(and a tribute to John Turrentine)

From: Goshen Trail’s; Vol. 15 - No. 3, July, 1979; p. 12
Printed by permission.

This letter written by Oliver M. Edwards of Santa Monica, CA, appeared in the McLeansboro Times on July 25, 1925.  Mr. Edwards was born in a log cabin in Hamilton County, IL on March 30, 1851.  This letter describes his early experiences in Parker’s Prairie School.

               PARKER’S PRAIRIE SCHOOL.  About 1857 or 1858, the present site was selected and a log house 18 x 24, of fair height and proper appearance was erected.  This building stood and was in use for more than ten years to which this letter refers.  It was a decided improvement on what we (students) had been housed in prior to that time. It had sawed flooring and ceiling, three real windows, one in the east end, one in the north side, and one in the west end which was next to the public highway, and much nearer to it than the house recently destroyed by the Great Cyclone was.  There was a flue built of brick in the center of the house from joists to a little above the roof, which was something new in those days.

               The furnishings were better than we had been used to.  Long heavy benches made of sawed lumber and more comfortable than the others had been, especially for the larger pupils.  The legs of the benches were the same length, which were too long for the legs of the little ones to reach the floor.  Near the west end was a writing table reaching almost the full width of the room, made so that pupils would sit at each side facing each other during the writing lessons.  The teacher’s chair and table set near the north window and the stove was in the center of the room.  We must not forget the old water bucket and drinking cup that had their place on the end of a bench near the door as our common drinking fountain.  The drinking water was carried by hand from a nearby neighbor’s well.

               The teacher had a much easier job keeping the room warm in winter than before, as the stove required less wood than the fireplace and plenty of pole wood was hauled and laid right near the door.  Just about now a lot of things came into the Prairie that more or less helped the school and must be mentioned.  Matches were being introduced and one by having a little kindling could start a fire in the new stove and have a rip roaring good fire in a few minutes.  Think of it.  Steel pens were coming in and the teacher lost his job of making with his penknife, quill pens for the whole school and keeping them in repair.  The kerosene lamp replaced the tallow candles in our homes for light to read and study by during long winter evenings.  A queer looking little iron concern having an oven it and called a cook stove had found its way into most all our homes and was a great help to our mothers in preparing meals and school lunches.  In the fields and on the roads, horses and mules were fast taking the places of oxen, and instead of open prairie southwest, west and northwest of the school were fence, fields, houses and barns, while to the east for miles and miles spread the great forest still almost in the original beauty and grandeur from which it came from the hand of the Creator.

               But after all, probably what helped us most and got us to feeling that we really were somebody and had a place in the Sun, was that at about the same time these environments were changing so rapidly, nearly every child of us stepped out of the old linsey woolsey homemade clothes and donned a span and spin new suit of “store clothes” or clothing made of store cloth.

               So far as teachers and our progress as a school was concerned we moved along about as other country schools of that day.  We excelled in spelling and hardly knew we were in a contest when spelling against any school we were matched against.  Not so surprising when we remember we had two pupils who could spell every word in the old Blueback and several others who were good seconds.  Just now, too, the “Loud School” passed and the “Silent” came in to stay.  The teacher of course had to handle all the grades in the one room and had a well-rounded out job in doing so.  Forty or fifty pupils from beginners to what is now eighth grade, all getting proper attention and help was a different proposition to what it is to teach a grade now.  Man teachers were almost a necessity.  We never had a lady teacher.  We were all fairly good, but some of us not so good as we should have been.  Boys and girls in being raised as we were, had to be ironed out occasionally.  Our teachers were changed almost every year which gave us a variety and our minds got sharper on different grindstones.  Children came and went but several of us were in the school for the ten years as school children together which to say the least leaves pleasant memories.  Some of us were sick a good deal.  Now and then the Death Angel came and took his pick.  One little playmate that we fondly remember and think of almost daily was with us in our games and lessons one week, the next with the angels taking his first lessons in Heaven.

               While our teachers were not all outspoken, Christians they were all good and tried to give a start in the right moral direction.  If any of them had the more modern idea that we were a bunch of little monkeys rounded up for him to “evolute”, he had too much respect for our parents to say anything to us about it.  No, teachers in those days realized that they had in their care little immortals and endeavored to teach them as such and leave them better and wiser boys and girls that they found them.  In some cases they dialed, in some they succeeded.  Without going into details we can cheerfully and respectfully say of each one of the, that he did the best he could with the best he had.  A pretty broad statement to be sure and reaches a climax to which probably no one of the pupils ever reached.

               Much more might be said, but why say more?  The Civil War came on at this time, sundering former ties and friendships like a fire brand taking from our school several of the larger boys and interfering in many ways with the peace and harmony of the community.  By and by things began to settle down and as the smoke and storm cleared away, out of the war-shocked South, there came to us the best teacher we ever had.  The one who lifted us out of the parrot-like rut into actual thinking?  Ours was his first teaching place in the county, but after leaving us, taught here and there, leaving “footprints on the sands of time” in Hamilton County that will never be erased.  A peculiar name -- John Turrentine.  It sounds kind of queer yet and at first we boys and girls could hardly say it.  He was a rather tall, gaunt, light complected, blue eyed, very thin bearded, stoop shouldered, plainly clad man, who never sold for half his value, and whom all the money in the world could not buy.  When he came to us about all he had left was his life, and because he loved his Government more than his State (Alabama), his former friends had tried to take that from him.  What wretched work war does any way.  But it was sure a wonderful day for our school when he began teaching it.  Others had done well, but some how or other, he had the tact to do better.  Personally, I bid all readers of this adieu by saying that among all common school teachers and college professors by whom I have been taught, no one has been his equal in giving clear-out instructions and explanations.

               Writing these letters has been a pleasant task and I hope, to former schoolmates pleasant reading though like me growing old and gray, delighting more in looking forward than backward.

[Note: Mr. Oliver M. Edwards was born in Hamilton Co., IL March 30, 1851 in a log cabin on the old homestead in Parker’s Prairie, 4 ½ miles south of McLeansboro, IL.  He was the son of Thomas H. and Margaret (Stephenson) Edward.  He died at age 83 years at his home in Santa Monica, California on December 8, 1933 and left a widow, three sons and two daughters.  He had three siblings: Mrs. Fred Appel, George K. Edwards and John C. Edwards who preceded him in death.  Pub. Times Leader, December 14, 1933.]

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