(from a book written in 1893)

The following text was transcribed from chapters on the history of education in individual Kansas counties found on pages 175-177 in:

compiled by Kansas educators and published under the auspices of the Kansas State Historical Society, for the Columbian Exposition.
(Topeka, Kan. : Hamilton Printing Company : E. H. Snow, state printer, 1893)



by Anna L. Zehner, county superintendent

NEOSHO COUNTY -- Prior to the organization of the county of Neosho, in 1866, a few subscription schools had been taught in the county; but of these we have no record save in the memories of the pioneer settlers. One of the first, if not the first, schools in the county was taught by Miss Emma Packard, in an old, deserted log cabin, which stood on an eminence about 2 1/2 miles east of where the city of Chanute now stands.

With the organization of the county, in 1866, came the tide of immigration, and during the two years which Mr. S. E. Beach, (to whom we are indebted for the facts concerning the early history of the schools,) the first county superintendent, held the office, he was able to organize 14 schools districts. Some of these districts were formed prior to the Government survey of the county, and their boundary lines were rather indefinite, creeks, hollows and ridges of land being used instead of the section, half-section and quarter-section lines, as we now have them.

Schoolhouses were scarce, and all sorts of makeshifts were employed to supply the deficiency. Deserted cabins, log houses (put up by the combined labor of the people) and single rooms in dwellings more than usually commodious were the usual places where schools were taught. The traditional sod house of Kansas had either not been invented at that time, or timber was too plenty to warrant the use of this favorite building material of western Kansas.

Scarce as were the schoolhouses, good teachers were yet scarcer, and Mr. Beach tells us that during his term of office, while he granted certificates to many in order that there should be enough legally-qualified teachers to teach the schools, and so draw the public-school money, only two candidates were really deserving of teachers' certificates. We quote from Mr. Beach's letter:

"Sometimes those proposing to teach would come to me to be examined, and at other times they would send word to me that they were already teaching, and request me to come and visit the school and examine the teacher. . . . I was frequently requested by the school boards to be a little easy in the examination . . . I sometimes found it difficult to select questions easy enough to elicit any correct answers, as I did not like to grant a first-grade certificate without getting some correct answers. . . . Of one lady candidate for a teacher's certificate I asked the question, ‘What is a noun?' She replied that she did not know, as she had studied grammar but little. I then asked her a few questions in geography, all of which she failed to answer, until I asked her to name the capital of Kansas, when she promptly replied, ‘Humboldt!' I gave her a certificate."

The successor of Mr. Beach to the office of county superintendent was a Mr. McCaslin, of Jacksonville, and he in turn was succeeded by Mr. J. L. Evans. During the terms of office of these two gentlemen, rapid advancement was made in the class than those before used sprang up in every direction as if by magic. Many of these buildings are doing service to-day, and many have been replaced by better structures. Soon all these old houses will have passed away, and Neosho county will be equipped with as good a set of public schoolhouses as can be found in any county in the State.

Perhaps the most prominent teacher of the county, from its organization to 1880, was Prof. J. A. Wardlow, for six years—1872 to 1878—principal of the schools of Osage Mission, then the largest and most important town in the county. He was an earnest, thorough and efficient teacher, and left an impression on the schools of the county that will not soon be effaced. Many of his pupils are to-day among the prominent and successful teachers of the county. Other and later prominent laborers in the educational fields of the county are Messrs. Light, Herod, and Cronk. These gentlemen have done much to advance our pupils schools, both as officers and as teachers.

Although too much credit can hardly be given to those who have held the more prominent positions, we cannot pass over the rank and file of the teachers who, though their positions have been less prominent and their compensation often inadequate, have toiled patiently and steadily under adverse circumstances. To this band of noble, unselfish and devoted men and women the schools of the county owe more than to all else. Patiently they have advanced the schools, step by step, from the irregular, ungraded schools of the pioneer days to the systematically-graded and efficient schools of the present. Of such men as F. M. Abbott, the oldest of our teachers in point of number of years taught in the county, now principal of the Thayer schools, and C. D. Herod, for years a teacher in our schools, and to whom the Erie schools owe much of their present efficiency; of such women as Mrs. Belle Dunham, since 1873 a teacher in the primary schools of the towns, and now doing yeoman service in the primary schools of Chanute, and Miss Lizzie Barnhart, for 14 years a teacher in the schools of the county, it is needless to write in eulogy. Their work remains in hundreds of the young and progressive citizens of the present, a perpetual monument to their earnestness and thorough, practical work.

Had we the space, we could easily name a hundred others whose work as teachers deserves especial mention.

The normal institutes, too, have wielded an immeasurable influence in shaping and improving both schools and teachers. From the first one held, in August, 1877, under A. H. Turner, county superintendent, conducted by J. H. Lawhead, who, for a number of years, conducted our county institutes, to the present, they have been well attended, and the teachers have taken a keen interest in their work. It was chiefly through the work done in these institutes, and the personal efforts of Superintendent Cronk, that the present satisfactory system of grading for the country schools was brought about. An earlier effort in this direction was made during the administration of Superintendent Light, but owing chiefly to the indifference of some of the teachers, who had not yet awakened to the importance of grading all the schools in the county on the same system, the effort was only partially successful. But, from this time on, the believers in this plan agitated the subject at all teachers' meetings, as well as at the normals, until the better education of the teachers, as well as the general progression in educational matters, resulted in the adoption by the assembled teachers of a course of study, which is now being very generally followed.

There are now in the county 101 public schools, employing 52 male teachers at an average monthly salary of $43, and 95 females teachers at an average of $34 per month. In these schools 2,429 male and 2,365 female pupils receive instruction for an average of 28 weeks each year, while the total value of the school property outside the cities of the second class is $91.550.

The teachers of the county have lately been taking an active interest in the teachers' reading circle. More than 50 per cent of all our teachers are members of this organization, and are reading the course as laid down by the State board. Much good has already resulted from this systematic reading of good books, and we expect much more to result as this widening, broadening influence makes itself felt in the teachers, and through them in the schools.

The following is a list of the county superintendents of Neosho county, in order of their elections: S. E. Beach, 1866-68; W. L. McCaslin, 1868-70; J. L. Evans, 1870-72; S. Winfield, 1872-74; T. P. Leech, 1874-76; A. H. Turner, 1876-80; C. M. Light, 1880-84; E. A. Herod, 1884-88; W. L. Cronk, 1888-90; Anna L. Zehner, 1890.

Private educational enterprises in this county are few. The conditions have not been favorable to the establishment of schools of this character. The generally-excellent public schools and the easily-accessible State institutions at Lawrence, Emporia, and Manhattan, as well as the schools at Fort Scott and Baldwin, have discouraged private enterprises. However, we have not been and are not without private schools, and good ones, too. Before the establishment of a single public school—before the organization of the county—before there were enough white children in the county to form a school, the Rev. Father Schoemaker, a pioneer missionary of the Catholic Church, had established, at Osage Mission, a school for Indian boys. As the country became settled by whites, this school gradually drifted into a mixed school for boys of both races, and finally was attended by very few Indians, while white boys from all over the South and West came every year for instruction. Large, substantial and commodious buildings were erected, and the school flourished until a year ago, when a change in the management resulted in closing this institution, as we hope, temporarily. We trust that at no distant day these buildings may again be occupied by an active, energetic and progressive school.

Across the street from the building above referred to stands a collection of imposing stone structures. This is St. Ann's Academy, a boarding school for young ladies. It is under the management of the order of the Sisters of Loretto. This school was established about the year 1868, by Mother Bridget, the first mother superior, who managed it long and well. Under her direction it grew to be one of the best as well as the most popular schools of its kind in the West. After the death of Mother Bridget, which occurred in 1890, the institution was under the charge of Mother Catherine, until August of 1892, when the reins of government were assumed by Mother Simeon, the present mother superior. The school is now in excellent condition, numbering among its students young ladies from a dozen States and Territories. A number of our best educated and most successful teachers are graduates of this school.

transcribed by Rita Troxel, State Library of Kansas



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