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School days

Memoirs by Pearl Puppmillier, South Dakota homesteader and teacher: School Days
Pearle after the horseless carriage replaced her saddle horse, although she preferred riding her horse to her teaching duties.

Pearle Peppmuller was a homesteader and a teacher in early Meade County, South Dakota Schools, and wrote the following memoir:

When I first started teaching about 1918 there were no organized schools as such, therefore, I had to get out and hustle up the seven pupils required by law before a school could be started. There were few children at that time, but I managed to get enough signed to start a school.

The school house was an abandoned claim shack, no equipment whatsoever, but we managed by supplying our own, a few chairs, a couple small tables, a board painted black answered for a blackboard. We had no books or writing material except what we brought from home. Fortunately these children were all small, so it was not hard to teach them to read, write, spell, and do simple problems. However, the school was only a short term one as two families moved away leaving only Evelyn Seifert and Malcolm Jehlen.

The next school was also a short three month term whose owner had proved up on his claim and left. It was in a dugout, the “house” partly built into the side of a hill about seven miles from home. Mrs. John Magnuson cleaned the place up as best as she could the day before school started. Two of her children, Amelia and Herbert, were my pupils. I was a little apprehensive about one of my pupils, Dewey Wilcox, as I had heard that he was a rather wild character, but he proved to be otherwise, a regular thirteen year old boy who loved to ride his saddle horse at top speed.

Cold winter

It was a cold winter, there was no fuel supplied. The children and I had to pick up twigs and branches from a nearby creek to burn in the tiny stove. I don’t think we were comfortable at any time. I rode horseback part of the time, but drove Baldy hitched to the buggy, too. It was so cold that it seemed my fingers and toes almost froze in spite of the hot iron I carried wrapped on my lap when I drove.

The next school was a spring term, the Win Wilcox School, about seven or eight miles from home, southwest, quite a ride back and forth, but I was used to riding so I didn’t mind it. While this building was a former claim owner’s house, it was a much better equipped school than the others, as we had good desks, blackboards, and more books.

There were three Robinson children, two Wilcox children, and I have forgotten the rest. One little incident that happened here one day was when eight year old Christine Wilcox threw a number of small pieces of paper on the floor and left them there at recess time, so I kept her in after the others had gone out to play. It was a beautiful day and I asked her why she did such a thing when she knew it was not a nice thing to do. She looked at me a minute, then the poor little thing began to cry, and sobbingly said that “her mama calls Norma ‘Honey Bunch,’ but she never calls me ‘Honey Bunch’.” I asked her to come up to the desk. She did, still sobbing, saying that “nobody likes me.” I put my arms around her and put her on my lap and told her that perhaps the reason her mother called Norma “Honey Bunch” is that she is smaller and assured her that I liked her and to prove it I gave her an orange I happened to have for my lunch that day. From then on she was one of the dearest sweetest friends one could want to have.

Going home from this school one day, I stopped at the Clough Store to pick up a few things. When I went out to get on my pony, a bronco named Babe, I accidentally struck her on the right flank with my spur. She had been trained to buck when this happened, so she proceeded to do so right then. As I had only the left foot in the stirrup I lost my balance, and my dignity, and flew off over her head, which bled a little. Mrs. Childs had seen this from the window and screamed about “that pony killing Pearle.” They, of course, came out, took me in the store and Henry Wildberger, who happened to be there at the time, jumped on his horse and started out after Babe who was halfway home. When Henry caught up with her, she was standing beside the barn door waiting to get in. Instead she had to come back with him and take me home. I was a little more careful after that about throwing my spur around while getting into the saddle.

Chaffee School

I taught the Chaffee School about 1925, which was about five miles from home if I cut across, and this was the first real schoolhouse, much better equipped than any of the previous ones, a shed for coal, plenty of books, even a water pail and dipper. Of course, I was my own janitor at all the schools. This was also an interesting school. Pupils were Francis and Vinal Chaffee, Nadine, Althea and Edison Cogan, Nellie, Wilbur and Pearl Liston. Most of them rode horseback to school, usually two to a horse. In the spring there was a pond not too far from the schoolhouse, and those youngsters would ride their horses out in the middle of it, turn them around end to end and make them kick at one another. What some kids won’t do! I had an aggravating experience here. This time it was my saddle horse, Bonnie. By cutting across going home I had to open a gate near the school house yard. One night after I got through the gate, for some reason, I dropped the reins to close it, and what does that horse do but start for home without me. For all the coaxing and pleading I could do, she kept just a few steps ahead of me all the way home, holding her head sideways most of the time to keep from stepping on the dragging reins. She too stopped at the barn door just as Babe had done before. I usually changed shoes, but being in a hurry to get home that particular night, I did not take time to change, so ended up with a blistered heel as well as a pretty bad disposition. The Chaffee School was the first nine months term that I had.

–Editor’s note: Watch future issues for more of Ms. Peppmuller’s (a great aunt to Glen Hollenbeck) memories