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These Happy Golden Years – historical perspective

History of Education in Kingsbury County. March 9, 1880, Amos Whiting was appointed the first Superintendent of Schools in Kingsbury County for a term to last until the end of the year. In June, Whiting authorized the formation of School District No. 2, comprising eighteen sections of land surrounding the village of De Smet.

October 1, 1880, Superintendent Whiting divided the rest of Kingsbury County into forty-nine school districts of varying sizes. Where there were homesteaders with school age children, the districts were smaller; sparsely occupied townships of thirty-six square miles were designated as school districts for convienence. As Kingsbury County became settled and schools were in demand, these larger districts were divided into smaller ones. By late 1883, there were ninety-two school districts in the county.

Teacher Certification in Dakota Territory. Each county superintendent was responsible for the examination and certification of teachers in his county, and the Laws of Dakota were very specific as to how testing was to be handled. In 1877, the system of first, second, and third grade certificates was established. A teacher’s grade on a certificate had no bearing on the grade level a teacher was qualified to teach; it merely reflected a level of proficiency on the exam itself. Someone who earned a second grade certificate had answered more questions correctly than someone who earned a third grade certificate. Both married men and women were always allowed to teach in Dakota Territory and, until March 1883, there was no law regulating the minimum age a canditate must be in order to earn a certificate. At this time, the minimum age requirement for teachers was set at eighteen.

At the first public examination of teacher in Kingsbury County on October 28, 1880, three candidates were tested. One of these was Florence Garland, who was certified and hired to teach District School No. 2 in De Smet. School began in November, but blizzards during the Hard Winter of 1880-1881 repeatedly interrupted classes.

School Districts Taught by Laura Ingalls in Kingsbury County. The map at left shows the location of the Bouchie, Perry, and Wilkin School Districts in relation to the town of De Smet. Kingsbury County is 36 miles wide and contains 24 Civil Townships. Typical of school districts in configuration, the Bouchie and Wilkin School Districts were both one-fourth of a township in size, or 9 square miles. The Perry School District adjoined – but did not include – the Ingalls homestead.

Map: From the Rand McNally Atlas of the United States. Chicago: Rand McNally and Company, 1897. The original has been modified to reflect 1880-1885 Kingsbury County. Several town names and other features were removed for clarity.

The Bouchie School. The Bouchie School District was organized on January 15, 1883; it was located about six miles southwest of De Smet and contained nine sections of land in Township 110, Range 57. Joseph Bouchie was elected director, his eldest son Louis Bouchie was elected clerk, and neighbor George Troupe was elected treasurer. There were eleven children of school age in the district. School law required that all children ages 10-14 attend school for ten weeks per year if any school term was offered; children ages 7-10 and 15-20 could attend school if they desired.

The first school term in the Bouchie District was held during the winter of 1883-1884. The Superintendent’s records show that Laura Ingalls received a third grade teaching certificate on December 10, 1883.
Laura’s students in the Bouchie Schoolincluded three children of Joseph Bouchie: Isaac (age 18), Clarence (age 11) and Fannie Ruth (age 10). While the exact identity of the students Laura Ingalls Wilder called “Charles and Martha Peterson” in Pioneer Girl and “Charles and Martha Harrison” in These Happy Golden Years remains somewhat of a mystery, they were most likely Charles and May Rundle, two children of homesteader Horace Rundle. In late 1883, Charles was sixteen and May was fourteen, and these are the exact ages of the two students Wilder remembered in Pioneer Girl.

Location of the Shanty Used for the Bouchie School. Laura Ingalls Wilder maintained that the school shanty was a half mile across lots from where she boarded at Louis Bouchie’s while being close to Joseph Bouchie’s home. The school was held in the shanty on David Gilbert’s homestead claim, which lay between claims of the two Bouchie families. In his final homestead proof, Gilbert wrote that the only time he had been away from his claim was during the winter of 1883-1884, beginning in mid-December. Louis and Olive Bouchie’s house was located on the line separating their two homesteads. Joseph Bouchie’s home was on the southwest corner of Section 23, and David Gilbert’s shanty was on the southeast corner of Section 22. Horace Rundle’s homestead was a mile away in Section 35. While only four claims are shown on the map, all available quarter sections in the Bouchie district had been filed on by the time Laura Ingalls taught there, and most were occupied.

The School Section. In each Township, Sections 16 and 36 were set aside for use by the public schools. Under Dakota Territory Law, this meant that the land was to be sold after statehood to anyone willing to pay at least $10 per acre for it, with the proceeds going into the school budget.

The Perry School. The Perry School District was organized April 4, 1882, as School District No. 60, comprising all of the northeast quarter of Township 110, Range 56, excluding Section 3 (which contained the Ingalls homestead). The first teacher was Bertha Barrington, who taught a three month term May-June 1883. Following the switch to the township system, the Perry School came under the jurisdiction of the De Smet Township board and its designation was changed to Common School No. 5.

In the spring of 1884, Metta Aldrich was hired to teach a summer term in the Perry School, yet she decided not to take the school. Laura Ingalls still had a vaild teaching certificate issued in December 1883 and could not be re-certified until it expired. Laura was originally hired to teach a school east of the Perry School, but when Metta Aldrich decided not to teach, the position was offered to Laura. All schools in De Smet township held a two month term that summer. Laura’s contract stated that she was to teach for two months beginning April 28, at a salary of $25 per month.

Laura’s Students in the Perry School. Wilder wrote that she taught three students during her term in the Perry School. One was Clyde Perry, son of Delos Perry. Born June 1877, Clyde was six years old, and under school law, he was the youngest age child allowed to attend school. There had been a rumor in the county, however, that children ages 5 and older would be allowed to attend classes and many parents did send their younger children to school based on the rumor. Only schools with larger enrollments refused to allow younger children to remain in school.

Wilder also remembered children named Johnson in her school. There were two Johnson families in the Perry District. One was the Guttorm Johnson family; no information about this family has yet been found. The other was the Timothy Johnson family. In the De Smet Little House books, Minnie Johnson is included in Laura’s close circle of friends and her brother Arthur is listed with the older boys who came to school during the winter months; Lee Johnson was also a student in the De Smet school. There were no younger siblings who might have attended Laura’s school.

Early De Smet resident Frank Forsburg always maintained that he was taught by Laura Ingalls in the Perry School. The Forsburgs lived for a number of years with Mr. Forsburg’s brother-in-law, Adolf Fagerlund, whose homestead was a mile east of Charles Ingalls. It is entirely possible that young Frank attended some or all of Laura’s term in the Perry School.

Location of the Perry Schoolhouse. Early maps indicate different locations of the schoolhouse in the Perry District. As schoolhouses were often moved from site to site, it is possible that it stood in a number of locations in the early years. In fact, the schoolhouse taught in by Laura later burned down, and the schoolhouse was built to the north in Section 3.

The Ingalls girls didn’t attend the Perry School, even though the Ingalls homestead was originally a part of the District. In 1881, Charles Ingalls and 23 others filed a petition asking that the sections containing their claims be detached from the district and attached to School District No. 2 in De Smet. It does not appear that Laura, Carrie, or Grace Ingalls ever attended a school other than the De Smet town school, at least through the year 1885.

The Wilkin School. The Wilkin School District was formed in February 1883 but not organized as Common School No. 6 until December 1884 as part of the De Smet School Township. It was located in Township 111, Range 55; the schoolhouse was about three miles northwest of De Smet.

Laura Ingalls received a third grade teaching certificate at the semi-annual examinations held in April 1885. Wilder wrote that she was offered the Wilkin School because her classmate Florence Wilkin failed to pass the examination. Records show that seven candidates did fail the exam; perhaps one of these was indeed Florence Wilkin, but the names of failing candidated was not recorded. Laura was hired to teach a three month term at a salary of $25 per month and she boarded with the Thomas Wilkin family.

The schoolhouse in the Wilkin District was a new one; it hadn’t even been built at the time of Laura’s certification in April. Originally, the board planned to move the De Smet town school (the one Laura and Carrie attended before the new school was opened in 1885) to the Wilkin District, but for some reason this plan failed to materialize. Instead, the original schoolhouse was sold and a new one was built in the Wilkin District.

Laura’s Students in the Wilkin School. In These Happy Golden Years, Wilder included little about her term in the Wilkin District; the school was included in Chapter 28, “The Cream-Colored Hat,” a chapter which included not only the term of school but detailed descriptions of Laura’s new hat and the construction of her dresses, Pa’s surprise of a sewing machine for Ma, the Fourth of July celebration, and sister Mary’s homecoming.

In Pioneer Girl, Wilder remembered her students as Jimmie, Mamie, and Danny Glover; Mary, Tommy, and Charley Webb; and Georgie Dwight. James Glover homesteaded the SE Section 17 with his wife and seven children. The three children taught by Laura weren’t Jimmie, Mamie, and Danny, but Willie (age 11), Martha (age 15), and Sammy (age 6). Reuben Webb homesteaded the SW Section 8 with his wife and three children: Fanny, Adelebert, and Edith. In the surviving draft for These Happy Golden Years, Wilder included Fanny and Delbert Webb as students in the Wilkin School. The “Mary, Tommy, and Charley Webb” from Pioneer Girl were Fanny, Delbert, and Edith.

“Little Georgie Dwight” from Pioneer Girl became Clarence Dwight in the manuscript for These Happy Golden Years, and Clarence was one of Laura’s Wilkin School students. His family lived south of the district but he attended the Wilkin School rather than the De Smet school, probably because a large slough south of his father’s claim made travel to and from town difficult at times. Clarence’s parents were Dan Dwight and the former Frances Owen, sister of Laura’s De Smet teacher, V.S.L. Owen.

Location of the Wilkin Schoolhouse. The Wilkin School was built just west of Thomas Wilkin’s homestead on the northeast corner of the James Wells homestead in Section 18, and it was used as a schoolhouse until the 1950s. It was later moved to a nearby farm and converted to a hoghouse. The building was razed in the 1980s.

For more information:
* Cleaveland, Nancy S. History of Education in Kingsbury County, Dakota Territory, 1880-1885. Missoula, Montana: SeventhWinter Press, 1998.


These Happy Golden Years, historical perspective