Friday, January 22, 2016

Delia Wing's Story: May School in the 1880s

Wild plums grew in Warren Township thickets during the 1880s --- and still do. These were found in August 2015.
This is the last story of early days in Warren Township's May crossroads community that I have up my sleeve --- for the moment.

The story-teller is Delia Alice (Wing) McCollough, who moved into the neighborhood during 1880, age 11, with her family, then struggling to make a living on rented land after being driven back to Iowa from Kansas some years earlier by a crop failure. Her story was published in The Herald-Patriot of May 6, 1937, during the year that followed William DeForrest Gay's multi-part memoir of growing up in the same neighborhood.

Delia's parents were Casper Wister and Frances Jane "Fanny" (Allard) Wing and she had six siblings who survived childhood --- older sister, Nora (Spencer) and younger sister, Truthful (Malsburg), and brothers Robert, Doctor Seneca (Doctor was a given name, not a title), Joseph Thomas and Casper Lee. There also were at least two children who died young, buried at Goshen Cemetery --- John David and Bessie.

After she had educated herself as best she could in country and Derby schools, Delia took the county superintendent of school's examination and was licensed to teach, which she did for some six years at Freedom and elsewhere in Lucas County. Then, during 1893, she married William Hurd McCollough. They farmed in the Derby area for some years and had four children, then moved west in 1908 to Allen County in southeast Kansas, where her parents and three of her siblings also settled. Brothers Casper Jr. and Joseph T., however, remained in or returned to southern Iowa and are buried in the Derby Cemetery. Delia died in 1939 in Kansas, age 70.

The "Indians" remembered by Delia from her early years in Doniphan County may have been members of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, who still have a tribal office near White Cloud. Despite Delia's nightmares, the Iowa were not in the business of massacring or terrifying anyone, but were struggling to survive after having been driven west of the Missouri by EuroAmerican settlement years earlier, then finding themselves under pressure from land-hungry white settlers again.


My first day at school was in Doniphan county, Kansas, where we were living at that time. It was the year 1874, before I was five years old. I went with my elder sister, Nora, across the prairie where many kinds of spring prairie flowers were in bloom. I remember only the trip there, the bouquets of flowers the teacher had on her desk and on the stove --- it was warm and no fire was needed --- and the long trip home. I became very tired and I think Nora said I cried. This is my first definite memory.

There were several other incidents that year that may be worthy of mention. Father had gone to Marshall county (Kansas) in 1871, taking a homestead, and after proving up on it rented the farm near White Cloud. However, when the scourge of grasshoppers came and ate his crops down to the ground, he changed his mind from making our home in Kansas and we moved to Wayne county, Iowa, in a covered wagon.

While living there (in Kansas) we children listened to the Indian tales the older folks told, which filled our lives with fear. Only a few years before there were massacres near where we lived and one day while my sisters and I were playing in the yard we heard yells and when we looked a body of Indians were coming on their ponies as fast as they could run. The Indians were painted, had feathers in their hair and weapons in their belts. that was a horrible nightmare to me for years. I even dreamed of Indians.

Another incident was on our way to Iowa. When we came to the Missouri river we drove onto the steamboat and of course that was quite interesting to me. All at once there was a scream of "There goes a man!" We looked and saw the body of a drowned man floating quite a distance downstream.


We settled on a small farm with a log house and called that home for three years. I do not recall if we started school that winter or the following spring. I could read in the First Reader when I commenced school. I used McGuffey's reader and speller. Words were easy to pronounce and spell.

We passed our Grandmother Allard's house on our way to and from school, and we were always hungry when we got that far. She always had something ready for us, and how good it tasted.

I went to three different schools while living in Wayne county the five years following our arrival. One was a log school house in the midst of an oak and hickory timber on a road from Lineville to Clio. There were new seats and desks, but the recitation seats were two-inch planks from a nearby sawmill, with legs inserted in holes bored in the ends. However, within the next year a new frame building was erected with all new appliances for those days.

Aside from the regular school sports, we bent down young hickory saplings and made one-way teeter-totters. We had very happy days there. I used my slate instead of a copy book. One copy I had in this school when I first started was, "Many men of many minds; many birds of many kinds."


In the spring of 1880 we moved to Lucas county, having rented a farm in May district, Warren township. I was not quite 11 years old, but it seemed that move was quite the turning point in my life.

I was ready for fractions. Nowadays pupils have fractions along with division, which helps so much. Then they came as a shock, unless the teacher used them of her own accord. As a rule they did not.

All our books except arithmetic and geography had to be changed. Instead of McGuffey's readers, we had the American Educational. I read in the Fifth Reader. McGuffey's spellers were changed to Swinton's, which were quite different. We used Monteith's geographies and Swinton's history. While dates were hard for most children they were easy for me, and we had pages of them to learn. As I look back I think May was a good school and consider my six years there were mainly the foundation for my work as a teacher in Lucas county, which also covered a period of six years.

That first April morning when school began, four from our family started on the way across the George Champlin cornfield east to the road, one-fourth mile to Henry Delmar's place, thence north about three-fourths of a mile to the school house. The scenes were all new and the people we saw were strangers to us. Mr. Delmar's house was log at that time, one room below and a bed room above. Mrs. Delmar was the first person to call on my mother. When we came to the corner, there was the school house and cornering across the road from there was Mr. Champlin's place. It was about the nicest house anywhere around.

Miss Ida Culver was our teacher. There were many more pupils than we were used to in former schools, and no one we know. After school was called and we had taken our seats, Miss Culver was taking the names and ages of the children when she came to a seat where a little girl with lovely face, blue eyes and light brown hair, and her brother with black eyes and hair, were sitting together. Before Miss Culver could ask, the little girl said, "My name is Nellie Wright, six years old, and this is my little brother, Gene, five." She spoke out so frankly that it seemed funny to the school and everybody laughed. However, Nellie was not disturbed. She was a dear child and everybody loved her. She was one of the dearest friends I ever knew.

Then we attracted some attention --- new pupils are usually objects of curiosity --- and I suppose we were not the most attractive subjects. I wore my hair combed straight back, only parted in the middle, and braided in two braids looped up to the beginning and tied --- but not with a ribbon. We were not blessed with such luxuries. My parents were passing through a period of adversity --- but we had happiness and pleasures that money would not buy.

The term passed without much excitement, and we were getting acquainted.

The summer a Sunday school was organized and we girls attended. I remember Mrs. Gay, who in her kindly and quiet way tried to make us feel at home. Mrs. Wright also was very kind to us. Mrs. Powers was a neighbor and friend, practical and helpful in many ways.

In vacation we located a wild plum thicket, which in August had fine plums. We also found where wild strawberries grew. The branch west of the house was explored for quite a distance --- the shadiest spot, the willow tree we had watched from the bud to leaf. It was a lovely tree to play in. The water in the branch was clear and cool, starting from springs far to the north end of the William Lazear pasture. I loved to wade in that branch and climb the trees. My health was not the best and I was very much under size and weight, therefore my mother gave me much outdoor freedom in the hope of overcoming it. The cause was prolonged illness with measles and scarlet fever.

The winter term of school was taught by Miss Juniaette Shepherd. Some of the students were Eliza, Mary and Lillie Fulton, Flora Powers, Frank and John Voris, Jimmie and George Miller, Lizzie and Jane Delmar, Carrie and William Gay, Charles Young, and Dave, Tom and Charity Plymate. That was an interesting winter. Miss Shepherd had her work well in hand. Her quiet reserve and thoroughness made it a success. I was not what one would call a student, as I usually saw what went on. Nevertheless, I had my lessons. However, my older sister, with whom I sat, had to jog me with her elbow once in a while to call my attention to my study. She pored over her books every minute, even recess, and noon usually found her seated with some book.

Other teachers I had at May were Marion Sigler, J.M. Speers, Mary Hopkins, Ida Enslow, Carrie Gay and Eliza Fulton. Each of these teachers had some outstanding characteristics.

After two years we moved west a half-mile, which made a walk of one and three-fourths miles. We had to go cornering across Mr. Lazear's big pasture, where the bluestem grass grew high although many cattle were pastured there. We had only a cowpath and many a snake was killed by my sister, Nora, who carried a stick and seldom let one get away.

When Miss Gay was teaching, Mother told Truthful and me to come by Mrs. Fulton's on an errand one evening. After we left there we crossed the field south of their home, then had to cross the big pasture where no person ever passed unless on horseback looking after the cattle. We were chatting along on our way when we saw a beautiful green knoll to the right of us. I suggested we go to it. We got almost to the knoll when to our consternation and horror a great snake which lay coiled on the very top raised its head --- about a foot, it seemed --- and started darting its fiery tongue at us. Truthful screamed and ran, but I was afraid to run for fear it might chase me, so I faced the snake and backed away. It began to spread its head and as I watched it seemed like its head became more than twice the size it was at first. The whole great coil was writhing, all the time its beady eyes were on me, but I still backed away until I was sure I was safe, then I made double quick time. Mother said it was a viper. We told her it was as large as her arm in the largest part. It seems almost like yesterday that we saw that snake. We never went that way again, and we never heard of anyone else seeing it. It was a horror to us long after.

That summer at school we girls organized a play Sunday school. Addie Gay, Jane Delmar and Lillie Fulton were teachers and officers. We learned Bible verses and the one who learned the most was to get a prize. I happened to be the lucky one and the girls gave me goods for a new dress.

The last two years were practically uneventful, although I was making great plans to become a teacher and working very ardently toward it. I had taken up Green's grammer and Cutter's physiology and advanced geography and had been through Ray's third part arithmetic, but was going over it again. Those two years were my last at May.


In the spring of 1886 we moved north of Derby about a mile in Union township. I attended the spring and fall terms at the Fisher school and at Derby during the winter. May Sutton, Carl Clouse and Isaac Bowen were my teachers. Mr. Clouse and Mr. Bowen were fine teachers and did much in helping me so that when I took my teacher's examination the following spring I received a certificate which qualified me to teach. J.M. Hanlin was county superintendent.

Early one morning I decided to apply for a school, and as there was no such thing as a car those days and even top buggies were rare around where we lived, I went horseback on Old Frank. I rode sidewise on a man's saddle as I had not even a lady's side saddle or the customary riding equipment.

The first two schools visited had already hired their teachers. However, I was directed to Freedom school. I visited each board member and received some encouragement, and they promised to write me as soon as they had a meeting and made a decision. One board member was rather doubtful that I could manage the school as I was quite young and very small. I told them if they would give me their school I would do my best.

Well, they hired me and I contracted for a three-month spring term at $20 per month. A dollar a day seemed grand to me as I had never earned but little in my life and that was at housework which was exceedingly small pay. I taught Freedom school several terms. My last certificate was signed by Carrie E. Allen.

I had a slight accident on my way home that evening. In crossing a culvert my horse stepped on a broken board and went through to his hip with one foot. I slid off unhurt and worked for what seemed a half hour getting him out. He limped some, but we arrived safely home about 8 o'clock that evening. I missed dinner but did not mind as I had great hope I would get the school.

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