportunity, I drilled the regiment thoroughly. I took it out, exercising it in firing in movements and even taking it through the brush and timber so as to give the practice from any condition they might meet. The boys protested and complained a great deal. The other regiments got no such drilling and the 4th Iowa thought that there was no necessity for it. They wore out their clothes and shoes, and they had very little use for their Colonel at this time, but when they had an opportunity to see how much benefit this drilling was to them, when they got into action, they looked differently upon it.

Joseph Conine was now part of the E. A. Carr’s division of General Curtis’s army.

Curtis’ mission was to drive the Confederate army under General Price out of Missouri.  For over 200 miles the Union forces nipped at the heels of Price’s Confederates.  It was a march few would forget.

Heading South on the “Wire Road

Joseph Conine and the rest of the 4th Iowa Regiment headed down the Telegraph Road toward the Arkansas line.  One soldier recounted that it ‘[wound] along, up and down, guiltless of art, or fill, or bridge; mere hard and beaten path, or prolonged dust-heap, or lengthened quagmire, according to the sun or rain, the shifting and uncertain elements, stretched the ‘Wire road,’ a Via Dolorosa.’  It was still winter in the Ozarks as the Union Army moved south.  There was rain and snow.  Muddy rutted ground, froze at night into upright daggers. Footwear took a beating.  The poorly made shoes tore apart at the stitching on the sole.  Soldiers jerry-rigged the uppers and lowers into one bound up shoe.

Recalled one Illinois soldier:

For two days and the night intervening everything we possessed, and we in connection, became saturated with the rain that was poured down upon us…All this froze right away, and tents and tent occupants and furniture were like little land ice bergs.  Our pantaloons, when we drew them on at reveille, were stiff with ice, so also were shirts, coats, boots, everything.  Yet there was no remedy, so we shivered till our animal heat thawed the ice, and wore wet clothes till they dried upon us.

As the day warmed the road was transformed into mud that swallowed the marching feet of the.

Residents of the area fled before the advancing army.  Marching through the town of Springfield Conine would have seen abandoned houses, doors ajar, with discarded clothes and furniture, items no longer considered essential.  Graffiti, had been scrawled on the sides of buildings, memorializing Confederate victories taunted the Union forces.  Dead horses attracted buzzards which circled over head.

When the 4th division reached Crane Creek the Confederate presence was palpable.  Cooking fires were found the day’s meal in the kettle.  Captured stragglers moved to the rear of Conine’s column.  Joseph Conine’s war was drawing near.  As the evidence mounted of Confederates near by, what went through Joseph’s mind?  The line of march was littered with ‘crippled and demolished wagons, pots, pans, skillets, camp trumpery, dead and dying horses and mules, together with all manner of goods and chattels.’  More prisoners were taken.  Snow fell on the men.  On the night of February 15th, Joseph Conine was discovered to be missing.  Amidst the debris on the Telegraph Road his personal invasion of the Arkansas had stopped, cold, literally, in its tracks. 

The 4th Iowa continued without Joseph.   The Iowans continued to pass discarded

accoutrements of war.  Confederate stragglers were captured.  Firefights broke out, but the southerners were not ready to fight a major engagement.  Veterans of both armies remembered the weather.  The storm of March 5th was described by one Iowan as “spitting snow.”  A Missourian wrote, ‘I felt like dying. . . . our clothes were frozen on our bodies.’  Joseph Conine fought off the cold and his sickness to rejoin his company. 

The Battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern)

The two armies faced off on March 6th.  The battle was on the Union left that day and the 4th Iowa was on the right wing just beyond the crossroads of the Elkhorn Tavern.  When the morning came, Joseph Conine and his company were facing north.  Somewhere in the forest, out of sight, was the enemy.

In the afternoon, however, the Confederates appeared on the right flank of the 4th Iowa.  The Iowans were ordered to face this new threat.  Quickly they swung down like a door hinge so that their line was parallel to the growing Confederate threat.  Company C, along with the rest of the 4th Iowa, dug in at the western edge of the Clemon’s farm.  200 yards to the east, beyond the fallow fields of Rufus Clemon, in the trees, the Confederates unlimbered three batteries of artillery to shell the Union position.

Conine and his compatriots prepared for the inevitable attack.  Farmer Rufus Clemon had spent the winter rooting out trees and piling them at the edge of his field.  The Iowans quickly moved these slash piles.  They piled tree trunks, branches, and fence rails to form a breastwork.  Soon Confederate artillery opened and the men burrowed into their new fortification.  Shells exploded all around them.  The trees to their rear were set ablaze by the shelling.  Capt. William H. Kinsman, of the 4th Iowa wrote:

The thunder of the artillery was terrific, and the shot and shell hissed and screamed through the air like flying devils, while the infantry with their rifles, shotguns, and muskets, kept a perfect hurricane of death howling through the woods.

This continued for a half and hour.  During it all Grenville Dodge rode along the line “encouraging his men and belittling the danger of artillery fire.”   A shell exploded near him and tore his pants.  Another shell fragment glanced off his knuckles.  A shell struck and tree and a falling branch dismounted him.  He cracked two ribs.   He got back on his horse and continued to command.  “He continued to expose himself recklessly, and by the end of the day he had lost three horses and accumulated six bullet and canister holes in his coat.” 

Suddenly, 100 yards away the Confederates appeared at the top of the rise midway in Clemon’s field.  Wrote one Missourian, ‘We charged to within twenty steps of their ambush when they turned loose on us.’   Another recalled,   ‘We were met by a most terrific and deadly volley of musketry . . . “and for a moment our brave men recoiled before its deadly aim.’  The Confederate attack was broken.  Others followed, but they too were broken by the barrage of musket fire coming from the impromptu fortifications along Clemon’s field.  After one assault the Iowans let out ‘Such a yell as they crossed that field with, you never heard. . .  .It was unearthly and scared the rebels so bad they never stopped to fire at us or let us reach them.’  With bayonets pointing the way the 4th Iowa pursued the Confederates back across Clemon’s field.

Conditions, however, along the rest of the Union line, called for realignment of battered regiments.  Slowly the 4th Iowa retreated to the new Union line, a little further south.  In Pea Ridge:  Civil War Campaign in the West, William Shea and Earl Hess, described that evening:

Darkness spread across the Pea Ridge and brought an end to the carnage but there was little rest for the weary on the cold, clear night of March 7-8.  Moonlights filtering through the lingering haze of battle dimly illuminated a scene of surprising activity.  Hundreds of soldiers wandered across the battlefield to succor the wounded or streak from the dead.  Thousands more stumbled through thickets and toiled along rutted roads in preparation for the dawn.  Still others struggled, sometimes in vain, to replenish empty cartridge boxes and ammunition chests.  In the background, sharp in the frigid air, were the terrible sounds of broken men and animals.


Decades after the battle of Pea Ridge, Joseph Conine wrote that he was captured on March 8, 1862.  This would have been the day after the battle at Clemon’s Farm.   There was fighting that day.  The Union Army advanced as a solid mile front against the southern line.  On that day, the badly depleted 4th Iowa exchanged little fire with the enemy.  There would have no chance for Joseph Conine to be captured that day.  In fact, it was Confederates that became prioners that day.  This writer wonders if Joseph Conine was actually captured on March 7th when the 4th Iowa advanced and retreated on several occasions.  The bayonet charge at the conclusion of the battle at Clemon’s Farm or the 4th Iowa’s retreat to

Ruddick’s farm.


On the last day of the battle Joseph Conine was guarded by men in gray.  It is unclear when, where, or under what circumstances on March 8th that Joseph Conine was captured.  He was not one of the fortunate federal prisoners exchanged shortly after the battle.

“A Very Hard, Tedious, Tiresome March”


Not being one of the chosen prisoners, Joseph Conine fell into line with the Confederate Army of the West as they headed south.  What he remembered from those weeks was not recorded, but others wrote about their experience:

The army was a confused mob, not a regiment, not a company in rank, save two regiments of cavalry, which, as a rear guard, passed through near sundown; the rest were a rabble-rout, not four or five abreast, but the whole road about fifty feet wide perfectly filled with men, every one seemingly animated by the same desire to get away…They were thoroughly dispirited.  And thus, for hours, the human tide swept by, a broken, drifting, disorganized mass, not an officer, that I could see, to give an order; and had there been, he could not have reduced that formless mass to discipline or order.

The skies ‘poured down from the heavens in abundance.’  The terrain was treacherous.  Concerning heading over the Boston Mountains a southerner on the same march wrote:

There were no roads or bridges; the country was mostly hills covered with scrub oaks, rocks, rivers, and creeks, and very sparsely settled, and so poor, as some of the men expressed it, that turkey buzzards would not fly over it…Price’s army had preceded us; but if they did any good by opening a path, they did us a great deal of harm by clearing the country of everything that could be eaten by man or beast, even to the last acorn, which seemed to be the only thing the country produced.  We proceeded to scramble along the best ways we could, wading through creeks and rivers and scrambling over rocks and through brushwood.  At night we kindled large fires and took off our wet clothes, wrung the water out of them, and dried them the best way we could. 

In the midst of this chaos one may only imagine what the experience was for the captive federal soldiers.  Were the prisoners at the end of the food distribution chain?  Were they allowed some latitude in regard to their own physical needs?  Were the ignored like so much human baggage or were they treated with the disdain extended to “enemy” prisoners?

Food was a major problem.  Those who wrote about those miserable weeks often used variations of the word “starve” to describe the experience.   Soldiers rummaged the countryside for anything that could be eaten or carried away.  Arkansas farmers had much of their produce stolen by the starving soldiers.  One such victim wrote that the hungry men ‘killed every fowl of any kind, all the cattle, hogs and sheep, and took all the bacon and corn that they could find for several miles around . . .  They cooked at our house from 11 o’clock until midnite, until there was nothing left to cook.’  One survivor saw ‘lots of men cut out slices of beef and mutton before it was done bleeding and eat it raw.  The only bread they had was the corn they had hooked on the road.  They threw the ears into the fire and burnt the outside black and eat it.’  Amidst this, Joseph Conine, prisoner of war contemplated his fate.  He had marched over 300 miles and was in the middle of enemy territory. 


On August 18, 1892, Mordecai Smith wrote that he had been captured with Joseph Conine at the Battle of Pea Ridge.  They were taken first to Van Buren and then to Little Rock, Arkansas where they were held for five months. Smith wrote that the prisoners were “ill treated.”  An 1892 newspaper article stated, “He spent the 4th of July in a solitary cell in Little Rock prison; lived on cornmeal and water for a month.”  This punishment was for planning an escape. Little else is known about his captivity.   Joseph and others were exchanged for Confederate prisoners and rejoined the 4th Infantry Division at Helena, Arkansas on August 5, 1862. 

Immediately after returning to his comrades Joseph developed a severe case of dysentery with chronic diarrhea.  Unable to fulfill his duties as a soldier he was sent upriver on a steamboat to St. Louis arriving there on September 29th.  From there Joseph was sent to the Estes House Hospital in Keokuk, Iowa.

The Estes House Hospital was one of seven facilities dedicated to the care of soldiers from both sides.  It held over 600 patients and was the largest hospital in Keokuk.   Contemporaneous accounts describe crowded conditions, lousy food, disease, and the numerous amputations.  Joseph Conine remained there from October 1862 through March the following spring.  In April Joseph was discharged from the service with a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability.  His chronic diarrhea and general debility was “not improving under treatment.”

Marriage and a Return to the War

In the July 18, 1863 Union Sentinel the following appeared:


At the residence of Wm Gustin on the evening of the 13th of July 1863, by M. B. Rees, Esqr., Mr. JOSEPH C. CONINE to Miss EMMA P. BATES.

Three months later, October 23, 1863, Joseph re-enlisted.  He received a $25 bounty for being a veteran re-upping.  Moving on to Davenport, Iowa in late November he was promoted to 1st corporal in Co. C, 9th Iowa Cavalry.   From there the regiment traveled south to Arkansas where Joseph spent the rest of the war.

Arkansas was now a sideshow of the Civil War.  Vicksburg had fallen in July 1863 and the war had shifted to eastern Tennessee.  The 9th Iowa spent the rest of the war patrolling the region while occasionally engaging in skirmishes with southern sympathizers.  Few men were lost during this time.  Joseph’s war was much different than his earlier version with prolonged scouting missions replacing the pitched battle of Pea Ridge.  He was promoted to second duty sergeant on September 15, 1864.

Following his return from his last scouting patrol in the fall of 1864 Joseph was assigned to Col. M. M. Trumbull and worked as a clerk at headquarters.  When the war ended in the spring of 1865 Joseph was serving as a clerk for a general court-martial being conducted.  The end of the war, however, did not signal the end of his service.  Joseph continued to clerk, but now serving at the adjutant general’s office.  He received 2nd and 3rd installments of his Veteran’s Bounty, bring that total to $175.  Finally on February 28, 1866, nearly a year after hostilities had ended.  Sergeant Conine was mustered out in Little Rock, Arkansas, the site of his previous imprisonment.  Paying eight dollars for his service revolver and owed $225 in bounty payments he headed north for his reunion with his wife Emma.

Returning from the war Joseph and Emma settled in Illinois.  They remained there two years.  Their first son, Herbert Wilbur (Willie), was born there.  After two years he returned to Iowa with his family. A daughter, Annie, was born in May 3, 1869.  In 1870, Joseph was farming in Pleasant, Union County, Iowa.  The name of the town was misleading.  Something went dreadfully wrong.  Lucy May Conine was born on March 10, 1871.  Emma died on April 12, 1872 and was buried in the North Hopeville Cemetery.  This date is interesting in light of the fact that two other sources (Including a narrative written in 1951 by Jenny Lind Conine Edwards) maintain Joseph moved to the Northwest in October 1871.    

J. C. Conine in Yelm

In 1871 or 1872, J. C. Conine and Henry Fouts arrived in Seattle, just in time for the rainy season.  The mixture of mountains and water, trees and mist, must have impressed the Iowans.  Jennie Conine Edwards later wrote, “Seattle was only a little hamlet on the bay, almost surrounded by gigantic fir and cedar trees, but with one sawmill.  They could have taken a homestead most any where where Seattle is now but they didn’t.”  From Seattle, the pair caught the steamer “North Pacific” heading to Olympia.  The men carried with them a letter of introduction to Mr. Tyrus Himes who they eventually located at his farm six miles outside of Olympia.  Jennie Conine Edwards later wrote, “There was about ten of them in the family including them.  They [Henry and Joseph]  said they never had a better time.  They worked all that winter for their board and room.”

The disposition of the Conine children is unclear.  In 1880, census rolls show Wilbur “Willy” Conine living in Iowa with Joseph’s father Otto.  Sometime after 1880 Willie came to the Yelm area to live with his father.  In the summer of 1884, however, Willie decided to return to Iowa to live.  The girls, Annie and May moved to the northwest, although the year is unclear. 

One night Virinda and James Longmire stopped at the Himes place.  A trip from the Yelm Prairie to Olympia in a horse drawn wagon was sometimes a two day journey.  The Longmires decided to complete their journey the next morning.  After all, their friendship with the Himes family was forged on the wagon train to the northwest.  During the course of the evening’s conversation Longmire mentioned that Yelm was looking for a school teacher.  Conine recalled saying, “That was my line, having taught ten years in Illinois and Iowa.”  Longmire replied, “Come up some time and I think you can get the school.”

Joseph Conine took James Longmire up on his offer.  Conine recalled, “So one fine day in February, my friend Henry Fouts, who came with me from Iowa, and I borrowed a couple of horses from Mr. Himes and drove to Yelm.”   Joseph fell in love with the area at once.  “On coming out of the timber to the prairie, we beheld a sight that was enchanting to those who have never had never seen a snow mountain before.  The morning clouds of fog had cleared away and its snowy cap showed up in great splendor.  I’ll never forget my first view of that great mountain . . .” Plus, he got the teaching job.

According to The Story of Yelm, Joseph began teaching in Yelm in 1872.  “I engaged the school for six months at the enormous salary of $33 per month and board around and was glad to get it.  I got my hash well mixed.  All teachers in those days got the same price and same fare.” 

County records show J. C. Conine working at the Willow Lawn School southeast of Yelm in October 1891.  He was earning $45 dollars a month for a term of three months.  The next year his salary had been reduced by one third.  Later he would serve on the board of directors of Willow Lawn from 1897-1900.

His daughter, Jennie Conine (Edwards), recalled attending six different schools in the area.  Writing late in her life Jennie recalled, “WE walked to school from 2 to 5 miles a day each way.  Would only have three months in a district.  When ours was out we would go to Yelm, then to Eureka, then to a small school up by where Newton Smith live[d].” 

                                                No Better Wife Ever Lived

Joseph’s meager teaching salary was augmented by his ability to hunt to food.  “Deer, bear, cougar, grouse, and pheasant” were plentiful.  It was on one of these hunting journeys that Joseph discovered the land that would eventually become his homestead.  South of Yelm he squatted on land “with the greatest natural facilities,” by which he meant the waters of Yelm creek.  After he “bached” there for two years Joseph again married


On April 12, 1874, sixteen year old Martha Longmire married Joseph Conine, her teacher. The newlyweds began a family on this homestead. Over the next decade they had three children, Herbert L. Conine (January 15, 1875), Jennie Lind  (April 15, 1879), and Neonetta (March 4, 1883)  Joseph wrote that it took six years to clear the beaver pond and otherwise make the land productive.  Husband and wife “slashed and cleared” to create a farm in the spring and summer, with Joseph working as a teacher in the winter.  Virinda and James Longmire started the newlyweds off with a “team, two cows, [a] pig, and some chickens.”

Joseph’s daughter Jennie painted the following of life on the Conine homestead:

We had to hustle home from school to weed the garden, dig spuds, pick apples and berries, help top and load wagons with beets and carrots for the cattle in winter, help milk, get wood, get the rutabagas and cabbage in for winter, make sour kraut and such like.  Mamma used to knit socks and stockings, make us shoes and get the vine maple to make pegs to tack the soles on with.  If a sheep died we would pull the wool off, wash it and card it by hand to make quilts, also some carpet rags for carpets.  Mamma would weave the carpet.  Had straw under the carpet and also straw ticks or feather ticks for out beds.

The thrashers would come to thrash our grain with about 10 or 12 horses and as many men.  Some times would be there for a week or more.   We had to feed them and wash dishes.  Besides milking about 25 or 30 cows, set all the milk away in pans for the cream to rise.  Then skim and churn, then all the pans to wash and skim milk for the pigs.  Churned butter in a barrel churn by hand.  Printed butter by hand and sold it to Miller Bros. in Tacoma.  Then later got more modern equipment.

J.C. Conine (CO9) – Populist


The 1890’s found a new, activist J. C. Conine competing for elected office in Thurston County.  First, as a Democrat, then as a Populist, Joseph Conine ran for and eventually won elective office.  Joseph ran for county sheriff as a Populist in 1894 and lost.  In 1896 he won the Populist Party’s nomination to represent the 27th legislative district in Olympia.

To promote his candidacy and the Populist cause Joseph wrote numerous letters to the Washington Standard newspaper.  Between 1895 and 1898 he elaborated on the problems confronting the nation and the state.  In addition, he was one of the roving band of Populist speakers who traveled the county spreading the “new gospel of silver.”  Joseph spoke at a rally near Yelm which, according to one estimate, attracted over 100 cheering Populists.  Other speeches were given at Smith Prairie, the Eureka schoolhouse, and the Collins school.  The debate during the campaign season was intense

When talking about the Republicans and their supporters Joseph spared no invective.   The “syndicate [was] in the saddle.”  The Populists were there to fight the “money power” and the “money sharks.”  The Republicans were dominated by “unprincipled scoundrels” and the party supported “pernicious legislation.”  The gold standard, the crime of 1873, the protective tariff, the greenback controversy, the banking system, and other legislative measures supported by the Republicans were so evil as to require a “new vocabulary to describe [them].”  The result was beneficial to the “avarice” and “greed of the Shylocks.”  The “oil trust,” “sugar trust,” “salt trust,” and even the “nail trust” were taking money “from the pockets of labor” and making “colossal fortunes for a few lazy barnacles.”  The Republicans and their wealthy supporters cared for the people like a “vulture has for the lamb, or a hawk for a dove.”  Once elected, Republicans sang “the song of Vanderbilt, ‘the people be damned.’”

What had all of this brought to the laboring classes?  The people were in “bondage.”  Interest rates could be as high as 20% and property values had declined by as much as 50%, wages were low.  They were ruled by injunction, while Pinkerton agents patrolled their towns.  Misery, poverty, and pauperism were the realities of the wealth producing class.  In fact the government seemed more interested in the construction of penitentiaries, jails, asylums, poorhouses, and soup houses, than the “welfare of producers.”

It was, however, time to “get on the populist bandwagon.”  In one letter he compared the current problems facing the nation to that of a boil on one’s body.

“Corruption,” yellow and vile was feeding the boil.  “In fact at the present time this boil has attained such colossal proportions . . . that it has been decided by universal consent to apply a surgical remedy, and William J. Bryan has been selected to perform the operation with his silver lance.”  It was time for the “piratical crew” to be “relegated to the shades of oblivion and smolder in their own rottenness.”

Bryan, according to Conine, should be the choice of the people if democracy was to be “redeemed.”  Joseph Conine reveled in the words of William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold Speech.” “You shall not press this crown of thorns down on the brow of Labor. You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold” were “glorious words,” according to Conine.  Bryan would bring justice for the “toiling masses.”  After all, William McKinley was in the pocket of the moneyed interests.  He had been “bought and bound and owned” by gold interests.  McKinley was the “tool of the money power.”  Worse still, McKinley had changed his traditional position on the silver issue and was a “captive” of the “soulless syndicate.”  By contrast, Bryan, although he was young, was at least “free.”  He had spent his career fighting “tyranny” and “oppression.”

William McKinley won the election of 1896 and became president.  In Thurston County, however, the Populist-Democrat fusion ticket swept the county races.  Joseph Conine would now be serving in the Washington state legislature.

The 1897 Legislative Session

By Meghan Young  (2004)

The election of the Populist Governor John Rogers was accompanied by an insurgence of new faces into Washington State Legislature and various tiffs of great hilarity.  Governor Rogers himself was quite an interesting man.  From the very beginning, he shunned convention and opened his inaugural ball to the public, much to the dismay of fellow politicians.  Governor Rogers established himself as a man of the people.  In his opening speech to the Washington State Legislature, Governor Rogers delivered a solemn speech on the problems facing the state.  With the prevalence of novice legislators, temptations rose greatly.  From illegal railroad passes to liquor interests, fish packers, timber barons and “corporate fat cats” the possibility for corruption abounded. 

Governor Rogers took the opportunity to remind legislators about the low pay standards for laborers, the depreciation of property and (fitting with the Populist movement) the detriment of the gold standard on the economy.  Governor Rogers introduced his idea to have free, state financed books for education.  They would be published at the state penitentiary both to provide inmates with vocational training and avoid monopolies established by publishing companies.  He declared his plan to establish a state bank examiner to prevent losses through bank failure, and a mine inspector to insure mine safety in light of the recent tragic mine accidents.  He urged the passage of anti-coercion acts to protect voters and demanded that no more stationary fish trapping gear be used.  He also called for penalties for violation of the constitutional provision against the acceptance of free railroad transportation passes by state officials. 

The first great excitement came with the senatorial election.  Huge accusations of corruption and bribery were brought out against Judge Turner, the winner of the election. In the Seattle Post Intelligencer, accusations against various legislators where brought out by Dr. G.V. Calhoun who said that many legislators were offering their votes in exchange for money. Representative Conine arose at one meeting to “shock and titillate” his colleagues with a tale of “sexy intrigue” which was recorded by The Standard:

Representative Conine told of his experience with a beautiful woman lobbyist who, he alleged, had offered to pay him a “consideration” to vote for Judge Turner, and that he had repelled the suggestion even as Samson thrice Repelled Delilah.

Eventually, a Senate Committee investigation concluded that there was no evidence of bribes or corruption.  In the opening of the Legislature, Senator Van Patten irritated the legislature with his opening prayer, especially Senator Rhinehart, a known agnostic.  To continue this, the Secretary of Senate Dudley Eshelman sang “My God to Thee” further irritating Rhinehart.  In retaliation, upon the end of the song, Senator Rhinehart arose and stated that he would now like to allow the Salvation Army in, and with that the legislators took a break.  In another disagreement, the legislators argued bitterly for hours about the request of an African American man from Spokane who wanted to become a doorkeeper.  Eventually they decided against him, but not before hours of squabbling took place.  In another fine showing of legislators maturity, they entered into a heated debate on whether or not there soaps and towels should be provided in their outhouse.  The official decision was that “all ablutions should be performed before coming to the capitol.”  These sorts of debates often led to heated outbursts, and (gasp) even fistfights among the legislators amidst the pillows and pots at the Hotel Olympia, the place to be among the politicians.  In fact, because legislators enjoyed immunity from arrest from minor crimes, fights often broke out while the bemused police looked on, unable to stop them even if they wanted to. 

Eventually the legislators got down to business.  Among the first motions passed was one which required that all bills be submitted to the reading clerk typewritten, as there was trouble in trying to decipher the scrawled writings of some legislators.  A bill was introduced to abolish the “fifth wheel” or lieutenant governor; however it served only to arouse controversy and ultimately did not pass.   They were successful in setting a maximum freight of $4.25 a ton within the state, but did not establish a railroad commission with the power to fully regulate the railroads, so it was largely ineffective.  Similarly, a State Labor Board was established to “protect the health and lives of employees” but there were no effective controls established over corporate operations and so it enjoyed little success.  Legislation was passed to protect debtors from foreclosure and garnishment, to encourage agriculture and give laborers priority in liens against employers from nonpayment of wages.  Prison reform was established with a bill that reduced terms for prisoners based upon good behavior and aboard of pardons was established consisting of the Secretary of State, State Auditor, and the Attorney General.  A coal mine inspector was authorized and a commissioner for the Board of Institutions was established.  New state land laws codified land, and authorized land leases at lower rates.  A land commission was born with the Secretary of State, Land Commissioner and Superintendent of Public Instruction.  An insurance committee was created to regulate insurance companies and new regulations were set forth on those doing business in Washington State.  Revenue laws were passed with relatively liberal methods of assessment and collection of taxes as well as the remission of penalties on delinquent taxes except a 6% interest charge from the date of delinquencies.  In a huge step for women, they introduced legislature that would allow women to be the administrix or executrix of their estates and tried to pass women’s suffrage, but it was voted down by the male electorate.  The means was provided for the reservation and improvement of cycle paths and a $50 dollar fee for the willful obstruction or damage of the paths.  Another bill was submitted to protect manufacturers, bottlers and other dealers in ale, porter, lager beer, and other beers as well as the loss of casks, barrels, kegs, bottles and etc.  All of these exciting stories took place in only the first 60 day session of the Washington State Legislation, an omen of even more exciting and potentially nonsensical events.

Joseph Conine served just this one term in the state legislature.  He returned to his farm near Yelm, never to re-enter electoral politics again.

 “I Am Not Asking For Charity”


Civil War veterans were voted a pension by Congress in 1890.  An additional sum was provided for those suffering from some sort of war related disability.  During the last half of his life Joseph Conine carried on a vigorous correspondence with the War Department, as well as members of Washington’s Congressional delegation, identifying his disabilities and advocating increased compensation for his military service.

One of the themes he continually returned to was the fact that veterans were richly deserving of their nation’s attention.  “I am not asking for charity” he wrote.  “I simply ask for justice.”  After all, the men in blue had kept the “country from disintegrating.”  Joseph continued writing:

It does seem to me that the old veterans who made it possible for our president to occupy his present position ought to be entitled to as much consideration as the lame ducks like Mr. Dial of S.C. who given a position of the Muscle Shoals Commission at $30 per day.  If $2.40 is too great a strain on the government treasury, nearly fifteen times that much is awful.  Consistency thou art a _______ (writing unclear).

A Long Way Beyond the Age of Production”


Between 1903 and 1930 the U.S. Congress raised the basic monthly pension check from $8 to $100.  An extra stipend was granted to those who were disabled.  Throughout this era Joseph carried on a correspondence with the Bureau of Pensions.  His letters not only shared stories of his physical ills, but also made economic arguments demonstrating his claim.  Joseph Conine owned hundreds of acres of land south of Yelm.  He was straight forward about this.  He told them that he could not enter the Soldier’s Home in Washington since he had over a thousand dollars in land and money.  He had been, however, “floundering around from one place to another.”  He was “absolutely nonproductive as a mule.”  Joseph pointed out that he had been living with his son Herbert.

“My general health is not bad for my age,” wrote Joseph in one letter to Washington, D.C.   He had, whoever, “a serious spill this morning.”  As his vicissitudes of aging impacted him Joseph made sure that those making decisions about this “comrade” in his eighties was getting on.  “It’s difficult for me to read ordinary print even with my glasses.  I can’t write as well as I used to.” “I haven’t had a tooth in my head for fifteen years and can’t get a set of teeth that will fit, besides my eye sight and hearing is bad.  What else could one suspect?”

Near the time of his death his letter included these ominous details, “I have been afflicted with a cancer for the past year and for . . . months have been taking X-ray treatment in the Tacoma General hospital [at] considerable expense.” 

J. C. Conine’s Physical Complaints

(By Meghan Young)

Throughout Joseph Conine’s quest to obtain more money from the government, he developed quite a list of ailments.  While some of these were verified, most were dismissed.  The following list entails the various ailments that Mr. Conine claimed to suffer from (as taken from medical reports) due to his service during the American Civil War.

  • January 21, 1891:  Conine claimed to suffer from a disease of the kidneys as well as chronic diarrhea.  The examining physician concluded that Mr. Conine was suffering from lumbago and he was qualified for a 4/18 disability rating. 
  • June 1, 1893:  Conine claimed to be suffering from lumbago, disease of the kidneys, liver dyspepsia and general debility.  He claimed that he could not perform hard work because of lameness and vomiting, and was entitle to an 8/18 disability rating for debility.
  • December 19, 1894:  Conine again claimed lumbago, disease of the kidneys and liver, dyspepsia and general debility.  He was awarded a pension of $6 a month for debility.
  • July 28, 1897:  Mr. Conine claimed to suffer from lumbago, disease of the kidneys, chronic diarrhea, indigestion and disease, weakness of back and general debility.  Additionally, he claimed that he could not perform any hard work nor become excited as he was subject to fainting spells and indigestion problems.  The examining physician, however, concluded that Mr. Conine did not suffer from any real diseases.
  • September 2, 1903:  Mr. Conine claimed to be suffering from lumbago for the last years after he had hurt his back lifting and from that point on had been experiencing pain.  The examining physician concluded that Mr. Conine’s pain was not due to vicious habits, and that Conine indeed had lumbago as well as being old and feeble. Conine was qualified for a 16/18 disability rating and ordered not to perform any manual labor.


In a letter responding to an inquiry about Mr. Conine’s ailments from the Medical Division of the Department of The Interior, Dr. Pool responded in regards to Mr. Conine’s health.  He stated that Mr. Conine was able to respond to the “calls of nature” and he was also able to feed himself.  However, he remarked that due to fainting spells, Mr. Conine should not be left without an attendant.  Mr. Conine eventually claimed total disability, stating that he suffered from petit mal, arterio sclerosis, fainting spells, poor sleeping and continued debility and declining strength.  Eventually doctors stated that he needed a full time assistant due to his condition.

Later Years


In his more harsh epistles to the bureaucrats in Washington, Conine reflected some of his old Populist spirit. Writing in the twenties, he complained about government’s “callousness” and “parsimonious” demeanor.  He complained about “lame ducks” controlling government and the government’s waste of money.  He reminded the Pension bureau that the current government owed their very existence to the men who fought in the Civil War.  After all, how would President Coolidge like to “live on $50 a month.”  “Our president’s policy of economy reminds me of the old adage save at the spigot and spend at the ____ ”  (writing indecipherable – Whatever the final word in that sentence it appears to be uncomplimentary)

Yet, Joseph Conine the “lion” was softened by Conine the “lamb.”  “Of course I realize that the last Congress was very favorable toward the Civil War veterans.  . . . I have no complaint to make against the great government for which we served.  No government on earth serves it soldiers better.  And the last Congress proved its sympathy by enacting favorable laws.” 

Joseph Conine spent his last decades “wandering” and living with his children.  Martha Longmire, Joseph’s “excellent wife,” died in 1906.  He remained shattered by this loss.  “Those who have had the experience know what a misfortune it is to lose a good wife.  I have never gotten entirely over the loss; it was my greatest misfortune for I had great inspirations for making a model home for my family.”   Joseph the romantic, however, could be replaced by Conine the gritty realist.  Writing about Martha’s death Joseph concluded, “one can get used to most anything.”

He placed his farm in the hands of an attorney and left its operations to others.  For a while he stayed with one of his daughters in Los Angeles.  He lived at the Angeles hotel in Olympia, but he spent much of his time at his son Herbert L.’s place near Yelm.

Writing in the Nisqually Valley News, sometime in the 1920’s, Joseph ruminated about his life’s lessons.  Referring to himself as “the oldest settler, now living, that lived on Yelm [prairie],” Joseph made one last contribution to a local paper:

I love to see everybody happy, though not religious.  Happiness is the greatest good; Reason the greatest torch; Justice the only worship and Love, the priest.”

I am bound by no creed except the Court of Justice and love of my fellowman.  A man holding to some creed or dogma cannot be absolutely free; he is bound to a creed.  I believe in absolute liberty as long as one does not infringe on another and society.  I dislike fanaticism, and that is why I am opposed to prohibition.

People of Yelm, I salute you.  If I was a praying man, I’d pray for you, but it wouldn’t do any good.  No prayer ever changed a natural law, but it may relieve the mind of the believer and I don’t begrudge them the relief.  J. C. Conine

Finally, living with his daughter Jennie Edwards on the shores of Lake Lawrence, J. C. Conine passed away.  He had served his nation well.  He had taught its children, tried to improve its government, and fought for its very survival.  Ninety two years after his birth in central Ohio, J. C. Conine was laid to rest in the Yelm Cemetery.


Obituary – J.C. Conine

Olympia News – November 17, 1932

Joseph C. Conine, 92, veteran and pioneer, passed away at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Jennie Edwards, Lawrence Lake, Sunday forenoon.  Mr. Conine was born in Ashland county, Ohio, August 25, 1839.  At the age of 13 he went to Iowa to make his home and began teaching in the schools there at the age of 20.  Two years later he enlisted for service in the Fourth Iowa Infantry.  He was taken prisoner at the battle of Pea Ridge in March, 1862.  He was released by exchange the following August.  Later he was taken prisoner again being held for a month when he returned to his regiment and was discharged and was discharged because of disability.  He was married, in 1863 in Iowa.  Having regained his health he again enlisted for service, this time with the Ninth Iowa Cavalry, serving until the close of the war.  He was promoted to the post of second duty sergeant and received an honorable discharge at Little Rock, Arkansas.  Following the war Mr. and Mrs. Conine moved to Illinois, remaining for two years, when they returned to Iowa, where Mrs. Conine died in 1871, locating in this county [Thurston], where he remained until his death.  He spent the first winter working for his board for the pioneer Himes family.  The next year he secured the Yelm school, which he taught for three terms, afterward continuing at the same profession for thirty years in this county.  He was married to Miss Martha Longmire, a pioneer woman, in 1874.  She died in 1906.

Surviving the deceased are two sons, Harry Wilbur and H. L. of this county; four daughters, Mrs. Annie Ward and Mrs. Neo Squire of Los Angeles, Mrs. May Jewell and Mrs. Jennie Edwards of Yelm; 22 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.  Funeral services were held at Yelm Wednesday afternoon at 2, with interment in Yelm cemetery where military honors were accorded.  The Mills parlors were in charge of funeral arrangements.

McKenna District #341 – Pierce County

McKenna District #341 – Pierce County

The McKenna school has a most unique place in the story of education in Yelm.

Beginning as the only school in McKenna District #341, the McKenna school became a part of the Yelm district as a result of consolidation.  This in itself is not unique.  What is unique is that, unlike all of the others schools brought into the Yelm system, McKenna, alone, remained open.

As of this writing the origins of the school remain unclear.  Most of the information in the following paragraphs comes from several short histories on the school by persons unknown.  One of these anonymous writers stated, “Most of the history is told from institutional memory since these little actually documentation.” These essays were found among the scrapbooks of the McKenna PTA.  Also found in these papers were a number of news articles related to the school and the PTA.

The McKenna school district used to exist on the Pierce County side of the Nisqually River.   It was speculated (in the 1970’s) that the school began around 1890.  Like the Hart’s Lake and Horn schools it serviced a small local population.  Unlike those schools the McKenna district eventually became centered in a town.  The opening of the Salsich Lumber Company’s mill in McKenna in the 1920’s spawned a thriving community on the banks of the Nisqually with a boarding house for single men and company housing for workers and their families.

“Details,” according to one McKenna resident, “about the first building are vague.  It is known that it was a wooden structure.”  This school burned down in 1919.  A replacement was quickly erected for a cost of $10,000.  The McKenna notes also mention that the mill owner donated lumber for the reconstruction.  An interesting note in the margin of above information was that “the original boiler from the 1919 [school is still in use today.”  (The latter written in the 1970’s)  The school taught grades 1 through 8.  There were four classrooms and each contained two grade levels of students.

William Guilford helped put the McKenna school on the educational map in Washington state.  He helped found the McKenna PTA which is considered by some to be the 2nd oldest PTA in the state.

Guilford arrived in McKenna from Wisconsin in 1911.  He served as school principal, and might well have taught also.  In 1912 he held a public meeting and convinced the community to form a Parent Teachers Association.  (Another article places this event in 1913)  Mrs. Guilford elected the first president, representing McKenna at the state PTA convention in Olympia that year.  By 1914 there were 47 members, an impressive number.  In 1917, William Guilford became the first male to attend the state convention

He remained at the school until 1918.  Sometime during his tenure at McKenna a new school was built.  Also at the school at that time (1917) was a teacher Edna Price. J. C. Conine commented in a letter that she drove to work from her family place southeast of Yelm.  Earl Herness provided the following picture of Edna Price’s classroom.

The school continued to serve first through eighth grade students for several decades.  With the closure of the mill in town the district’s population stagnated in terms of numbers.  As a result of this the McKenna district never had enough students to justify a high school.  Eventually McKenna formed a “Union High School” with the Yelm school district.  This meant that a governing body, separate from the school boards forming the “union” was established to run the new expanded high school.  Students from the McKenna area would now be attending the Yelm High School.

The McKenna school itself remained in its two story configuration until the 1970’s.  According to notes in the McKenna PTA files, a covered playshed (considered a necessity in Washington’s damp climate) was built by the PTA in the 1960’s.  Those notes also state that the new play area was “quickly converted to the administration building (office).    That same area became classrooms and bathrooms, then becoming storage and a staff lounge.  “C” building was added in the sixties for $45,000.  Crowding persisted and portables were brought in.  Decades of wear and tear were catching up with the main building which had been built, after all, around 1920.  A bond issue was passed by Yelm voters, the original two story building came down, and a new McKenna Elementary was built around some of the additions from the sixties.  This remained the McKenna Elementary school for the remainder of the century.  A quarter of a century later voters once again approved money for a new school.  This McKenna Elementary was torn down in 2004.


McKenna Elementary Over the Years

Principal Fred Berry lowers the flag before the remodel in the seventies.

William Guilford (1949)

Room Inventory 1911-12

1936 – Daily Schedule

1937 – Annual Teacher’s Report

Halloween (1949)

1961-62 McKenna Kindergarten Picture

1961-62 Scrapbook Page

1965 – Fishermen’s Breakfast Article

Letter – Memories of McKenna (Written in 1982)

Introduction: In 1982 McKenna PTA members and staff collected information on the history of the school.  The following letter sharing some her memories of McKenna was written by Jodie Essman.  It was addressed to Sharon Welsh, the principal of McKenna Elementary that year.

February 2, 1982

From:  Jodie Essman    16305 143 Ave. SE Yelm, WA  98597

To:  Sharon Welsh, Principal

Dear Ms. Welsh:

Hello! I’m not an “old-timer”; on the contrary, I’m a 1981 graduate. But that doesn’t make me less fond of the McKenna grade-school.

I spent the first five years of my school-life there, and I’ll never forget them. It broke me up (literally—I cried) to see them tear down the old buildings and put up new ones. Perhaps it was necessary, I’m not the one to decide that, but I still cried.

It was at McKenna that I was in my first movie, directed by Mr. Self, now an accomplished singer/actor. That film is an experience all of my graduation class treasure, and whenever we get together we always relive it.

I still remember peaceful, drowsy days right before school let out. During recess we’d play marbles, and baseball on the old baseball field. I remember all the skinned knees and torn leotard that I got jumping off the huge old wings out in back.

I hear Mrs. Crumbly (I’m not sure of the spelling) is still the playground supervisor. What fun we had tormenting her! We’d have chicken fights, climb up the slide, and in the winter we had some devils of snowball fights.

I don’t know much about the ancient history of the old McKenna school, but I do know we were a part of its history, and I know I’ll never forget the good times my friends and I had there.

I comment your research project, and hope you are successful in completing a historical record of the school.

You said that the children have discovered that history is available in other places than books. I’m glad! Sometime the best place history is to be found in the annals, not of libraries, but of the old-timers’ minds. I’m afraid that most young people don’t realize this, and thus miss a tremendously valuable learning experience.

Keep up the good work, and bring old McKenna back to live again.

1974-75 – McKenna Staff

1977 – Halloween

1977 – 4th Grade Christmas Program

1977 – lst Grade Christmas Program

1978-79 – McKenna Staff

Stay Off the Roof

Personalized Grade Card District #28

Personalized Grade Card District #28 

Introduction:  The following comments were made by the teacher at Morehead on the end of the year report.  It outlines the strengths and weaknesses of each student, as well as maps out their needs for the next year. 

The 8th Grade: Amy and Ina should do the last 2 months work in hygiene and there review.  Should begin with fifth month work in history and complete their review.

In language they should have analysis, diagramming, and composition work there review.

Should review arithmetic and reading and geography.  In spelling they should review prefixes and study rules, root words and suffixes. 

The 7th Grade: Ross and Ethel were not examined. 

Lela should do about 2 weeks work in grammar and review. Has completed geography and history and reviewed. I would suggest a good review of all 7th grade.

The 6th grade: Mary and Winston are promoted to 7th grade. 

Clyde has not completed 6th grade work and will do much better to stay in 6th grade another year and to even review some 5th grade. He has been classed with the 6th grade though he has also done 5th grade work. 

The 4th grade has withdrawn for this school. Ernest has completed the 3rd grade reader but not the arithmetic. It seems to be very hard. I have given him two lessons per day in arithmetic and one in reading. I believe it would be wise to allow him to read in the 4th grade and do extra work in arithmetic and work up. 

The 3rd grade, numbers 6, 7, 8, and 15 have done 2 month’s work in this grade. They need a 2 weeks review and might then be able to go on with the 3rd months work in the 3rd grade. Anna should review her 1st reader and take up 2nd grade.

District #28 – Deschutes/Morehead

District #28 – Deschutes/Morehead

Local historians claim that the Deschutes School was first held in a log cabin in 1876.  Renny Pollard was an early teacher at the school.  The earliest document from the school is a postcard communication from 1884.  In 1894 there were 19 students enrolled at the school.  L. J. Byrne was serving as the teacher at that time.  Three years earlier Edith Corbett, of Mt. Rainier fame, taught at the school.

The Deschutes school, District #28, was operating in 1886.  Documents show that Elcaine Longmire, the clerk received a note from the county superintendent that the school’s annual report had not yet been submitted,

1894 records from District #28 tell a little more about the school.  Nineteen students were enrolled that year.  The students were divided into five groups with each being designated according to the “reader” they were using.  The school term ran for 77 days and the school maintained a 96 percent attendance rate.  The district supervisors made no bones about it, their school was not well equipped.  The school did not even possess a Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.  Needless to, say the school did not follow the curriculum prescribed by the state.

The Deschutes/Morehead district was absorbed by the newly created Lackamas District.  What happened to the Morehead school immediately following this in uncertain.  In 1929, however, the building was sold to private hands.  The highest of the three bids was for one hundred dollars.  The school building still stands and it currently used as a private home.

Documents – District #28

School Districts – The Old Fashioned Way – Map – Find the Morehead District among the other districts of the area.

District #28 – Outline Map

Postcard to Elcaine Longmire, Clerk District #28, 1886 – Address, Note

Teacher’s Contract, Edith Corbett, 1891

Record of Teacher Contracts (1892-1899) District referred to as Deschutes #28

Teacher’s Report to County Superintendent, 1894

Certificate of Special Tax Levy, July 5, 1897

Estimate of School District Tax Levy, 1909

Board Minutes, November 11, 1929 – Lackamas school board sells Morehouse school and grounds to Mrs. W. R. Whitman for $100.

The school remains in private hands today. Morehead school today, Smith Prairie Rd. (front), Corner, Rear

Teachers and Salaries at Yelm, 1888-1899

Teachers and Salaries at Yelm, 1888-1899 

Introduction:  The state archives in Olympia, Washington, contain some records from the early years of public schools in Yelm.  The following information regarding teachers and their salaries is taken from those records.  The dollar amount was the monthly salary of the teachers.  Contracts were usually for three month school sessions.

1888-1889     Emma Mythaler Oliver

1-6-1891        Amelia Dittman                  $33.33 

9-7-1891        Amelia Dittman                    33.33

11-30-1891   Amelia Dittman                    33.33

9-5-1892       Anna I. Bullock                     30.00

1-9-1893        James Keho                           45.00

10-9-1893     Fred J. Brown                       42.00

10-1-1894     Emma Melvin                       35.00

1-6-1896        Lizzie Waddell                      

10-6-1896     J. M. Keko

10-14-1897   D.G. Cruikshank                   33.33 

10-17-1898   Jane A. Tribbults                  35.00

3-31-1899     Minnie F. Hawk                    35.00

10-9-1899     Minnie F. Hawk                    35.00

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.”

1889 – Education in Thurston County

Education Around the County:  1889 

Introduction:  The following are a series of articles related to education which appeared in the Washington Standard, published in Olympia.  

During the second week in July, the average school teacher is expected to be abroad in Olympia.

Washington Standard

June 23, 1889

Teacher’s Institute

Mrs. P. C. Hale opened the exercises Wednesday, with an elaborate paper on her method of teaching geography. A general discussion of the subject took place.

Miss Janet Moore followed with an exhibition of the Pollard system of conducting primary reading classes, with blackboard illustrations, participated in by class of children from the Primary Department of the Central school.

Prof. M. G. Royal concluded them programme by a humorous essay on the various ways adopted by teachers in school recitations. As the gentleman sat down, he was greeted by a round of hearty applause. A short discussion followed, when the time for adjournment was announced.

In addition to the teachers already reported the following names were added to the roll: Miss Amy Case, Lou McGuire, Fannie McBride, Linnie Barnes, Flora Parsons, Miss L. E. Twiss, Bessie Isaacs, Miss M. B. Hawkins, Minnie Freeman, Eliza Stamps. Mr. J. M. Abbott, Miss Stella Tyler, Mrs. M. F. Brown, Mrs. J. G. Ward, Allen Weir, S. W. Womack, A. F. Gunn, H. N. Hunt, A. W. Peables, Harvey H. Loveridge and Robert Cruikshank.

Washington Standard

July 12, 1889


Board met in regular session , sitting as a Board of Equalization. Present, George B. Capen, Chairman, Thos. Prather and R. A. Brewer, Commissioners, and John P. Tweed clerk.

Minutes of previous meeting read a approved.

On motion, Board adjourned to 1:30 o’clock P.M.

1:30 O’CLOCK P.M.

Board reassembled, all present.

The report of L. P. Venen, County School Superintendent, upon the petition of R. H. Kandle, S. D. Lawrence, praying for the forming of a new school district, to known as School District 41, was presented and read, and after due consideration by Board, it is ordered that the decision of the Superintendent as reported be approved, and that School District 41 be established in accordance therewith.

On motion, Board adjourned to 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.

Washington Standard

August 9, 1889

Pupils of the various schools will have an opportunity to exchange their old books for new ones, next week, at O’Connor’s.

Washington Standard

August 30, 1889

Miss Amelia Dittmann, of this city, has been engaged to teach the Mud Bay district school, and commenced her labors last Monday.

Washington Standard

August 30, 1889

The Laramie School

The Laramie School

In The Story of Yelm a few Yelm residents remembered both the Laramie school and one of it’s early teachers, Harry Hart.  County records do not have records of such a school, but for that time period records are fragmentary. Experience also suggests that what was recalled as the Laramie school may have been another school we have already identified under a different name.  According to The Story of Yelm the Laramie school came into being after the Des Chutes district was broken up.  The authors identified Edith Corbett as the first teacher at the Laramie School.  Records from the Deschutes district show that Edith Corbett was working at the Deschutes school in 1892.  This seemingly contradicts the census information regarding Harry Hart. 

 In 1880, Joseph Laramie (spelled “Larmey” in the 1880 census) and his wife, Catherine lived southeast of Yelm.   Joseph Laramie was born in Quebec and had worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company.   His wife was a Native American who had been born in the Washington Territory.  Catherine and Joseph had three sons in 1880, Joseph, Julius, and Francis.  Also, in the cabin were Catherine’s two children from her previous marriage, Rosa and Ellen Riell.    

Importantly for the story of education, the household also contained a teacher. Sharing much of free time with the Laramie’s was Harry Hart, a 23 year old mid-westerner born in Ohio.  In the area surrounding the Laramie cabin, other frontier families sent their children to the makeshift school.  One wonders where lessons were held.   Was there a separate building from the house or were the lessons in the house amidst the chores and emotions of the day?  How long Harry Hart remained with the Laramie family is unclear.


Timber Cruiser Map – This map, circa 1905, shows a schoolhouse at the southwest end of Lake Lawrence.  This would have been a quarter of a century after Harry Hart taught in the area.  On the other hand, no other school was known to be there.  The school itself may not have been occupied at the time.

Harts Lake School


Introduction:   The following selection is taken from “Harts Lake School:  Symbol of Pioneer Education” by Arthur Martinson and Ronald Magden.  Our thanks to the Harts Lake Historical Society for granting permission to use the text and pictures found below.

More then fifty years have passed since the last students shuffled feet under desks in the one-room schools near Roy. Those students lived in a time when Americans walked more than they rode, and when space and distance were everyday facts of life. Since it was necessary for students to walk, schoolhouses were located within a few miles of several families. Because of the small number of children involved, local school districts combined all eight grades in one room with one teacher. From the 1860’s to the 1930’s, fourteen country schools served isolated farm and logging families in the greater Roy area.

Those one-room schoolhouses surrounding Roy did not follow a particular architectural model. During the 1860’s and the 1870’s, log cabins were common, but in the 1880’s, schools were constructed with rough boards for siding. Most were one story high, rectangular in shape, with vertical or square windows, and a high interior ceiling. Roofing material was either shakes or shingles and pitched to shed rain or snow. A school bell mounted on the roof, or partially enclosed within a belfry, was common. More often than not, floor plans were haphazard. Whatever worked seemed the rule in arranging the room.

Schoolyards were usually roughly cleared fields with “Boys” and “Girls” outside toilets located at opposite corners of the yard. Generally, playfields were unfenced. During the late nineteenth century, playground equipment was limited to rocks, logs, a tree or two for swings, and an open space for running races of playing baseball. IN the early 1900’s, many schools installed wood frame swings. Water was drawn from a well or a spring and carried by bucket to the schools.

In the entry hall of most one-room schools were hooks to hang coats and hats, a washbasin on a stand, and a water pail with a community dipper. In the central room, there was the large pot-bellied stove, teacher’s desk, flag, recitation bench, unabridged dictionary, blackboards, reading and map charts, globe, and fifteen to twenty desks. Sometimes there was a bookcase against one of the walls.

The earliest school in the Harts Lake area was Horn Creek School. This pioneer school began in a 20’ by 30’ crude shack deep in the forest beside Horn Creek, which flows southwesterly, crossing the present Harts Lake Loop Road twice before flowing into the Nisqually River. The exact year of the school’s construction in unknown, but it was operating in 1884 as Pierce County School District No. 64. Like most one-room schools, enrollments at this school remained small, probably never exceeding 18 students in any year. During 1912, a new Horn Creek School was built about a mile farther up the creek on the north side of Kukuk Hill, at the present junction of the Loop Road and 364th Street. The new school operated until 1928. Then the building was sold for $60 and in 1930 was either moved or torn down.

Three miles south of Horn Creek School, a makeshift family school was started in the late 1880’s by Sophia Horsfall in her log cabin home. She and her husband, Benjamin, were immigrants from England, and they came to Washington Territory by way of Illinois in 1887. The Horsfalls became the first permanent homesteaders on “the point” of land that forms the north hillside of Harts Lake. Shortly afterwards, Loren Golding and his father Thomas, who were from Indiana, homesteaded on the east side of the lake. In the 1890’s, four new farm families settled in the Harts Lake area. S. A. Ravnum, originally from Norway, came by way of Dakota Territory; Robert Landis Golding, Loren’s brother, came from Indiana; Charles A. Maglaughlin from Texas; and George W. Howard from Missouri.

By the late 1890’s, a small schoolhouse with rough siding was built near the top of Bennett Hill. this first Harts Lake School was officially designated as Pierce County School District No. 50. Little is known about school like there, but four of the teachers were Jessie Sherman, J. A. Tibbitts, Ethel Shawl, and Martha Anderson.

Between 1900 and 1910, more settlers arrived. The Allens and the Bennetts came from Missouri, the Huttons from Kentucky, the Nixons from Kansas, the Moebiuses from Germany, the Smith from New Jersey, the Staffords from England, and the Wilcoxes from Canada by way of Pennsylvania. While many of the fourteen families had moved several times on their way west to Washington State, all of the settlers stayed permanently at Harts Lake, except for the Ravnums who sold to the Wilcoxes.

With the arrival of new settlers, Sophia Horsfall considered the small school on Bennett Hill too small and primitive. In 1905, she persuaded neighboring families to build a new school and playfield on two acres next to the Horsfall home. The new school differed from others in the Roy area. Instead of a single planked floor, volunteer builders installed three layers of planed lumber carted by wagon from the Horn Creek sawmill. Exterior walls were also planed and painted gray. Water was piped in from a nearby stream. Harts Lake was larger in size than most rural schools, better designed, and more attractive to the eye. Builders meant the school to be an enduring part of their community, and although its present condition reflects repair and partial reconstruction, the original craftsmanship is sill clearly evident.

Walking To School

Memories of students who attended Harts Lake and Horn Creek School provide graphic accounts of bygone days when a child’s education was intimately linked to farm and forest. Helen (Wilcox) Goldsmith, who attended Harts Lake School from 1916 through 1924, described what it was like to walk to Harts Lake School:

On a clear day, we could hear the school bell ring a half hour before school. It was a happy ring and we were off to a beautiful adventure in the woods [with] huge virgin Douglas fir trees all around us. We observed the changing seasons, felt the protection of the overhanging trees, and tasted sweet salal berries in the fall and wild strawberries in the spring. Occasionally, on a warm day we would stop, lie down on the thick green moss, and enjoy the foliage and the flowers.

Other former students recall taking a roundabout way to Harts Lake School to satisfy their curiosity or to walk with others. For example, Marjorie (Nixon) Burton, who went to Harts Lake from 1921 to 1927, recalls walking to and from school with other children who lived in a nearby logging camp. Once in a while they could ride a logging train which passed beside the school, a ride that was “a lot of fun” and added incentive to walk the extra mile and a half.

Because of the long walk to and from school, it was common during winter months for students to leave home when it was barely light ad return in the dark.  Rain and snow made walking troublesome, especially when pathways became flooded or icy.  Mona Helmer, teacher at Harts Lake in 1928-1929, remembers that winter was very cold, so cold Harts Lake froze and snow piled high on the ground.  Nonetheless, students frequently arrived early for school, and one morning when she unlocked the door at 8:00 a.m., she discovered the inside temperature was only 18 degrees above zero.

There were times when weather conditions were so severe that children were kept at home, but for the most part, winter travel to school was an expected inconvenience.  During snowy, cold weather the Wilcox children often rode three deep on a work horse to Harts Lake School.  The Loney children remember wearing boots to overcome constant water problems on the way to Horn Creek School from their family farm on the Allen Road.  In bad weather parents sometimes took their children to school in a wagon or sled pulled by a horse.  By the 1920s, a few students enjoyed the luxury of getting a ride to school in a car.  Yet, in the case of Gertrude (Horsfall) Smith, who attended Harts Lake during the 1914-1915 school year, living three miles away was too far.  She boarded with her grandparents during the week and went home on weekends.

Before logging camps came to Harts Lake in 1921, walks during early fall and spring were the most memorable.  Crisp air, autumn colors, clear streams, sounds and sights from the deep forests, and the profusion of spring growth gave students an unforgettable wilderness experience.  It was the time in Harts Lake history when nature clearly held the upper hand.  Walking to and from school students remember seeing deer, coyotes, squirrels, birds, and occasionally a bear.

A child’s wonder at seeing a bear on the way home from Horn Creek  School one day in 1905 was expressed in a forthright manner when Alfred Loney told his mother, “I saw a different kind of black dog walk across the road.”  His brother, Conrad, had a different experience with wildlife while on his way to the same school in 1910.  Conrad had a trap line that he checked every morning.  One day a large skunk, caught in a trap, made a direct hit on Conrad.  He continued his walk to school, but his stay was brief.  The teacher decided his contribution to education that day would be better served at home.

Sometimes the silence and loneliness of the woods unsettled the solo walker and even couples.  On windy days when trees rubbed against one another, or on rare occasions when a real or imaginary timber wolf or cougar was heard, but not seen, a boy or girl may have thought twice about walking to school the next day.

Eventually, loggers, locomotives, and fires, particularly the 1923 blaze at Harts Lake, eroded the overwhelming presence of the wilderness.  New logging camps, which provided housing for workers with families, increased school enrollments.  From 1905 until 1921 Harts Lake School enrollments ranged from 10 to 17 students, all from farming families.  When Logging Camp Nine was established by the McKenna Lumber Company near Harts Lake in 1922, enrollment increased to 19.  In 1923, the peak year in logging production, enrollment reached 31, but in 1924, dropped to 24.  After McKenna Lumber moved Camp Nine to Bald Hills in 1925, there were only 11 students.

According to Stanley Morris, who attended Harts Lake during 1921 and 1922, children living in logging camps “got along well” with students from farm families.  Morris’ father was a locomotive engineer who worked for the McKenna Lumber Company:

We lived in a small house mounted on skids along the railroad track.  When the camp moved they would load the house on a flat car and proceed to the next location…It was a great experience for a boy visiting the single loggers in their “bunkhouse.”  Another wonder to me was visiting the “cookhouse” where the loggers dined.  The amount and variety of the food was only equaled by their appetites after working in the woods all day.  As I remember the bounteous fare, they could even have pie or cake for breakfast.

School Days

The length of the school year and classroom hours were set by the Washington State Board of Education as part of its funding formula.  From 1905 until 1916 rural schools were required to hold school at least 100 days, usually from late September until the first week in May.  After 1916 the Board mandated 171 days so that school began during the first week of September and closed the second week in June.  Each school day started at 9:00 a.m. and ended at 3:30 p.m.  Within six and a half hours were five hours of instruction, two fifteen minute recesses, and a one-hour lunch period.

According to former students, it was customary at Harts Lake School for pupils to line up outside by grade level before starting classes.  George Nixon, who went to Harts Lake School from 1919 through 1923, remembers that first graders were at the front, and other grades followed with eighth graders last.  Stella (Bennett) Peissner attended the school between 1907 and 1914.  She recalls that girls and boys formed separate lines, marched in and stood at attention until the teacher gave permission to sit down.  Mrs. Peissner adds that they also stood up and marched out at the end of each day.

While proper decorum may have been the rule at the beginning and end of the school day, recess and lunch time were completely different.  Grace (Wilcox) Bargreen, who attended Harts Lake from 1915 to 1923, remembers leaving the schoolroom yelling “batter up!” and the first one to say it was first batter up.

After the morning flag salute, a song and calisthenics, the teacher devoted about a half hour to each class, beginning with first graders.  She explained lessons and listened to pupil recitations.  Marjorie (Nixon) Burton recalls when students were asked questions by the teacher during their half hour conference, frequently another student somewhere else in the room would answer before the assigned student.  While the teacher worked with each class, other grades kept busy at seat assignments posted on large blackboards.

The Washington State Board of Education required all teachers to post daily class assignments “in a conspicuous place in the school room.”  Board regulations also required pupils to do “regular exercises in composition and declamation.”  At Harts Lake School, the School Register records show that each student gave two recitations daily.  Of course there were learning activities in which all students participated.  Grace (Wilcox) Bargreen remembers, “In Geography the teacher would pull the big maps down over the blackboards and talk [to all of us] about our country and the world.”  According to Mrs. Bargreen, another teacher taught “measuring” by carrying a yardstick around the room and measuring everything while all eight grades watched and listened.

During the first years of the 20th century, school regulations prescribed top a standard curriculum for all of Washington state primary schools. Required subjects at each grade level include: Arithmetic, Geography, Grammar, Hygiene, Reading, spelling U.S. History, and writing.

Attempts are made to expand the basic curriculum offerings at both Harts Lake and Horn Creek. In 1915, Pierce County Superintendent of schools, Lee L. Benlow, instituted manual training that is industrial arts for boys and domestic science or home economics for girls Benbows innovations however did not last in rural schools. Manual training and domestic science were offered periodically after the first year probably because most rural teachers were un-prepared to teach these new subjects.

A second attempt to expand the curriculum at Harts Lake and Horn Creek was initiated by local school directors. Both school districts attempted to add high school classes. Horn creek offered 9th 10th and 11th grade classes from 1919 through 1922, but only four girls registered for these secondary classes. Mabel Martison was one of the participants. She recalls the difficulties in completing twelve grades in one-room schools:

I went one year to the old Horn Creek School, and then moved over to the new school, which was farther to walk to. Went to Brant School for the last month in the eighth grades to finish up and take the state exams.  Have a graduate certificate from that school. Then I returned to Horn Creek for the 9th, 10th and 11th grade. The school didn’t offer a 12th grade so we just quit going to school after that.

Harts Lake School also offered high school courses, but with the same results. During 1918 only one student reregistered for the 9th grade and no one enrolled in 1919 and 1920. In 1921, Bertha Gorlding, Adline Holt, and Marian Wilcox were taught 9th grade subjects by Hazel Holt. Bertha Golding recalls that “fizzled” attempt, “I wanted to be a nurse and take Latin and other courses that would help me reach my goal but the teacher did not know Latin, Marian and I went to Seattle to continue high school.”

A third attempt to change the curriculum cam from a national movement in the 1920s to change the teaching of reading from the phonics system to sight and sound this alteration stuck at the basic course in the educational program former harts lake teachers Mona Helmer and Louise Kuhlesr were firm advocates of teaching reading by phonics. Both Helmer and Kuhlers Continued to use “Bacon Phonics Charts,” and Kulhers added, “They were just wonderful.”

From the standpoint of student interest, there is little doubt that spelling was the most popular subject. Spelling “bees” were often held in the school, and created the same intense excitement that sports of today do.  Each upper grade student spent hours practicing spelling for the big moment. Those who successfully met the challenge had opportunities to compete with other schools, and work toward participation in county and statewide contests. Grace (Wilcox) Bargreen was the recognized Harts Lake spelling champion when she went to an inter-school “meet” which she remembers as “scary.”

Another subject that interested many students was geography which offered opportunities to draw and study maps. “Mental Arithmetic,” that is, adding, subtraction, and dividing without benefit of pencil and paper, also appealed to students. Often contests in other subjects were created by choosing sides and answering questions asked by the teacher.

An important advantage in attending Harts Lake School, as well as Horn Creek and other rural schools, was the pleasant convenience of outdoor learning. Sunny days during fall of spring were ideal to study plant and bird life, as well as trees, water, and rocks in nature’s own laboratory. Whether a first or eighth grader, the thrill of observing and discovering the flowers and forest environment was a stimulating experience. Helen (Wilcox) Goldsmith recollects, “The tiny Calypso lady-slipper was our favorite. There is not a better scent or more beautiful flower known to man. How sad we have been many times to realize it now is almost extinct, with the demise of the virgin timber.”

Chores, something all Harts Lake children were accustomed to at home, were also a part of school life. The older boys kept the fire in the pot-bellied stove burning by bringing in chopped firewood from the 20-to 25 cords stored in the shed outside. Girls helped the teacher prepare lunches, which were heated on the stove. At Harts Lake teachers and students prepared spaghetti, potato soup, macaroni and cheese, and other simple dishes. Horn Creek students preferred soup, particularly the brand Oxtail Soup. There were other chores such as raising and lowering the flag, cleanup after school and preparation for special holiday programs. Sometimes older students assisted the teacher with the lower grades by listening to the young read, spell, and do their multiplication tables. Occasionally, parents of students assisted the teacher.


School days were not all work. Playtime at both recess and lunch was eagerly awaited by students. Games played at Harts Lake and Horn Creek were basically the same enjoyed by all country schools during that era. Former students recall playing the following games: Anti-Over, Baseball, Beckon-in-the Woods, Drop-the-Handkerchief, Duck-on-the-Rock, Farmer-in-the-Dell, Foot Races, Fox-and-Geese, Hide-and-go-Seek, Hopscotch, Oats-Peas-Beans, Pump-Pump-Pull-Away, Ruth-and-Jacob, and Soccer. Gilbert Cloran, who attended Harts Lake from 1926 to 1929, recalls playing soccer beside the schoolhouse and keeping score on one of the building’s painted boards. “We always had to wash off [the score] after the game; even the little ones had to help.” George Nixon liked “Fox-and-Geese” best of all the games. All of the students but one formed into a big circle. They were the “foxes.” One student, the “goose,” stayed in the center. Each person in the circle tried to win by getting to the center without being touched by the “goose.” On the other hand, if the “goose” touched a “fox”, then they traded places. At first, Harts Lake students played on a small, unimproved piece of land adjacent to the Horsfall property. Later the area was graded into a schoolyard, but the playing surface still remained rocky.

Annual school picnics on the last day of school were attended by families, teachers, and students. Bertha (Golding) Smith fondly remembers anticipating the “big day.” “We looked forward to the picnic, and they were usually held down at the lake so that everyone could come and celebrate with us.” In addition to the “wonderful” food, there were foot races, which almost Always included “three-legged” competitions.  Stella (Bennet) Peissner, recalling her student days at Harts Lake, says that she was exceptionally fast because she trained for foot races by chasing cows.  Looking ahead to the annual picnic one year, one classmate remarked, “that’s the one time we get a candy bar for a prize,” but “you just as well give it to Stella because we’re not going to run, she’ll win anyway.”


The major cause of absenteeism from 1902 through 1930 was sickness.  If a student became ill at school, a cot was provided to lie on.  If the illness became more serious, another student accompanied the sick child to his or her home.  In those days, a home was quarantined by the county health officer if a member ad a communicable disease such as chicken pox, measles, mumps, whooping cough, or the flu.  If a sister or brother was quarantined, others living in the house were kept out of school as well, or as an alternative were under the care of a family doctor or treated with home remedies.

Students also missed school because of seasonal work demands on the family farm, severe weather conditions, or simply playing “hooky.”  Mabel (Loney) Martinson remembers an unusual day at Horn Creek when she and her teacher, Betty Carmen, walked to school together only to discover that no one else was there.  Apparently deep snowdrifts had kept the other children home.  The two of them held school anyway.

That day when Mabel (Loney) Martinson and Betty Carmen held school was not typical.  High attendance was common, even in the worst of weather, because for every day that school was cancelled, a day was subtracted from the Christmas or spring vacation.  Schools were paid on the basis of student daily attendance, and generally there was little leeway in budgets for lost days from the school calendar.


Discipline was a major concern of the Washington State Board of Education.  The Board’s instructions were specific about student behavior.  “Teachers shall maintain strict order and discipline in their schools at all times.  Any neglect of this requirement will be considered good cause for dismissal.”  Harts Lake teachers were required to note in the School Register the number of cases of corporal punishment, suspension, and expulsion.  From 1902 through 1915 Harts Lake teachers used corporal punishment ten times, and suspended two students, but no one was expelled.  Usually if a student misbehaved in the classroom, he or she was sent to the coat room as a disciplinary measure.

Of course students occasionally “got out of line,” played pranks, and tried to “get even’ with unpopular teachers.  Stella (Bennett) Peissner recalls one winter of discontent, about 1912, when it snowed continuously, Harts Lake froze over, and students were closed in with an “old crab” teacher.  The weather was so cold that students wanted to move nearer the stove.  However, the teacher objected, saying,” If you put on more clothes, you wouldn’t need to go over to the stove.”

The students gained “sweet revenge” on another winter day that same year.  During the lunch hour they were allowed to go “coasting” (sledding); on Bennett Hill.  Since the teacher was unfamiliar with the area the students told her to ring the bell when it was time to return.  Off they want laughing, shouting and “coasting” long past the end of lunch hour.  Whether the little rascals could hear the bell, or deliberately ignored it, no one is saying to this day.  When they failed to return on time, the teacher intercepted the mailman and asked for directions to Bennett Hill.  It was time for afternoon recess when she finally caught up with the hooky players.  The rest of the afternoon they sat in their seats memorizing poetry.

Otto Moebius was a student at Harts Lake between 1908 and 1913.  Moebius remembers a teacher who was “very easy with the rod.”  The slightest infringement of the rules earned a quick whack.  “One time,” he recalls, “I was sitting in back of Frank Horsalf and you know kids, they go and whisper.”  The teacher spotted us, and she came up and swung at me.  I ducked and he caught it.  ‘Pert’ near knocked him out.”

Up the road at Horn Creek School, Arthur Loney remembers asking his 5th grade teacher for help with arithmetic.  The answer he received was, “I’m too bus.  Do you want a licking?”  While that response was unmerited, his brother, Alfred, did deserve a reprimand from his Horn Creek teacher.  On the last day of school in 1914, he placed two firecrackers saved from the 1913 Fourth of July under the desk of a “bully-type” classmate.  When the explosion went off with a bang, the unsuspecting student “jumped at least two feet” in the air.  Even the teacher thought it was a “good joke” on the victim.

The Teachers

Before September 1, 1919, not even a high school diploma was required to be a Washington State teacher.  Prospective teachers took a test based on the State Course of Study.  If the applicants passed, their names were entered on the county teachers’ register.  Prospective teachers had to demonstrate derailed knowledge of reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, American history, and physiology, as well as Washington State School Law.

On November 10, 1900, the Tacoma Daily Ledger printed the teacher test after it had been administered and graded but the County Superintendent.  One of the mathematics story questions asked, “A pole was broken 52 feet from the bottom, and it fell so that the end struck 39 feet from the foot.  Required, the length of the pole.”  An English composition question asked prospective teachers to “Give an example of a complex interrogative sentence; of a complex imperative sentence.”  A geography question required candidates to “Sketch a map of Washington showing (a) the mountain ranges, (b) four largest cities, (c) two largest rivers, (d) two principal railroad lines, (e) boundary.”

Once past the contemporary examination, successful candidates were placed on the Count Teacher’s Register.  The Register listed an applicant’s name, test grades, age, birthplace, and teaching experience.  School Board members consulted the Register, interviewed registrants, and signed a contract with the person of their choice.  The contract was countersigned by the school district clerk who sent a copy to the County Superintendent.

Invariably, one-room schools were taught by young females taking their first step toward a teaching career.  Seldom did the beginning schoolmistress stay longer than the initial year.  It was mentally demanding to teach eight different grades in one room.  Louise (Wall) Kuhlers flatly states, “No teacher is ever prepared to teach all grades at once.”  She went on to explain, “I did the best I could. I wasn’t afraid of the woods and isolated location, but to face those students in all those grades was a bit frightening.”

Teaching in a one-room school could also be physically exhausting. In addition to instructing, teacher contracts specified janitorial duties. And the teacher was responsible for planning, hosting, and clean-up of the Halloween, Christmas, and spring programs. Besides there assignments, evening hours were spent preparing subject lesson plans for each grade level. Despite these numerous duties, one-room teachers such as Louise Kuhlers and Mona Helmer appreciated the direct and daily contact with students. Neither ever regretted beginning their professional careers at Harts Lake.

The first teacher records of Harts Lake date from 1902, when the old schoolhouse on top of Bennett Hill was still in operation. Beginning on October 6, 1902, and ending March 6, 1903, J.A. Tibbits taught seven students ranging age from seven to seventeen. Those students were Claude Ayers, Edwin Golding, Arthur Horton, Fred G. Howard, and the three Ravnums, Albert, Harry, and Susie. This Harts Lake class barely achieved the requirement of seven students, the minimum at that time to qualify a school district for state financial support. Tibbitts taught the prescribed Washington State Course of Study, and received $35 a month.

Since there were no Parent Teacher Associations in the early years, parents demonstrated interest by visiting the school several times each year. Parents signed the Harts Lake School Register, but did not write comments. Because there was no district superintendent or school principal, the Pierce County Superintendent of Schools were required by state law to annually inspect each rural schoolhouse. After the inspection, the County Superintendent sent a written report to the local school directors. The County Superintendent’s report analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of instruction, student performance, and budget, as well as the physical condition of the school and its equipment.

Periodically, the Harts Lake School Board visited the school and held open meetings to discuss problems and ascertain needs. The principal responsibility of the board was hiring a teacher; however, other duties included developing and managing the school budget, ordering supplies, and supervising the maintenance of the building and equipment.

A study of Harts Lake budgets from 1918 to 1930 reveals how the school was financed. In 1923-1924, the school enrolled 31 students. That year the school started with $1,155.76 cash on hand. During the year, the district received $722.81 from the state, $406.87 from the county, and $875.51 from the local millage. Expenses were $1,170 for the teacher’s salary, $94.20 for instructional materials, $183.37 for maintenance costs, and $20 for insurance. There was $559.40 in uncollected taxes from the previous year. The school had neither bonded indebtedness nor a building fund. During the twelve years studied, the board never overspent its budget.

In contrast, Horn Creek School, which had 9 students in 1923-1924, received $279.60 state aid, $174.13 county support, and $476.52 local millage.  The teacher’s salary was $1,165, while instructional materials and operating costs approximated Harts Lake.  Horn Creek’s contingency fund, $230.79, was used to help balance its accounts.

School district board members were elected for one-year terms until 1912, when the State Legislature changed their tenure to three years.  harts Lake School had a stable board.  During its 28 years, John N. Allen served 20 years, Robert Landis Golding 17 years, Sophia Horsfall 9, William Horsfall 11, and Judson M. Wilcox 12.  Sophia Horsfall also served as the school district clerk for 17 years.

At the end of each school year, Harts Lake teachers were required to count all books and supplies.  The completed list was handed to the School District 306 Clerk.  In turn, the Clerk and School District Directors, after personally surveying the school’s property, signed the School Register confirming that the “movable property inventory” and school records were in proper order.

The Harts Lake School Register notes that Tibbitts was followed by Martha G. Anderson in 1903-1904, and then Ethel G. Shawl during 1904-1905.  They were paid $35 a month for 20 week terms.  Enrollment for both school years remained low, only eight students registered with Miss Anderson and six with Miss Shawl.  Under the direction of teachers Anderson and Shawl a library was started at the school.  The Abbe Constantin, Prue and I, Donovan, Bird World, The Minute Boys of Lexington, How to Make the Best of Life, Good Manners and Success, The Little Lame Prince, and Pilgrim’s Progress were the first books purchased for outside student reading.

Beginning October 16, 1905, both teachers and students enjoyed better facilities.  Minnie (Horsfall) Porter remembers no special ceremony took place when she and fifteen other students moved to the new schoolhouse on the north shore of the lake.  The following were classmates in the new school:

Jens Christensen      Grade 1          Dewey Hutton                       Grade 2

Laura Christensen    Grade 2          Lessie Hutton                        Grade 7

Maggie Christensen Grade 4          Maggie Hutton                      Grade 7

Earl Golding              Grade 1          Minnie Hutton                      Grade 6

Edwin Golding           Grade 4          Annie Larsen                         Grade 5

Minnie Horsfall         Grade 1          Albert Ravnum                     Grade 6

Fred Howard             Grade 7          Harry Ravnum                     Grade 6

Arthur Hutton          Grade 4          Susie Ravnum                       Grade 6

The first teacher in the new school was Charlotte Driskell who received $45 a month for the seven-month school year.  Records indicate Miss Driskell did a commendable job and was rehired at $50 a month for 1906-1907.

For more than two decades following Charlotte Driskell’s pacesetting years, twenty-one women teachers met the basic educational needs of Harts Lake students.  Overall, the Board hired well-qualified teachers.  According to the Pierce County Teachers’ Register, six were university graduates, eight held “Life Teaching Certificates,” four qualified for “Second Grade Certificates,” and three were temporarily certified.

Mobility was the prime characteristic of teachers at Harts Lake, Horn Creek, and other one-room schools in the area.  Of the twenty-one teachers who taught at Harts Lake from 1905-1930, only Ann Beckwith, Charlotte Driskell, Retta Chambers, and Claire Giblin stayed longer than one year.

Salaries were an important cause for teachers leaving rural schools.  From 1902 until 1920, the monthly teachers’ salary at Harts Lake increased from $35 to $85 a month.  By 1930, the last year the school operated, pay was $115 a month.  In comparison with salaries paid other Washington State female teachers for the same years, Harts Lake School Directors paid $5 a month higher than the state average.  Urban schools, however, dominated the highest end of the salary scale and provided more incentives.  Since rural schools paid less than cities, it came to be expected that most country schoolteachers would move after a year into higher paying city positions.

Living conditions were another cause of high teacher turnover in Roy area one-room schools.  Many teachers were without their own means of transportation, unaccustomed to staying away from home for long periods, and required to bed and board at farm residences.  Nineteen of the twenty-one Harts Lake teachers stayed next door to the schoolhouse at the Horsfalls.  The Horsfalls were hospitable and willing to help, but young city girls found farm life trying.  The diet was restrictive, and the social routine was limited to an occasional dinner out with another farm family, or  an evening playing cards with the Horsfalls.

During the early 1900’s, if a teacher needed to go on a weekend to Tacoma or Puyallup, it was quite an undertaking.  She had to have someone take her to the McKenna or Roy train station by horse and buggy, then come back and get her when she returned on Sunday evening.

Teacher mobility and social life improved during the late 1920s.  Mona Helmer recalls going to a movie and having a soda afterwards on Wednesday nights in McKenna with Joe Allen.  Joe was the same age, 19, and owned a Model T. Louise (Wall) Kuhlers bought her brother’s Ford before she started teaching at Harts Lake, and made the round trip between Tacoma and harts Lake every weekend.  Even with improved transportation most teachers moved on, either to marry, find another teaching job, continue their formal education, or find a new career.

Although there was high teacher turnover, records demonstrate that harts Lake teachers taught basic skills adequately.  According to former students, several were superior teachers.  Stella (Bennett) Peissner vividly remembers Leona Taylor, who taught only the 1901-1911 school year at Harts Lake.  Miss Taylor was a former high school teacher from the East who happened to be visiting the Wilcox’s when she learned that the school district was having a difficulty filling the teaching position.  She applied, was hired, and spent the year gaining student respect and admiration.  Referring to Miss Taylor and the two other teachers, Mrs. Peissner reports:

They were just wonderful teachers, they had everybody interested in learning, and when it came to recess time they’d get out and play just as hard as we kids did.  They joined in all the games and things we played and they were just that way.  I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t like those teachers.

Both George Nixon and Stanley Morris remember Margaret Mossford as a “very good” teacher with special ability to help students having trouble learning their lessons.  Bertha (Golding) Smith considers Mae Chambers “a very dedicated teacher” who spent her life educating the young.  And Helen (Wilcox) Goldsmith recalls her best teacher was Mattie Emory who, while strict, taught the girls to weave with needle, and thread.  Miss Emory was also the favorite teacher of Marion Klarich.  Born in Austria’s Slovenia province, Klarich had only been in the United States six months when he started school at the harts Lake in 1921.  Miss Emory saw to it that Klarich and the two Stinich girls, Anna and Mary, learned to read and write English.  Klarich says he had already learned to speak English around the lumber camp, though some of the words were not “proper English”.

Teacher and student pride in their schools became readily apparent when special programs took place.  During holidays, picnics, graduations, and other social events, harts Lake School became the center of community social life.  Families “spruced up” for the performances, after which all shared in fine food and good conversation.  According to George Nixon, “Everyone, including residents without children, attended the festivities.”  The Christmas program was “the high point of the year” as Edgar Prescott describes in his history of the Wilcox family:

The pupils were busy weeks ahead-making chains of colored paper, cutting out stars and lanterns to decorate the tree which on the long awaited night gleamed with lighted candles.  A bucket of water nearby was considered an adequate safety precaution in those days.  Santa passed out bags of hard candy; each pupil had his or her time upon the stage.  Finally, after a round of carols, candles extinguished, the schoolhouse dark, parents and children returned along rutted roads to their homes.


As long winter nights and confining days gave way to spring, there was a renewal of energy both in the community and in the schoolhouse.  To students, spring brought thoughts of summer when they could disperse to other activities.  For eighth graders, the end of school meant state examinations and earning coveted graduation certificates.  Mona Helmer recalls taking two 8th graders on a boat ride and picnic lunch between exams during June, 1929.

A comparison of Harts Lake students with others who took statewide examinations from 1906 through 1930 indicates that, overall, Harts Lake eighth graders consistently ranked above the state average.  In 1906, Lessie Hutton and Fred Howard were the first harts Lakes students to take the exams.  Both Lessie and Fred were outstanding, that is, above the 90%, in reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, and physiology.  Both received above average grades of 80% in grammar and geography, and average grades of 70% in civics and U.S. History.

The 1906 Washington State Eighth Grade Examinations took place on May 18 and 19.  One of the spelling questions asked students to correctly use in sentences the following words:  contented, satisfied, abstinence, temperance, oration, harangue, education, instruction, economy, and parsimony.  A typical grammar question required students to analyze and diagram the following couplet:  “He prayeth best, who loveth best.  All things, both great and small.”

In the reading section, one of the questions required students to write four “memory gems” in not less than 20 words each, and one question in the history and civics part had students define primary nomination, woman’s suffrage, and local option.  The physiology section asked students to describe what they would do for an “apparent drowning,” and one of the math questions asked students to find out the earned interest on $1,275 for 3 years, 2 months, and 15 days at 8 per cent.

The highest grade on state examinations earned by a Harts Lake student occurred in may 1924, when Helen Wilcox scored 833 out of a possible 880 points.  Helen ranked 28th among 469 Pierce County students passing the examination.  From 1906 through 1930, all Harts Lake students who took the eighth grade examinations passed, a notable tribute to themselves, their teachers and parents.  Customarily, a small celebration followed the announcement of eight grade examination results at the school.  Most graduates ended their formal education at the point.  Others went to Roy or Yelm high schools, and a few continued their education at the college level.  Quickly, their years at Harts Lake School became only memories.

End on An Era

By 1880, the one-room school was the basic unit or rural education in Washington State.  Yet, in less than fifty years most country school-houses had closed.  The motorized school bus, a part of early 20th Century automotive technology, gradually ended the need for schools to be within walking distance.  Recently, George Nixon recalled the coming of the school bus to Harts Lake:

I drove the first school bus out of Harts Lake.  The car was made out of an old army wagon put on a Model T in 1925.  I drove it to Roy.  had a full load of 25 students.  Went by way of harts Lake to Pincus Hop Ranch and then into Roy.  Picked up children all along the route.  Most of them were high school, but some were grade school kids I picked up.  I went to school too.

Coinciding with the appearance of the school bus on rural roads was mounting criticism in Washington State that one-room schools were failing not only rural children but also their communities.  During 1921, a special educational commission reported to the governor and legislature that there was a “rural school problem.”  The commission cited dilapidated school buildings, low enrollments, lack of teacher preparation, low salaries, and student studies unrelated to rural life.  The special commission also noted that one-room school districts were becoming too expensive to operate.  For example, in 1921 rural Pierce County’s cost per student was $18.45 higher than the City of Tacoma.  The most startling statement made by the commission charge:

The rural school is no longer a community center for rural life.  The “literary societies” and “spelling bees” of primitive times are almost unknown.  The rural school is no longer a stimulating, organizing, socializing force in the community.

No doubt many communities challenged this conclusion and the entire report itself.  While the commission report did not apply closely to Harts Lake, which continued as a school for another ten years and as a community center for forty years, it did signify the beginning of the end for most country schools.  In Pierce Country, 55 one-room schools operating at the turn of the century had dropped in number to 33 by 1924, and to 17 by 1930.

Actually, before 1920 country schools were being phased out in the Roy area.  As early at 1905, Roy School District 305 was created when old Roy District 34 merged with Dominique Prairie District 78.  The few students attending the latter school were transported the short distance to Roy by horse and wagon.  Nonetheless, during that same year, 1905, the new Harts Lake School was constructed, and even later, in 1912, the second Horn Creek School was built.  Since those two country schools were over ten miles from Roy, Harts Lake and Horn Creek operated longer than the other one-room schools in the area.  Still, Horn Creek School was unable to attract enough students to operate beyond 1928.  During 1930 the last Roy area country school, Harts Lake, contemplated whether to consolidate with a larger district.  George Nixon, who was farming in the area at the time, recalls the year of decision:

It was a time when there was a big controversy over Harts Lake.  Yelm wanted it, and Roy too, for the tax revenues.  Both had more classes, especially manual training and agriculture, which appealed to the students.  They also had 4H.  Yelm was the larger school.  The army ruined Roy by taking all the prime land, and people left.  The Harts Lake people wanted to go with who could offer the most for their children.

Another factor that influenced the consolidation issue was the decline of population in southwest Pierce County.  Between 1920 and 1930 over 100 people left the area.  One reason is that logging began to taper off in the company camps between McKenna and Harts Lake.  Another contributing factor, especially after 1929, was a decrease in the number of family farms because of bank foreclosures.  It was the beginning of the Great Depression.

Harts Lake School enrollment between 1925 and 1930 was erratic.  Although there were 20 students in both the 1926 and 1927 school years, only 14 came in 1928.  The lowest enrollment since 1904 occurred in 1929 when only six students registered.  Furthermore, enrollment decline forced the cost for educating Harts Lake students in their one-room school to the prohibitive level.  The 1930 Harts Lake School budget was $5,374.01; almost four times higher than the total 1929 budget of $1,422.07.  Local tax assessment had increased the most, from $582.45 in 1929 to $2,305.52 in 1930.  Recognizing the dual advantages of lower taxes and a more comprehensive curriculum for their children, Harts Lake citizens decided to consolidate with another school district.

Both Roy and Yelm School Districts offered to consolidate with Harts Lake, but Pierce County Superintendent of Schools Howard J. Fisher insisted the first vote should be on a merger of Harts Lake with McKenna Schools.  On May 3, 1930, Harts Lake and McKenna citizens voted 37 to 0 in favor of forming District No. 341.

Harold Snodgrass was a first grade student at Harts Lake the year the school closed.  He remembers very little discussion at home on the consolidation issue.  His sadness about Harts Lake closing ended “when a brand-new 1930 Dodge Brothers school bus pulled up in front of the farm.”  Snodgrass, along with twe3lve other Harts Lake students and their teacher Louise Sommers, all went to the four-room school at McKenna to begin the fall term in 1930.  In 1942 McKenna School District consolidated with Yelm District, and today, Harts Lake students are bussed to Yelm.  Thus ended the saga of Harts Lake’s one-room school.  From 1899 until 1930, approximately 150 young people had received their basic education and made life-long friendships.

A final question may be asked about the one-room schools in the Harts Lake area.  To what extent did they offer quality education?  There is no doubt that attending a one-room school held a distinct advantage over urban classrooms from the standpoint of student contact with teacher and older pupils.  Stanley Morris, who not only attended Harts Lake School, but also another one-room school at Purdy, as well as Parkland Elementary and Lincoln high School in Tacoma, recently compared the different schools he attended:

My impression of the one-room schools is that what they may have lacked in fancy buildings, they more than made up for in the unique environment that they furnished.  There were three in my class [at Harts Lake School]:  William Moe, Helen Wilcox and myself.  Being in a small class, it seemed easier to learn.  Miss Mossford, the teacher, was a very good teacher and if one needed more help, the older children would help you.  I believe that the older students felt that they were kind of responsible to set an example for the younger ones.  This tended to create a warm fraternal learning atmosphere.

It is no wonder that those who had attended one-room schoolhouses came to look back on their school days with pride and nostalgia.  They were not alone.  Across the nation the idea of “the little red schoolhouse” had already gripped the American mind.  Since it was an integral part of the pioneer experience, we think of the one-room school as a symbol of rugged but healthy and honest traits:  hard-fought independence, and enduring work ethic, and down-to-earth neighborliness.  In retrospect, we are left with the conclusion that the one-room school tradition did indeed reflect those traits.


This small book is based primarily on 28 interviews gathered in 1983 and 1984 from former students, teacher, and townspeople who lived in the Roy area between 1905 and 1930.  The personal recollections of former students were fundamental in recreating farm, school, and town life during that era.  Moreover, personal interviews with three former Harts Lake School teachers, Eudocia (Bair) Leech, Louise (Wall) Kuhlers, and Mona Helmer, added an important dimension to the book.

Interviews with former and long-time Roy area residents were also valuable in providing historical, social, and economic perspectives of the Roy-McKenna-Harts Lake area.  Especially important were the extensive files in the Charles Throssell Collection which are located at Pacific Lutheran University.  Throssell was a Rural Free Delivery mailman in Roy for 41 years.  He kept detailed records of homesteads, townbuilders, pioneer schools, mail routes, and other items of historical interest.

Statistics concerning Roy and surrounding farms were drawn from Pierce County Directories for the years 1911 through 1915, the Oregon and Washington Gazetteer and Business Directory from 1903 through 1915, and the Washington State Farmers’ Directory, Pierce County, 1921-1922. All are located in the Northwest Room of the Tacoma Public Library.

County plat maps proved to be an important research aid.  Kroll’s Atlas of Pierce County, 1915, and Metsker’s Atlases of Pierce County for the years 1924, 1936, and 1941 were particularly helpful in locating precisely schoolhouse sites and changes in land ownership.  Other useful maps were found in  D.H. White and Sons, Map of Pierce County, Washington, 1928; Wichersham’s Township Plats of Pierce County, 1900; and Fred G. Plummer, Plummer’s Complete Atlas of the County of Pierce, Washington, 1889.  These maps are available in the Northwest Room of the Tacoma Public Library.

Available copies of weekly newspapers published in Roy between 1911 through 1930 gave excellent accounts of day-to-day happenings in Roy, and to some extent the Harts Lake community.  These newspapers were The Buzz Saw, Roy Enterprise, and Roy Recorder.

Two unpublished manuscripts proved valuable as reference guides.  Walter Kunschak’s, “The History of the Roy School District” (M.A. Thesis, Pacific Lutheran University, 1959), and Edgar Prescott’s “Judson’s Family:  A Record of the Wilcoxes,” (1967).

Secondary sources consulted were W.P. Bonney, History of Pierce County, Washington, 3 volumes, Chicago, 1927; Harry Johnson, Washington Schools in the Good Old Days, Olympia, 1969; Charles H. Seaver, Washington State Supplement, (Second Book), New York, 1911; and Denise C. Troth, History and Development of Common School Legislation in Washington, Seattle, 1927.

Teachers: Up Close and Personal

Most of us can remember educators who made a difference, delivered meaningful lessons, or related fascinating stories from their lives. We don’t know much about the teaching techniques or curriculum of Yelm’s 19th century teachers, but we have been able to find out some interesting information about the lives of a number of those instructors. In this section we will look at some of Yelm’s fascinating instructors.

First, however, an overview of teaching in the late 19th century.

Pioneer Teachers

Dillis B. Ward

J.C. Conine

Ada Woodruff Anderson

Fay Fuller

Edith Corbett

Amelia Dittman