The Souvenir of Western Women/Some Early Oregon Schools
Some Early Oregon Schools
By MARIANNE HUNSAKER D'ARCY
EARLY in the spring of 1846 our parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Himsaker, started from Illinois with their family of five children to "cross the plains," my mother driving a light two-horse wagon with her small children in it. They were part of a large "company" from the prairie state.
As soon as they could safely leave the "company" east of the Cascade Mountains, they pushed on alone over the "Barlow road," theirs being the first wagon to come directly over—from the plains across. How well I remember the momentous event, to us children, of getting our wagon down Laurel Hill by means of ropes, one end tied to the wagon and the other around a tree, while father, with the assistance of mother and brother Horton, would slowly lower it to a place where the horses could safely draw it again.
But I must go on to my school. We went directly past Oregon City to the Molalla, where we found shelter in a log cabin of two rooms (more than one was a luxury in those days), and one was generously given "the emigrants." The first thing after a shelter was to get in a fall crop. That accomplished, the men of the neighborhood put up a primitive log schoolhouse with puncheon floor, rock-stick-and-mud fireplace and chimney, benches made of puncheons with holes bored and pegs stuck in for legs; no windows, no desks, no table.
Father came home one evening and told us they had the teacher engaged to begin school, a man by the name of Snyder. "I must go to Oregon City to-morrow," he said, "and get the children some books and leather to make shoes." Each man was his own family shoemaker in those days. Ah! what pleasure at the thought of shoes and books! How anxiously were we looking as the time drew near for his return; but evening came and no father. It grew dark; we waited, we watched, Ave listened. The weird, lone sound of wolves was all that greeted us. It must have been 9 o'clock w^hen we heard his welcome voice calling for Horton to come and get the parcels while he went on to put his horse away.
What queer-looking books they were—long rolls of what seemed to be paper, simply printed newspaper, and that was what kept him so late, waiting for them to be printed. How carefully and, it seemed to me, reverently, mother opened the parcel, and how disappointed we were to see the books.
After mother had given father his supper she went to work folding, sewing and pasting our books, while father busied himself taking the measure of our feet for shoes. We went to bed leaving them thus employed by the light of the open fire and tallow candles, or perhaps a tin cup or plate with grease in it and a twisted rag-string burning.
When I awakened next morning it seemed to me they had been working all night, for there sat father at work on the shoes, while mother was preparing the breakfast; on the table were our books. Oh! such lovely books, covered with a piece of one of mother's worn-out calico dresses, her prettiest dress, I thought. No city boy or girl could be more pleased with their nice new books than we were. And the rapture of it! Such cute thumb-papers in each! What boy or girl nowadays knows what a thumb-paper is? Simply a piece of paper folded in fanciful shape. Happy were those who could boast a pretty colored one that would be too good for every-day use. In holding our books while studying, the paper rested under the thumb and saved wearing the book.
Father had only finished one pair of shoes (Horton's); the rest of us were barefooted, and there was a light fall of snow on the ground, but there was no talk of staying at home. Horton went ahead and scraped one foot along, thus clearing the snow from a path for us small girls to walk in. I have often wondered if we cried with our cold feet. I have no recollection of doing so. Perhaps the thought of our books, thumb-papers, and school kept us from noticing our feet. Any way, before school was out that afternoon father was at the schoolhouse with our shoes slung over his shoulders, and how proudly we put them on in front of the fire, with the other children interested onlookers. Whether we had stockings or not I do not recall.
I cannot say how long Mr. Snyder taught, but my first recollection of gingerbread was while he was teaching. There was some talk of fastening him out if he did not "treat" (according to some custom), and he sent to Oregon City and got gingerbread. It was a treat to be remembered for years. After Mr. Snyder closed his school. Miss Allie Cornelius taught us for a brief period.
In 1847, I think, father built a sawmill on the Columbia, and moved his family there, but sold out after a few months, and we came sailing and rowing up the river in a flatboat, past the new town of Portland, to Green Point, just below Oregon City. He chose that place because he had heard that the Sisters of Notre Dame had opened a school for girls there. We were soon enrolled as day pupils, and in a short time as boarders; for father built another sawmill on the Washougal, and he and mother, with the two younger children, had gone there. What a trio of poor little homesick girls, mere babes, the eldest not more than 9 years old! It was here I first saw Dr. McLoughlin, who often came to visit the school with his daughter, Mrs. Rae, afterward Mrs. Harvey, whose two daughters were also boarders there. There, too, we made the acquaintance of our worthy Dr. Barclay and his lovely bride, who, as the years went by, grew even more lovely in person and in character. Here were gathered children from all over the Oregon country, whose parents in many cases were in the gold fields of California, trusting their children to the care of the Sisters.
In November, 1849, our parents came back from the Washougal mill and settled on the dear old place which was to be the future home of the family. And I think it was the next year that Mr. Fisher, a Baptist minister, opened a school in the Baptist Church in the lower end of the town, just across the street from the Sisters' school. He had for his assistant his daughter, Lucy Jane, who was my teacher, and was greatly loved by all her pupils. Mr. Fisher, to my youthful mind, was very austere, and when Lucy Jane turned the third reader class over to him, after our second failure in spelling and definitions, it was a dreadful moment to me. He kept us after school, and in dismissing us said in his most impressive voice: "H' this lesson is not correctly recited to-morrow I shall make you boys take off your coats and I shall flog you and, as for you, miss (pointing to me), I shall ferrule your hands."
Never shall I forget the fright and humiliation I felt. All the way homeI prayed to be able to recite the lesson, and all the evening, and through my broken sleep, was a continual prayer. But the next morning I said nothing to any one about it, fearing to be blamed for not doing my duty. My attention was arrested by hearing father say :
"Mother, the new teachers from the states are here and are to open a school for girls in the Congregational Church this morning. Suppose we send the girls to them, and let Horton continue at the other school."
My very breath stopped for the answer, and such a relief, when, after a short talk over it, they decided to make the change. Never a lighter-hearted girl started for school than I on that morning.
These teachers had come out in a ship from the East. Two of them were to teach in Oregon City in the seminary, but as the building was not completed they taught at first in the church.
How happily and gladly I walked past the Baptist Church with father to the new school. Never did a face look sweeter or pleasanter to me than Miss Lincoln's homely features that morning, meeting us at the door with outstretched hands. Her mouth extended across her face as she smilingly said, "And are these little girls to be our pupils?" and giving us each a kiss of welcome, introduced us to her assistant, Miss Smith. They were both old maids, as were the other teachers who came out with them, but they did not long enjoy that distinction. Miss Lincoln afterward married Judge Skinner and lived long in Oregon. Miss Smith married a Mr. Beers, living somewhere near Salem. Miss Vaughn, one of two sisters, married Mr. Facler, an Episcopal clergyman.
As soon as a room in the seminary was ready the school was transferred to it, and the remainder of the building was occupied as it was finished. Our late lamented Judge Shattuck brought his bride and began his work on this coast in that seminary. There their first child, a daughter, was born, and we were all permitted to go in and see the new baby, as a part of the building was fitted up for housekeeping and for boarding pupils. Later there was a division in the school, Mr. Shattuck taking charge of the boys and Miss Clark the girls.
In the early '50s the Sisters closed their school and returned to Canada.
Mr. Fisher's school continued under the Rev. Geo. C. Chandler. In this school originated, I think, the first thought of the Baptist college, which afterward found a permanent home at McMinnville.
The seminary was continued as a day and boarding school for girls under different teachers until the advent of Francis E. Hodgson, when boys were admitted.
Throughout the Oregon country, and far beyond, are scattered those who attended these early schools. The number included many people of wealth and of influence who have filled high positions in social and civic life, and many, very many, have passed on across the borderland of time.
THE NATATORIUM, BOISE, IDAHO