Loose Ends: Back to School

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MEEKER | Heading back to school this fall remains a big question all over Colorado. Some schools across the state have set dates and times for the first day and are offering parents a choice of either sending their children to school with masks or protective equipment, social distancing, and adaptations such as reduced class size and altered daily and weekly schedules or participation in their districts version of virtual classrooms set up early in this pandemic,

Remote learning was something entirely different to the settlers of the White River Valley in the late 1800s. It meant gathering up the other children living out on homesteads and trying to get them to continue with some semblance of schoolwork. Many of the children in the earliest groups to arrive here, not long after the Northern Utes had been banished from this area, came with their own idea of formal education. Many families set up their versions of classrooms at home and educated their own children, with the women in their families taking on what would later be considered schoolhouse duties. Later on in the early 1900s, the little settlements formed all over this section of northwest Colorado built one room schoolhouses, hired teachers, and often included room and board as a part of the teacher’s salary.

Edwin Ernest Collom recalled his morning seven mile ride to school in the Axial Basin for his oral history interview for Rio Blanco Historical Society’s “This What I Remember” series. “The first term I rode the seven miles behind my brother, Vincent, who was six years my senior. After that, I, Vincent and my oldest brother John, each rode separate horses of our own.”

He continued his remembrance of some of the difficulties of arriving at school on time. “We rode to school five days a week. The seven miles took us a little less than an hour from home to school. A horse will walk about four miles from home but we always galloped our horses to school. To begin with, there was no barn or feed at the school for the horses. They were pretty tired and hungry when we arrived at home in the evenings, so we always had to trade to a different horse out of the remuda on the following day.

My favorite story told by Mr. Collum recalled his surprising discovery one morning going back into the schoolhouse after recess. “One morning during the first school year, we were playing a game of hide and seek in the vicinity of the schoolhouse. There were several large rocks near there that had rolled or fallen down from a rocky bluff. The bell rang, calling us into the morning class. This started a general chase into the schoolhouse. Being the youngest and smallest, I made a run for the building behind everyone else. I tripped and fell down. As I hurriedly got back on my feet, I discovered a 14-inch long, three-button rattlesnake hooked to my suspender button. It was doing its best to work loose, which indeed it did right away. Apparently it had struck just as I fell. I scrambled the rest of the way to the schoolhouse, a very frightened little boy.”

By DOLLY VISCARDI |Special to the HT