Prairie School House #57
Prairie School #57

Elk City, Montgomery County, Kansas
The history of a One Room School House
in rural Kansas with special memories
of the Whistler family

drawing of Prairie School District #57
drawing of Prairie School District #57

Introduction, Planning and Building

When we look back to an earlier time in Montgomery County, Kansas when settlers began arriving in southeast Kansas, it is hard to imagine the hardships they undertook in order to start a new life on the open prairie. Kansas in the 1860’s was the new frontier with opportunities for land ownership. The early trading posts provided the settlers means to support their movement westward. After the Civil War, many men looked to the open land in Kansas as their way to a better life. The trading posts where Elk City is now drew many to the fertile land along the Elk River. The late 1860’s and early 1870’s saw a large number of settlers arrive in the Louisburg Township. With this growth in population, the need for a school to serve the children living nearby required the families to plan for a location within walking distance of their homes. It was determined that a school would be located on property owned by Squire Littleton and Thomas Whistler. Lumber was purchased and hauled from mills in Arkansas by Squire Littleton. In 1871 the school was built by Squire Littleton and James Brown. It was enlarged in 1908. This is mentioned in a 1935 article written by Mae Couch Whistler and Maude Whistler.

A Description of Prairie School

The school was approximately 30 x 40 feet facing east. The door was in the middle of the East side with 4 windows on the North side and 4 on the South side. There was a cement porch across the front with 4 galvanized 3 inch posts holding up the roof. They were worn slick from pupils swinging on them. There was a mandate later that required two doors in case of a fire so students could escape. The Southwest window became a door with a small roof over the entry. A school bell hung in the belfry on the East end of the building with a rope attached. At 8:30 AM the bell was rung to tell the ones to get to school, then again at 5 minutes before 9:00 AM. The bell was rung for the morning and afternoon recesses and for the lunch break.

Inside the front door, shelves for lunch buckets and nails for coats were on the left side. A pail of drinking water with a cup and a wash pan & towel was on the right side. There were three rows of double desks with smaller one in front. A pot-bellied stove was about half way down on the North side. The teacher’s desk was on the West end of the room with a raised platform and a blackboard behind it. A piano, bookcase, pull-down maps, a flag and pictures were positioned around this platform.

In front of the school near the road was a small bridge over the culvert. On the South side was the well near the hedgerow and the wood and coal shed near the back door. The bathrooms (outhouses) were on the North side, one for the girls and one for the boys. A small horse barn was located near the Northeast corner of the property. Later a playground circular merry-go-round was located in front of the property.

School Board and Teachers

The first Board consisted of T. A. Frizell, W.W. Preston and Squire Littleton. The first teacher was a Miss Evans who received a salary of about $25.00 a month. The school term began in October and lasted for 4 to 5 months. The pupils, age from 5 to 21 years, were placed in classes a, B. and C. They would attend until they were of age or they wanted to quit.
The requirements for a teacher’s certificate were two months in Normal School, be 18 years of age and pass an examination given by the County Board. A list of some of the teachers include Miss Evans (1871-72), Maude Weaver (1904-05), Faye James (1922-23), J. Audrey Watson (1923-24), Verna Thompson (1924-25), Helen Linn (1925-26), Agnes Whistler (1926-27), Dora Porter (1929-30), Alliane McCarty (1930-31), Mae Couch (1932-34), Pauline James (1935-36) other names but without dates include Miss Divens, Mrs. Hughes, Faye Starnes, Ed Martin, Sadie Hackney, Kate Wright, Benson Rucker, Ed Cole, Bob Clark, Wilmore Clark, Roe Evans, Frank Coleman, Eva Goodwin, Lee Kelley, Bessie Kelley, Phyllis Miller, Squire Littleton and Oscar Owen.

Subjects taught and other activities

General subjects included grammar, reading, spelling, penmanship, arithmetic and drawing. As students progressed, geography, physiology, agriculture, Kansas history, U. S. History and Constitution were introduced.

Playing baseball was a favorite activity and all the children played the same game. The older students always helped the younger ones. Even the teacher joined in the game. This taught patience and tolerance. Other activities during recess included these games, tag, drop the handkerchief, needles eye, ante over, farmer in the dell, butter & eggs, jump rope and when it snowed, fox & geese.

Community meetings were held once a month which included spelling bees, ciphering matches and plays by the students. Christmas and the last day of school were always special occasions that included dinners and performances by the students.

It was found in old newspaper clippings that the Prairie School was used for Sunday church services. This happened when there was a travelling minister in the area. Local families would gather at the school occasionally for reunions, family activities and other meetings.

Class Photographs

The four photographs included below are from Mae (Couch) Whistler, Maude (Weaver) Whistler, Agnes (Whistler) Saunders and Marvin and Jean Whistler. It has taken some time to identify all the children in the photos.

Prairie School
1926 – 1927

Front row, L to R:  Anna Merritt, Evelyn Goodwin, Ollie Myers, Margaret Whistler, June Bobbitt, Herbert Whistler, Helen Merritt, Irma Goodwin, Nadine Myers.

Second row, L to R: Josephine Blackmore, Clifford Merritt, John Ray Freeman, Wilma Lee, Mary Black, Olen Whistler, Clayton Whistler, Geneva Freeman, Noel Merritt.

Back row, L to R:  Ray Whistler, Georgia Frizell, Bertha Schwatken, Agnes Whistler (teacher), Freda Black, Stella Schwatken, Wilbur Bobbitt, Wilbur Schwatken.

Prairie School
class of 1928-1929

Front row, L to R:  Margaret Whistler, Anna Merritt, June Schwatken, June Bobbitt, Gladys Whistler, Irma Goodwin, Nadine Myers, Ollie Myers, Alfred Black, Marvin Lee.

Second row, L to R: Evelyn Goodwin, Helen Merritt, Olen Whistler, Herbert Whistler, Noel Merritt, John Ray Freeman.

Back row, L to R: Geneva Freeman, Wilma Lee, Josephine Blackmore, Marguerite Hemme (teacher), Stella Schwatken, Georgia Frizell, Clayton Whistler, Clifford Merritt.

Prairie School
class of 1930-1931

Front row, L to R: Mary Smith, Marie & Marvin Whistler, Emmett Lee Bishop, Grant Black Middle Row, L to R: Gladys Whistler, Nadine Myers, Jerome Smith, June Schwatken, Alfred Black

Back row, L to R: Irma Goodwin, Herbert Whistler, June Bobbitt, John Ray Freeman, Rosalie Smith, Margaret Whistler, Helen Merritt

Prairie School
Class of 1935-1936

Front row: left to right:  Robert Whistler, Kenneth Bishop, Marvine Rothgeb, Marjorie Goodwin,Ellis McClauskey, Ellot Black

Back row: left to right , Alfred black, Marvin Whistler, Emmett Lee Bishop, Alfred Earl Goodwin, Lois Rothgeb, Marie Whistler, Maxine McClauskey, Grant Black

Whistler family memories of their days at Prairie School

Agnes (Whistler) Saunders, student and later teacher at Prairie School

The men in the district would help open the school in early September. They also would open and clean the well, often finding a dead rabbit. As the weather turned cooler, the coal stove would be started in the morning then “banked” and shut tight for the night, then opened the next morning with a good fire in no time.
The Christmas programs were a must. A “pie supper” was held each year. Literary programs consisting of debates and volunteer programs followed.

Mae (Couch) Whistler, student and later teacher at Prairie School

The pot-bellied stove was in the middle of the North side of the classroom. The older boys would get coal from the coal house to heat the classroom. On cold days, those who were close, the stove would get too hot while those at a distance were cold.
One Christmas, a huge Cedar tree was set up and the children decorated it with paper chains, popcorn on strings and paper ornaments. The last year, my dad, Clarence Couch and husband, Harry soldered small bulbs that I had painted blue on a wire. We used a car battery light up the bulbs. There were “gasps” and then applause when we connected them. Children drew names and did the program. Parents filled sacks with oranges, apples and candy for the students and little ones.
My last year at Prairie School, the ladies of the district, made a lovely quilt with the students name on it.

Nannie (Whistler) Henderson, student and later teacher at Mt. Tabor School

My memories were of the Thanksgiving and Christmas programs with the students and family members enjoying those special times together. There were pie suppers were when the girls would decorate a box real pretty, put a pie in it and the boys would bid on it at supper. The boy, who bought it, got to eat with the girl who made it.

We had baseball teams that sometimes would go to neighboring schools and play against them. One year the Prairie School softball team was comprised of all girls. We played the Gregory School team that was all boys. The game was very one-sided with the girls from Prairie School winning. One of the boys on the Gregory School team was Ray Henderson who I later married. I had fun using that story teasing my husband, Ray.

Margaret (Whistler) Baumann, student

I remember taking a drink from the water bucket and had a scorpion in my mouth, I quickly spit it out without getting stung. Another memory was sitting on the little bridge by the road talking to other girls about boys.

Glen Whistler, student

He shared a story about a prank on his teacher, Oscar Owen. He always drove a one horse cart to school. One Halloween day, the cart was found up on the coal and wood shed. It must have been quite an effort to lift the cart that high. No one claimed responsibility, but would have taken quite a few boys to put it up there and then take it down. No mention about any punishment handed out.

Marvin “Pete” Whistler, student

The school had hedge rows around the grounds; the fruit from the trees are called hedge apples and are not edible. He would pick and hide them in his desk. When the teacher wasn’t looking, would roll them down the aisle. It caused much laughter and some distraction to the class.

It wasn’t funny at the time but me and three other boys got to stay in our seats during two recesses and on lunch hour. It seems that two girls saw smoke coming from the boy’s outhouse. We were only smoking a cigar. Don’t think the teacher would have noticed, but the girls wanted her to know that the outhouse was on fire. Our punishment lasted 30 days but seemed like 6 months.


I wish to thank many of my family for their help preparing this look back at the history of Prairie School. To Agnes (Whistler) Saunders, Maude (Weaver) Whistler, Mae (Couch) Whistler, Nan (Whistler) Henderson, Glen Whistler, Herbert Whistler, Margaret (Whistler) Baumann who are no longer with us but provided me with their personal memories of Prairie School 20 years ago.

And a special thanks to Marvin and Jean Whistler for their help and encouragement. They have more than their memories of the school, they still own the Prairie School building after it was moved to their farm in the 1950’s.

To the volunteer staff at the Independence Historical Research Center, my personal thanks for their interest in this project.

My thanks for the architectural rendering of the Prairie School building done by Mr. David L. Smith, Architect of Visalia, CA, a friend of Dennis Whistler, Architect.

Dan Whistler
Madera, CA