The Cutting School

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.

The Cutting School as shown in the Codington County history book. It appears that it was being moved at the time the photo was taken.

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

Though Darrington owned the land in 1910, this plat map shows the location of the Cutting School on Section 2. (Ancestry.com)

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!

Class roster for the Cutting School, circa 1904-5. (Courtesy of W. Halse)

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!)

This photo was taken of the Cutting family shortly prior to Arthur’s death in 1912. Along with another taken at the same time, these are the only known images of Arthur. Alice and Arthur’s children L to R: Harold, Ward, Clifford, and Mabel (my great-grandmother). (Courtesy of N. Ingram)

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)


  1. 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/.
  2. 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.
  3. Codington County History Book Committee. 1979. “The First 100 Years” in Codington County, South Dakota 1879-1979. Watertown Public Opinion Print, p. 23.
  4. Ibid.
  5. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/93245038/arthur-newman-cutting
  6. Memorial and Biographical Record: An Illustrated Compendium of Biography… 1898. George A. Ogle Co., Chicago, Illinois, p. 836.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.

27 thoughts on “The Cutting School

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  1. I’ve never heard the term “high license” but it does have a certain logic to it. Allow alcohol to exist, just overprice it. Not that I’d like to pay more for my hooch, but I get it. Now as for equal suffrage, what a great idea!

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  2. I particularly like the first photo of the school; there is a peaceful feel about it. Many of the school houses in New England from that era had two front doors: one for the girls and one for the boys. Coincidentally, the college where I now work is located in Chittenden County, Vermont.

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  3. This is so interesting—a part of family history that I have no connection to—South Dakota! And I love that he built a school on his property. Did he charge tuition or was it public? Who paid the teacher(s)? Fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Since it was part of the county school district, this was a tax-funded school. Excellent questions, Amy. Earlier in the 19th century, my ancestors had to teach their own children or hire teachers out of their own pocket. I think we take publicly-funded education for granted, but maybe the pandemic is changing that.

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  4. The school as a garage! Is there a sign at the original site indicating the school was there? I find that fascinating when driving back country roads and you come across these signs indicating a school once stood there, in the middle of nowhere. I can just imagine all the kids arriving via foot or horse! I’m not so sure about the High Licence..as I sit sipping my wine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t recall seeing anything like that. Nor is there any sign where the Halse Half-way House once stood – and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Not sure that sort of nostalgia is very important to the residents there. Yeah, I prefer my booze easy to obtain and affordable.😁

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The class roster was interesting. I went to a one room schoolhouse for grade one, about 1/2 a mile from our farmhouse, until it was closed in 1962 and we were bused into town. There were only 3 of us in grade one, myself, my cousin who lived next door and another boy. There were 8 grades in one room with an old stove at the back to heat it which you could cook hot dogs on in tin foil. Grade one was let out half an hour early and my cousin and I used to dawdle along the road and explore the ditches and trees and managed to get home the same time as the rest of the kids. In researching my family history there was an early school on one of my ancestors farms, pre-1900 which was known by their last name too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so fascinating, Joni! I can’t really imagine a one-room school, either from the teacher’s perspective or the students’. Once I went to school where the second and third grade mingled some, but it was a large space with two teachers for each grade. Hardly a similar experience. Thanks for sharing that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I live in the Great Lakes region…..so we have lots of water here. It’s fairly scenic, but flat land, no mountains or anything, and nice….except for the snow in the winter.

        Liked by 1 person

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