Through forest paths and from long distances in each direction came the pupils to this first school of the region, and there were perhaps a score of them in all, boys and girls, and the teacher was a fair young woman from the distant town. The school-house was a structure of a single room, built in the wood, and squirrels dropped nuts upon its roof from overhanging boughs and peeped in at the windows, and sometimes a hawk would chase a fleeing bird into the place, where it would find a sure asylum, but create confusion. Once a flock of quail came marching in demurely at the open door, while teacher and pupils maintained a silence at the pretty sight. And once the place was cleared by an invasion of hornets enraged at something. That was a great day for the boys.
The studies were not as varied as in the cross-roads schools to-day. There was the primer, and there were a few of the old Webster spelling-books, but, while the stories of the boy in the apple tree and the overweening milkmaid were familiar, the popular spelling-book was Town’s, and the readers were First, Second, Third and Fourth, and their “pieces” included such classics as “Webster’s Reply to Hayne” and “Thanatopsis,” and numerous clever exploits of S. P. Willis in blank verse. Davie’s Arithmetic was dominant, and, as for grammar, whenever it was taught, Brown’s was the favorite. There was, even then, in the rural curriculum the outlining of that system of the common schools which has made them of this same region unexcelled elsewhere in all the world. There were strong men, men who could read the future, controlling the legislation of some of the new States.
The studies mentioned, and geography were the duties now in hand, and there was indifference or hopefulness or rivalry among those of the little group as there is now in every school, from some new place in Oklahoma to old Oxford, over seas. In all scholarship, it chanced that this same boy, Grant Harlson, was easily in the lead. His mother, an ex-teacher in another and older State, loving, regardful, tactful, had taught him how to read and comprehend, and he had something of a taste that way and a retentive memory. So, inside the rugged schoolroom, he had a certain prestige. Outside, he took his chances.
It has been said that there were some twenty children in the school. They were of various degrees and fortunes. There were the sons and daughters of the land-owners, the pioneers, and there were the sons and daughters of the men who worked for them, mostly the drifting class, who occupied log houses on unclaimed ground and got flour or meal or potatoes for their services with the steadier or more masterful. In the school, though, there were no distinctions on this account. There were but two measurements of standing among girls and boys together, their relative importance in their classes, the teacher giving force to this, and among the boys alone the equation resulting from the issue of all personal encounter. Boys will be boys, and our fighting Anglo-Saxon blood will tell.