Week 37: #52 Ancestors – Back to School
By Eilene Lyon
Today, schools are frequently named for presidents, famous politicians or war heroes (more often than not men). Back in frontier days, naming a school was often a prosaic affair – if you built a schoolhouse on your property, it generally became known after you.
Such was the case of the Cutting School of Dexter Township, Codington County, South Dakota. My 2nd great-grandfather, Arthur Newman Cutting, moved to South Dakota in 1880 and received a homestead patent in 1888. He purchased an additional 160 acres the following year. The adjoining parcels were located in Sections 2 and 11 of the township.1
Arthur, whose family were Quakers, received a good education well into his teen years, at a time when many farm children did not go past the 8th grade (or less).2 Having moved his family from northeastern Iowa to the desolate plains of South Dakota, meant that providing an education for his children would be a bit more challenging.
He built a schoolhouse on Section 2, which became Codington County School District No. 59. A short blurb and photo of the school appear in the county history book, but unfortunately it doesn’t say when the school was erected and when it closed.3
Arthur lived in Dexter Township until about 1900, when he moved to Oregon, so the school was built between 1880 and 1900. After it closed and the students eventually transferred to the Florence school district, Ogden Halse moved the building to his farm to use as a garage (Ogden being my 1st cousin 3x removed).4 You’ll note on the school card below that Ogden was in Grade II, so he acquired the building quite a bit later!
I’m not sure why this Cutting School card exists, perhaps for a graduation ceremony of some sort. It dates to about 1904-5. All those Halses, Painters, Darringtons, as well as Bodtker, and Carey, are related to me in one way or another. I find it interesting that Howard and Hazel Halse are both in Grade I, though Howard was about two years older than Hazel. (These two are Arthur’s grandchildren.)
Arthur N. Cutting was born in Chittenden County, Vermont, in 1855.5 His family moved to Fillmore County in southern Minnesota after the Civil War. His father, Hiram B. Cutting, eventually died of a protracted illness acquired while serving the Union Army, leaving Arthur to be the man of the family at age 16.
After running the Fillmore farm for a couple years, he purchased property in adjacent Winneshiek County, Iowa. In 1872, he got the bug to go west and spent five years working as a teamster on a freight route between Winnemucca, Nevada, and Silver City, Idaho.6 (We came this close to visiting Silver City a few weeks ago – post coming soon!)
Arthur returned to Iowa and married Alice Adelia Fawcett, and remained there for a few years before deciding to homestead in South Dakota – along with his mother, sister, and many of their Winneshiek County friends and neighbors. Though primarily a farmer, Arthur did take on civic roles and served as a clerk for the school board in 1898.7
An interesting phrase in Arthur’s biography caught my eye: “He is an ardent advocate for a high license and equal suffrage…”8 “High license” is a temperance measure – make the cost of a liquor license burdensome, and there will be less liquor sold in your county.
His Quaker religion helped him favor the concept of equal rights for women, which I appreciate in an ancestor. No doubt this meant ensuring that girls had equal access to education. Thanks to Arthur, the farm children in northern Dexter Township had a place to begin learning their “Three Rs.”
Featured image: The old Dexter Town Hall building is constructed in much the same style as many of the school buildings in the area, including the Cutting School. (E. Lyon 2012)
- Homestead Certificate No. 3289, South Dakota Vol. 177, p. 289, and Certificate No. 10271, SD Vol. 165 p. 448. Both from https://glorecords.blm.gov/.↩
- Arthur Cutting, age 16, attended school within the year. Year: 1870; Census Place: Newburg, Fillmore, Minnesota; Roll: T132_4; Page: 394; Family History Library Film: 830424 – via Ancestry.com.↩
- Codington County History Book Committee. 1979. “The First 100 Years” in Codington County, South Dakota 1879-1979. Watertown Public Opinion Print, p. 23.↩
- Memorial and Biographical Record: An Illustrated Compendium of Biography… 1898. George A. Ogle Co., Chicago, Illinois, p. 836.↩