Alma Ewing was my first grade teacher at Highland school in Benkelman Township, Cheyenne County, Kansas during the 1945-46 term. Highland closed down at the end of the school year. The school house was sold and the small number of pupils shifted to other schools. For the second grade I went to Mt. Zion, another one-room school, three or four miles east of our sod-walled home. Alma taught there, too. Sometimes I rode horseback, but most of the time the folks delivered me in the A-Model Ford.
My older brother Wayne had graduated from the eighth grade at Highland the year before I started and Alma had been his teacher, too. He told me that she was a strict disciplinarian. He claimed she used a fire shovel to administer spankings. When things really got rough, so his story went, she stuck it in the stove to heat it first.
I was young, but I had already caught on to my brother’s mischievous nature. I didn’t set much store by his fire shovel tale. That is, until one cold wintery day at Mt. Zion school.
This day the students were more fractious and noisy than usual. Alma warned us several times to quiet down. Soon the din would return to a low roar.
Finally she had enough. Alma walked to the back corner of the room, removed the fire shovel from the coal bucket, opened the stove door, and placed the shovel in the fire box with the handle protruding out the door. Silence fell over the room. It seems the story had been told by others, also. Alma had heard the story too!
The morning ground on in silence. Finally the noon hour came. We went out for recess and when we returned the shovel was back in the coal bucket.
Alma left her mark on me. I’m happy to say that it wasn’t with a fire shovel.
Several years ago I was returning to Missouri along Interstate 70 from a vacation out west. I learned that the Tri-State Threshers Association was having their annual get-together and steam engine show at Bird City in eastern Cheyenne County. I turned north at Goodland and went about 40 miles to Bird City to visit the Association’s fairgrounds. The steam engines were puffing and the whistles were sounding. I was browsing the flea market, enjoying the displays including the Charles Lindbergh display. Yes, there is Charles Lindbergh history in Cheyenne County, Kansas! But that is another story in itself, for another time.
I stopped to look at the old schoolhouse display and realized I was looking at old Highland, District 66 school building. After it had closed it had been sold to a service station owner who moved the building to St. Francis and used it for tire and automotive products storage. The Threshers Association had obtained the school and restored it.
There it was complete with schoolmarm and class in session.
Highland school had traveled from its Buffalo Grass and sagebrush-covered hill on the western side to the flat land eastern side of Cheyenne County. Alma Ewing would have been proud.