My Forty Years Scribblin's
Historical Accounts
The Little Brick School

This piece, written in 1966 and published as a feature article in the May 22, 1966 of The Missoulian newspaper, is a history of the DeSmet school.

The little brick school house at DeSmet, six miles west of Missoula, will be torn down one of these days to make way for a new Forest Service facility.

Compared to the first school at DeSmet, a granary, and the second school, a frame building that burned about 1893, the present structure was as modern and imposing as its new $55,000 replacement across Highway 10.

The brick school house was an early day landmark, its high peaked roof plainly visible across surrounding acres of grain fields. This, of course, was nearly half a century before the Missoula County Airport and Forest Service Smokejumper base came on the scene.

As a community center, the little school resounded to the beat of piano and violin through years of Saturday night dances. Voters came from as far away as Evaro to cast their ballots on election day. The structure was a milestone, not only to the traveler but in the lives of hundreds of children who learned their three Rs within its walls.

Records of June 4, 1894, show a proposal to raise $350 by a special levy to build a new schoolhouse after the frame building burned down. All nine electors voted "yes" to the proposition, and the records show, too, that brick for the building was donated by a Mr. Hollenbeck, owner of a brickyard near the east end of the present airport land.

School board minutes of April 7, 1906, report a meeting to elect one trustee and to vote on "whether we should maintain a county free high school in Missoula." The record shows four in favor of the resolution, none against.

Through these early years, school kept only intermittently, largely through the summer months.

Mrs. Myrtle Dodd, neé Chilcote, who now lives on the Butler Creek family homestead where she settled with her parents in 1900, recalls a few good reasons for the sporadic sessions.

Mrs. Dodd attended DeSmet School with her brothers and sisters after the wagon road over the hill to Grant Creek "became too slippery to navigate."

The school stove, Mrs. Dodd said, stood in the middle of the classroom, "and the children stood in a circle around it to study." Otherwise, those nearest the stove would roast while those farthest away would need coats and hats until the building thawed out.

Desks were homemade, and drinking water, when available, had to be carried from DeSmet. Mrs. Dodd recalls that when the girls were seen going for water, trainmen on a switch engine would often stop and fill the girls' pails with water from the tender. When the boys hauled water, the trainmen usually dispensed with this act of gallantry.

Russell Lynn, who now lives in Evaro Canyon, hiked five miles cross country from his father's homestead on LaValle Creek to DeSmet School. He reports considerable time spent standing in the corner, and remembers that when water pails came in the teacher always said, "Girls first."

After the girls were "watered," Lynn remembers, he sometimes had to wait until he got back to LaValle Creek for a drink.

Lynn also recalls one teacher, who, after Lynn's five-mile hike, sent her charges home so she could go horseback riding—at ten in the morning.

As for me, I well remember walking four miles to DeSmet School, also from a homestead on Lavalle Creek. Leaving the cabin at daylight, my cousin (now Mrs. Bob Marshall of Ravalli) and I played tag along the way as opportunity arose.

We watched coyotes chasing each other around the haystacks, and we "tracked down" the Latimer kids who lived farther down the valley. I can't remember ever getting to school on time or ever being marked tardy.

We had a wonderful teacher who stood on the steps scanning the fields for us. She would hustle us inside with a look of relief and hang up our wraps She was the only teacher I have known who rang the noon bell ten minutes early, washed our faces and combed our hair "because we might have company."

Small matter that one washcloth and one comb served all nine of us.

When we started at DeSmet the boys dragged in such extra seats as the woodshed afforded. To my dismay, it was my lot to sit at a double desk with a boy. But there was worse to come. The school owned only one fifth grade geography book, and there were three of us in fifth grade. I found myself sandwiched between two boys.

At times the little brick school fairly bulged with pupils, rows of seats so close that there was scarcely room to sidle down the aisle. Again, attendance was sometimes so small that District 20 fought off attempts at consolidation.

Overflow in recent years has been handled in a trailer house, and a second teacher added. The present school board favored building anew on the same site, but they found that in all its years the DeSmet school has been a squatter. The land it occupies does not and never did belong to the district.