Sod Schooldays

Many Nebraskans learned their readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic in a schoolhouse built from sod.

Arta Ethlyn Kochen of North Platte taught in such a school in 1901. She wrote: “The

schoolhouse was a long, low sod building with hills on either side. There were two rooms, a

school-room and another where the children played. I called it the gymnasium. The rough

dirt walls had been smeared over with some sort of a sand mixture and then whitewashed.

One or both coats had broken off in places, leaving blotches of brown, white or the bare black


“There were two little crooked windows. One of these we curtained with daisy chains made

of bright papers. This, to me, seemed pitiful, but to the children it was a most wonderful

creation. In the other we stowed the pail of water. This had been carried a mile over the hill

in the open pail and was peppered with sand. Nevertheless, it served to wash down that big

lump that came to my throat so often the first week. The door was of rough pine and opened

just far enough to allow one person to squeeze in. We propped it open with a sunflower

stalk. There was a floor in the schoolroom, but about the third week one of the men of the

district helped himself to that of the ‘gym.’

“The schoolroom furniture consisted of a rickety table, a broken rocking chair, two good

chairs donated temporarily, two others with broken backs, a cracker box and a soap box. The

blackboard was a piece of a man’s rubber coat tacked on the rough wall. The roof was of

branches covered with sod, but almost anywhere I could look up and see the little white

clouds floating by. . . .

“The second day a snake a yard and a half long entered the schoolroom and was dispatched

with an umbrella. One day I entered the schoolroom to find two inches of water on the floor

and rain coming from the sod roof almost as hard as it had come from the sky in the night.

Our pictures and paper curtain were a sorry sight. The few books were saturated, and I would

have cried had it not been for the reassuring croak of a frog.

“In such surroundings I taught for two months. Our county superintendent then used her

influence to have grain removed from another little house in the district, and the last four

months of the term were spent in quarters somewhat more comfortable. A few old desks

were given us by the city schools, for which we were very thankful.

“In spite of such difficulties the interest of ‘My Six’ never waned. They were all eager to

learn; they were used to hardships of all sorts; they did not mind the heat of the sun and never

complained when the sand burned or the prickly cactus made their little feet bleed; they

would come on the coldest days though they froze their hands and ears.

“And thus amidst such difficulties and hardships the boys and girls who are to be the very

warp and woof of the Great West are being trained for citizenship.”

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