Early Schools and Teachers.--The first school taught on Sandy Creek, and probably the first one in the county, was taught about the year 1806 or. 1807, by Benjamin Johnston, a brother of Judge Johnston. This school was taught seven or eight months in a little log hut near the James Hensley farm. In 1812 James McCulloch taught a small school of twelve or fifteen scholars, near the Falkland Martin place. The children called him" squealing McCulloch," because he had a fine squeaking voice. These were the only schools taught on Sandy from the first settlements there till about 1820--seven or eight months' school for children in twenty years. Johnston and McCulloch taught nothing but spelling and the first reader. In 1820 a Yankee, by the name of Kellogg, came in and established a high school for the benefit of those children who had learned to spell and read. He taught six months in a house on the Falkland Martin place, and besides spelling and reading gave instruction in writing, arithmetic and geography, and thus put on the finishing touch. About the year 1813 James Cochran taught a six months' school on the Plattin. The schoolhouses of the county, prior to 1820, were built of round poles, very small and low, with one little square window and one door, both with clapboard shutters, and the house had no floor but the earth; the seats were three-legged stools. It is to be presumed there were schools on the Plattin, Big River and Joachim. Wilson taught school in Herculaneum in 1815, Cathey in 1816, and Pameter about 1817 or 1818. In 1820 a man by the name of Rogers taught a three-months' school on Gray's branch, which empties into Big River, near the Calvin Johnson Farm. About 1825 Young Guffey taught school in a little log hut on Dry Creek, near the William Graham farm. Only two small schools were on Big River and Dry Creek from 1820 to 1825.*
*From Centennial speech of Judge Thomas.
Sale of School Lands. --The first steps in the interest of public education were taken by the county court at its first term, being in May, 1821, when Jonathan Hilderbrand, David Bryant, John Wiley, James Donnell and Zachariah Moore were appointed "commissioners of school lands in the county of Jefferson for two years." These lands consisted of the sixteenth section in congressional township, which was donated by the general Government to the State for educational purposes. These commissioners and their successors had but little to do for many years except to watch the school lands and prevent spoilations thereon. In October, 1836, the county court being satisfied that were at least fifteen "white householders" in Township 42 north, Range 4 east, and a majority of them having petitioned the court, ordered the sheriff of the county to proceed according to law and sell the school lands in that township. This appears to be the first order for the sale of school lands. In April following the school section in Township 42, Range 6, was ordered be sold, it being a fractional section containing only twenty-nine acres. In April, 1841, the court ordered fractional Section 16 in Township 41, Range 5, to be sold, and in August, following, the school lands in section in Township 42, Range 4, was ordered sold. In September, 1843, the sheriff was ordered to sell the school lands in Township 42, Range 5. These sales were ordered under a law which required the court to be satisfied that at least fifteen householders resided in the township, and the order was made upon a petition of a majority thereof. In March, 1847, the court issued an order for the sale of the school lands in Township 41, Range 7. Subsequently the school lands in other townships sold from time to time until only a small portion now remains unsold in the county.
School Townships Organized. --In August, 1841, the county court organized Township 40, Range 3, into a school township, and appointed Willard Frizzell, commissioner, and Berry T.Hansel and Eli Wiley school inspectors for the township, and appointed the first Saturday of September following as the time for the inhabitants to hold their first meeting, at the house of Willard Frizzell. In September, 1845, Township 43, Range 6, was organized into a school township, and Skelton Richardson, was appointed school commissioner, and Samuel Knight and Melvin Parke, school inspectors. The inhabitants were ordered to hold their first meeting on the 8th of the following October, at the schoolhouse near Stephen Smith's.
In June, 1846, Township 43, Range 4, was organized into a school township, and Marvel Stowe was appointed school commissioner, and Thomas Maddox and Bazil Calvert, school inspectors. The inhabitants were to hold their first meeting on the 18th of July following, at House's Springs. In January, 1847, Township 41, Range 5, was organized into a school township, and Josiah Craft was appointed school commissioner, and Lawson Cooley and G. N. Johnson, school trustees. The inhabitants were to hold their first meeting on the 22d of February, following, at the house of Henry Snowden. In August, 1847, Township 42, Range 4, was organized into a school township, and Nathan Sullens was appointed school commissioner and A. Zeigler and C. H. Demaree, school trustees. The first meeting of the inhabitants was to be held on the third Saturday of October following. Subsequently, from time to time, other congressional townships of the county were organized into school townships. The funds derived from the sale of the school lands were loaned, as fast as obtained, to individual borrowers, and the interest (as it still continues to be) was collected annually thereon, and appropriated for the support of the few public schools. This fund, together with a small annual remittance from the State school fund, constituted all the available public money for the support of public schools. Ordinarily it did not amount to enough to sustain a single school in each congressional township in each year for a greater period than three months.
Free School System. --No adequate system of public schools existed in Missouri until the present system was inaugurated soon after the close of the Civil War. Prior to that time all the schools were sustained principally on the subscription plan. Shortly after De Soto became a town the De Soto Academy was established there. The building in which it was held was erected in the extreme southern part of the town, and consisted of a large structure with a basement story and two stories above. An excellent school was conducted therein, under the supervision of Prof. Trumble, for a number of years prior to and up to 1868-69, when he left and then it went down; afterward the building was occasionally used for a private school, and in 1886 it was consumed by fire. The public school building at DeSoto was completed in 1882. It is handsomely located on the heights overlooking the city, and consists of a large stone and brick structure, containing ten schoolrooms, and has comfortable seating capacity for 700 pupils. The building cost about $15,000. At the present writing a school is being taught therein under the supervision of the principal James P. Dougherty, assisted by Misses Julia J. Jarvis, Delia McGuire, Sarah Hicks, Sarah Pinson, Nettle Cable, Lorena Cole and Alice Heard. It is a graded school, and has 525 pupils enrolled. There is also a colored school, in another building, in De Soto, with fifty-two pupils enrolled. In order to show how the public schools of Jefferson County are prospering, under the free school system, the following statistics are taken from the published report of the State superintendent of schools for the year ending June 30, 1886, the last report not being at hand.
Scholastic Population and Statistics--
White--male, 3,737, female 3,475, total, 7,212;
colored--male, 192, female, 186, total 378.
Enrollment in the schools:
White--male, 3,127, female, 3,085, total, 6,212;
colored--male, 153, female, 131, total, 284;
number of teachers employed, 217;
average monthly salary of teachers, $35;
number of schoolrooms used, 175;
seating capacity of all rooms, 8,281;
number of white schools, 138;
number of colored schools, 10;
cost per day for each pupil, 8 3/5 cents;
value of school property, $110,000;
average tax levy for school purposes, 42 cents on each $100 of taxable property.
By reference to these figures it will be seen that of the white scholastic population, over 86 per cent were in attendance in the public schools, and that of the colored scholastic population a fraction over 75 per cent were in attendance for the year reported. This is a very creditable showing, and is far ahead of the average of the counties in Missouri. It also shows that whatever prejudice may have heretofore existed against free schools, it is fast passing away, and that the people of Jefferson County are cheerfully sustaining the public free-school system.
School Funds. --The same report shows that Jefferson County expended during the year for the support of her schools the sum of $33,459.52. Of this amount- $22,178.50 was received from direct taxation, and $9,246.02 as the income from public funds, and the balance was on hand at the beginning of the year. The amount of the congressional township school fund belonging to Jefferson County, as shown by the report of the county court clerk for the year ending June 30, 1887, was $25,750.04, and the amount of the county school fund as shown by the same report was $22,626.70, making a total of these two funds of $48,406.75. The first of these funds was derived from the sales of the school lands, being the sixteenth section in each congressional township, and the latter has been accumulating from fines, forfeitures, etc., for many years. The annual additions to this for the last eleven years prior to July 1, 1887, from these sources, have been as follows:
Thus it is shown that the county school fund is rapidly increasing. These funds are constantly loaned to individual borrowers in such amounts as they desire, and the interest thereon at 8 per cent is annually collected and used for the support of the schools, the principal remaining a permanent and perpetual fund. The school commissioners of the county have been as follows:
P. H. Buren, prior to 1854;
Philip Pipkin, 1854-55;
Abner Green, 1855-62;
county court clerk, 1862-65;
M. C. Jennings, 1866-72;
I. H. Brown, 1872-76;
W. N. Clingan, 1876-80;
M. C. Jennings, 1880-84;
E. D. Luckey, 1884-86;
James P. Dougherty, 1886-88. The latter is the present incumbent.