One of the first requirements in every new settlement was schools. This was the case in the location where the first school districts were organized. We will add a few notes on the beginning of public schools in Nebraska. First school in Nebraska was at Fort Atkinson in early years, where children of soldiers and other attended.
Thirteen years later a mission school was opened at Bellevue for Indians. Fifty years last in 1852 in Cass County opened the first public school in Nebraska supported by tax funds. Three years later in 1855 the Territorial Legislature made provisions for establishing a school system by taxation. Most early schools were in private homes. The first school building in Omaha was located on Jefferson Square and built in 1863. The first school building in Nebraska City was built in 1866. In 1887 the Nebraska legislature passed a law making it compulsory that all children of school age must be sent to school. In 1891 school districts began furnishing books which gave each public the same kind of a text books.
The first schools in Custer County were what were called subscription school in which patron gave a little towards the support of teacher. This generally consisted of meat (mostly wild game) flour, potatoes and other foods they might be able to spare.
The first school in the county was taught by Mrs. Ed Eubank, in her home in a log cabin in the kitchen, about two and half miles north of Douglas Grove. This was the fall of 1875. Her husband Rev. Eubank would start the school, while she did up-the house work and then she would take over the rest of the day. This was a three month school. The next year there were two subscription schools in the county. Mrs. James Wagner taught school in a dugout about half mile west of Douglas Grove. Miss Callie Dryden taught a. school in a dugout near New Helena. In order to secure a certificate Miss Dryden
was required to go to North Loup in Valley County, where the superintendent of the organized county had supervision over schools in what was then organized territory in which New Helena was located. This Miss Dryden refused to do and to over this inconvenience, Judge Mathews developed a plan of his own. He decided to conduct the examination himself and drew up the questions and submitted them to the teacher. She wrote the answers as best she could, considering the writing material at hand, the Judge carried the papers to North Loup and laid the case before the County Superintendent Mr. Oscar Babcock, who decided this was a very unusual case and issued the certificate. It is thought no other certificate ln Custer County was ever issued in a like manner Miss Callie Dryden has the distinction of being the first certified teacher in Custer County secured a regular certificate from Custer county first superintendent of, schools Mr. Eubank.
The first school districts in what is now Custer County was numbered eleven and fifteen and were organized, and numbered by Valley County. Number eleven became District number one and number fifteen became district number two after Custer County was organized. Taxes were collected in unorganized territory and turned over to Valley County for expenses of these schools. The first public school supported by taxation was held in 1877 in the spring. Miss Callie Dryden as teacher in District fifteen and Helen Shemmel in district eleven. In the fall of 1877 Custer County was organized and these districts became districts numbers one and two.
A search of the tax records, by County Superintendent Weekly in an effort to give some facts of interest in connection with the beginning of Custer county schools. Disclosed that in 1878, there was only two pieces of land in the territory were assessed. These being the only tracts proved up on, and deed received. These were Charles A. Hale on the southeast quarter of section fifteen and Nimrod Capel a tract in sections thirty three and thirty four. Both of these could be in the Douglas Grove neighborhood. Those charged with personal taxes were; Samuel Wagner, William Wagner, William Kates, Frank Ingraham, A.A. Higgins, S. F. Harrod, L.R. Dowse, William Edwards, E. D. Eubank, J. W. Comstock and M.M. .Bray.
A search of the tax records, by County Superintendent Weekly in an effort to give some facts of interest in connection with the beginning of Custer county schools. Disclosed that in 1878, there was only two pieces of land in the territory were assessed. These being the only tracts proved up on, and deed received. These were Charles A. Hale on the southeast quarter of section fifteen and Nimrod Capel a tract in sections thirty three and thirty four. Both of these are in the Douglas Grove neighborhood. Those charged with personal taxes were; Samuel Wagner, William Wagner, William Kates, Frank Ingraham, Aaron Higgins, S. F. Harrod, Lewis Dowse, William Edwards, Edwin Eubank, John Comstock and M.M. Bray.
Found in the archives, there were tax receipts for payment of taxes to Valley County in the spring of 1877 by Mr. James Oxford. Personal taxes were $7.47, and thirty two cents of this was for the University of Nebraska. Mr. Oxford taxes for 1880 were his real estate and came to $3.58 and personal taxes were $10.13 and of this eighty six cent for local school and twenty six cents for the university
Johnson History of Nebraska printed 1880 but the material gathered in 1879. That gives the population for Custer County as 696 people. With the population split being; 415 males and 281 females. That there were 1,308 acres assessed.
This would mean only ten or eleven parties had proved up on their land by the spring of 1879. Land was assessed-at $1.50 an acre. There were two school houses with a total of sixty one pupils.
Also noted in this was that Custer County had plenty of government land (to homestead) that would be suitable for either stock raising or farming. We had 835 horses valued at $14,395, mules were 20 for the value of $536, sheep total 4161 with the valule of $1 each, swine total was 183 for $218.25. The cattle total count was 23,900 for the value of $150,231 and these were listed as meat cattle.
We had a few post offices like: Tuckerville, Lena, Georgetown, Douglas Grove, and New Helena. in 1879 the county seat was on the South Loup River and served numerous cattle ranches and was a busy place.
In this report two school houses are mentioned. In the fifth anniversary report for school district the county. Some other claim to have had a sod school building before this data, but no school district had been organized in those districts at that time. Shortly after district number one was organized the people wanted a regular school house. Efforts were made towards securing this school building. A number of men went to the cedar canyons near New Helena, and cut and hauled cedar logs. These were hued and ready to begin the building. An argument arose as to the details and location of the building. It was decided not to build until an agreement was made. The logs were piled up and the men went home. But before the question was settled a prairie fire came along and burned the logs. It was then decided to build a sod school house. School was continued in the dugout until a sod building was erected. Mr. Will Wagner was given a contract to build the sod building for $125.00. This was ready in fall 1882.
District three was the first district organized in the south part of Custer County. Dist #3 was organized in 1880 and the first school was held upstairs of David Sprouse home. This was northwest of Callaway. Mr. Alfred Scheryer was the teacher. The children were from the Scheryer, Decker and Sprouse families.
Soon afterwards a sod school house was built and was located at the foot of the hill west of Callaway. A frame school house was built likely by Mr. Sam Idell, a builder of the pioneer days. Many of the old timers at Callaway had a home built by him too.
History tells us in 1882 the county had grown to the population of about 3000 people. One of the challenges of pioneer life was that were many wild animals that roamed this land and this made one wonder with the children walking many miles to school. The schools were place in populated areas and later they were about ever six mile apart. By 1890 have a total number of residents of near 20,000 in the area that have homesteaded and later some come with the railroad.
1885 school year had the following: (in school district and were listed, to age 20 years)
The following items were taken from the record called the School Census, which was taken every year. This recorded all children in the district that were under the age of 20 years. This document is helpful in telling where they lived, who was in the house, what was their age or birthdays. And the families often knew each other and traveled together or were related when they came to homestead.
School District ONE, called Wescott had a school building that was made of sod. And the district did not provide textbooks for the school work. They did receive $500 from the county treasurer. The teacher was Eliza C Westcott, paid $25 per month for 2 months; they bumped to $30 per month for the other 5 month of the school term. They had 178 days for the year for the total of $200 for the teacher. (this is similar to the 180 day we have in 2021)
School district TWO was named New Helena and the families all lived in Township 19, range 21. They started school on 31 August 1885 for a six to seven month term. They now furnish the textbooks for classroom. The district had a total of 53 students in this area. Funding came from the $1.50 in non-resident tuition and $500 from county treasurer. They had a school house made of logs at the value of $300 and the land value was $28.
The teachers were: (none were did a whole year)
Addie Cooper at $25/ mo. – for 3 mo.:
John L Klepper at $30/ mo, for 2 mo.;
Hattie M Jeffords at $30/ mo - for 1 month;
and Anna L Gordon at $25/ mo – for 3 months.
School district THREE, named Delight or Whaley, was the first district organized in the southwest part of Custer County. Near what was later to become Callaway. This was organized in 1880 and the first school was held upstairs in the David Sprouse home. Mr. Alfred Schreyer was the teacher. The children were from the Schreyer, Decker and Sprouse families. Soon afterwards a sod school house was built and was located at the foot of the hill west of Callaway. One of the early teachers was Miss Della High.
In 1885 district #3 had the teachers of S.A. Price at $25/ month for 3 months, H.C. Phillips at $30/ month for 4 months, and Chester Piece or Peidd at $25/ month for 3 month. District #3 started school on the 3rd Monday in October in a sod house that was valued at $25 and land value of $1. They had 48 students and the district did not furnish textbooks for school work. District #3 director was Ira McConnell.
School district FOUR, called Copsey, was just northwest of where Westerville was yet to be formed. The director of the district was L.O. Webster? The school building was made of sod and the building had no value listed. Funding came from the $500 from the county.
Teacher was Mattie Thomason? For the term of six months that started on first of Sept and she was paid $30/ month. There were 23 children in school in 1885. They did provide textbooks for school work.
School District FIVE, called Myrtle, was near the Lee Park area, between Westerville and Arcadia just inside the east county line. The school director was D.C. Goodrich and the Teachers were: Lizzie Wisley for 3 months and was for $90 and C.P. Russel for 3 months, for $90. They later had a teacher of Kate Wescott that was paid $25/ month and she came at mid-term. The term began Nov 15 and went to May 4th for only 6 month term and they did not provide textbooks. There were 35 children in school age in the district. There was said to have owed the teachers $46 and $20 but had no funds to pay them at the end of the year they had a balance of $1.68 in treasurer.
District #5 had a note for $50, and had a bill of $66 for teacher salary (yet to be paid), and only got $147.11 from the county treasurer for the school year. The building was made of sod and valued at $150 and the land at $15.
Just ask and see what you can find out about your family. These records have existed for each county, it's just where to find them. County records OR Historical Societies.
IT IS AMAZING WHAT THE SCHOOL RECORDS HAVE FOR RESEARCING.