Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Penalty for Being Bad was Two Hours of Sagebrush Work

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, October 2, 1960, page 17

Kennewick built its first school house near Capt. Lum’s “Horse Spread” and Charles Jayson Beach’s farm. It was a one-story board and batten building lined with six inch shiplap. It had four windows on the east elevation and four on the west and none on the south. There was a window on each side of the entrance door. A stoop extended across the entire front, or north, elevation. The entrance door opened at the center of the stoop onto a center aisle which reached back to the rear where the teacher’s desk was located on a raised platform.

In front of this platform were the seats from which the classes recited. An old fashioned “Big Bellied” heating stove stood in the southeast corner of the room. On its top a five-gallon coal oil can with the end cut out, filled with water, was kept boiling. In the northeast corner of the room stood a small wooden bench which supported a large wooden water bucket, in which was used a long handled tin dipper, which everyone used and dropped back into the bucket. On the same bench was a tin wash basin and a bar of home made soap. Hand towels and dish towels hung on nails driven in the walls. The desks, benches and furniture were made of hand dressed 1X12 boards. The seats face the teacher. An aisle four-feet wide extended on each side of the front door where the pupils hung their coats and wraps on nails driven in the walls.

The teacher rang a hand bell on the front stoop at 9 a.m. to call the school in session. Morning recess was at 10:30 a.m; lunch time was from noon until 1 p.m. Dismissal was at 4 p.m. Pupils wishing a drink would raise their right hand with the diget finger extended. The teacher by a nod would give consent. Those wishing to use the small buildings at the rear of the yard, raised the right hand with the first two fingers extended. The teacher would nod consent or refusal.

The school yard was 100 feet wide east and west and 200 feet in length north and south. Located near the rear of the yard on opposite corners were two small structures identical in size. One bore a sign “Girls” the other, “Boys.” The playground was in front of the school house and about 50 yards west of the “old dugout.”

The school district had just built the school house and did not have funds to buy recreational equipment. The pupils therefore were forced to play games that did not require equipment. They grouped themselves into several games of “Pum, pum, pullaway”, “Black man”, “Dare Base”, and other running games.

One of the boys, the school’s “Peck’s Bad Boy” or now it would be “Dennis the Menance,” started a game of his own. During the morning recess, he would stealthily creep on top of the nearby “dugout,” place a board over its stove pipe chimney, then quickly run back and lose himself among the playing pupils. He then watched for the smoke to fill the “dugout.” In a few minutes the door of the “dugout” would suddenly open and a partly clad, irate Chinaman, setting the air blue with Chinese oaths and imprecations, would rush to the chimney, grab the board and take it inside. The younger pupils were unaware of what was taking place, but the older ones were getting quite a kick out of it and said nothing to the teacher concerning it.

This “Dennis the Menance” had been successful in two forays on the “dugout” which brought much enjoyment to the older pupils. The third attempt however, was very disastrous. He had just reached the roof of the “dugout” when a Chinaman, scantily clad, burst out of the “dugout” and started after him. The boy headed for the playground with the Chinaman at his heels.

The pupils, both large and small scattered and rushed for the school house screaming at the top of their voices. The Chinaman was slowed down by the crowd of pupils and the boy culprit whirled around the corner of the school house to the rear yard and ducked into the small building marked “girls.” The Chinaman, though delayed, ran to the rear of the yard and examined the small building marked “Boys.” Having lost his quarry and being clothed by only a short jacket that hardly reached to his waist, he ran shivering back to the warm “dugout.”

At his departure the boy culprit left his place of safety and came into the school house where the teacher was securing all the information concerning the episode. The teacher got the whole history of the affair and made a report to the chairman of the school board. The decision of the school board was that the pupil’s recess time would be cut in half for a month, and that the boy culprit was to cut sagebrush fuel for the “big bellied” stove for an hour each morning before and an hour each evening after school for a period of one month. After the month passed, the pupils played as formerly, but all of them left the “dugout” strictly alone.

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