Even 100 years ago, second only to getting anywhere by foot (or by “shank’s mare” as pedestrian travel was sometimes called) would undoubtedly have been by horse. But when the destination was school, a horse wasn’t very practical. There were matters of feed and water and shelter to consider and, in the days when just having a schoolhouse was a stretch, providing for horses would scarcely have been a consideration. And yet… I know of at least two getting-to-school stories that involved horses.
The first is about my mother, Dale Espy (Little) who completed seventh grade at the Oysterville School in the spring of 1923. For all of those seven school years she had walked, skipped or had maybe even run to the one-room schoolhouse just a block away from home. But the next year she would have to take the dreaded “Eighth Grade Exam” — the test would decide whether or she’d be allowed to go on to high school.
“Our folks didn’t think much of the Oysterville teacher, and perhaps they didn’t think I was much of a student, either,” my mother used to say. “But Mrs. Anna Brooks was teaching at Nahcotta school and they felt that she was the best teacher in the county. She had taught in Oysterville for a few years when I was younger and Mama and Papa were confident that if I could go to Nahcotta for the school year, I’d have no difficulty with that test.”
Meanwhile, Dale’s two older brothers (Willard, 12, and Edwin, 14) were both ready for their Junior year at high school. But getting there was very tricky. As in, there was no passable road for the school bus between Ilwaco and Oysterville. Not all the way, anyway.
In fact, for 9th and 10th grades, Papa had purchased their books and made arrangements with their teacher that they could stay at the first-through-eighth grade-one-room schoolhouse in Oysterville. But beyond that… no. Fortunately, the road from Ilwaco to Nahcotta had improved considerably by the fall of 1923 and, for the first time, the school bus could get that far. But from Nahcotta to Oysterville was another matter.
Part-way in a Model ‘T’
Papa bought a Model T that the boys could drive as far as Nahcotta, then catch the school bus from there. But they had to leave quite early in the morning — more than an hour before my mother, Dale, had to be on her way to Mrs. Brooks’ class in Nahcotta. Her usual transportation to school that year was by horse. She rode Danny the four miles to Nahcotta School, where she removed his reins (no saddle; Papa thought they were dangerous for youngsters) and gave him a slap and home he’d go. After school, she’d wait at Dean and Charlie Nelson’s until the mail wagon was ready to head north. Then she’d ride home with kindly Mr. Lehman whose job it was to pick up the mail from the afternoon train each day.
Stormy days, however, meant she’d have to leave an hour earlier to ride with Willard and Ed in the car — either that, or arrive at school soaking wet. Then she’d wait at Dean and Charlie’s until school began. Then, home, as usual, on the mail wagon. It all sounded pretty adventurous to me when I was a kid. Riding a horse to school! Wow!
The only other story I know of getting to school on horseback occurred many years later — probably in the early 1940s — and also involved an Oysterville rider. My friend Larry Freshley, now a retired teacher, himself, still remembers when “the new girl, Trula Wright, arrived for her first day at school.
“It was just about time for school to start that morning,” he remembers. “We were all out on the playground, waiting for Mrs. Bame to open the door when up rode Shorty Wright on his horse with his daughter, Trula, riding behind him. When they got the school, Shorty reached back and grabbed Trula by the waist, and swung her down to the ground! Wow! It was just like the Wild West!”
As Larry remembered it, that was the only time Trula made such a grand arrival at school. “But none of us ever forgot it!” he says. “I bet Trula still remembers it, too!”