By Don McAlavy
The records of our rural school in Curry County have been ruined or destroyed. One story is that the basement in the county courthouse flooded and ruined these records. All that is known of our rural schools was obtained from early day school teachers, from children that went to the first schools and from a superintendent’s secretary.
Mrs. Vernon H. Miller was the secretary for our first county school superintendent, Louis C. Mersfelter. She once said that in 1912 when we became a state there were 64 rural schools in Curry County, but up to 100 little schools existed prior to statehood. The first schools began in dugouts or shacks and were called subscription schools. The parents paid what they could for their children’s education that perhaps lasted only three months at the most.
Texico, on the Texas line, was the first settlement in present Curry County. It was founded in 1902. Shortly afterwards, a one-room subscription school was established there.
Rural subscription schools started popping up immediately thereafter. The first one is said to have been the Frio School, about 18 miles north of Texico. That little dugout built in 1903 was home for the George McLean family until he built a two-story home nearby and turned the dugout over to Miss Lynn Jones to teach six boys and two girls, of varying ages, in the area.
A private school up the Frio Draw some 14 miles from the McLean place was started in the late 1890s at the John DeOliveira ranch home. He hired a governess-teacher, a Miss Landers, from Amarillo to come and teach his six children, consisting of four sons and two daughters. This school lasted only a few years.
The first public schools were these simple subscription schools until 1908 when public schools were first organized and supported by property taxes and poll taxes from the county coffers. State support came in 1912 when New Mexico became a state. Whatever was available — dugouts, claim shacks, or homes — sufficed for classes in these first schools, and served as church on Sundays. Usually the school was within a radius of two miles walking distance for most of the students.
Candidates for the first public school teacher were Lynn Jones, Edna King, Lola Murray, Lena Maxwell and Mrs. G.R. Hollis. These were unsung heroines, with a few heroes thrown in.
According to Mrs. G.R. Hollis, teaching at her first dugout school five miles south of Grady, “Terms were short as money for schools was scarce and came in slowly.
“I drove from our homestead nine miles in an open buggy through rain, sun, dust, and cold. The salary was $40 a month. The school was a half-dugout, 13 by 14 feet in size, three feet in the ground.
“The floor and the first three feet of the walls were dirt. There were no blackboards or equipment of any kind. We had a rough bench on each side facing a shelf fastened to the wall above the dirt. The pupils sat facing the wall above the dirt with backs to me. When classes were called they walked around the bench and faced me.
“The room was crowded and full. It held all grades from beginners to and including the eighth. We made all our calendars, cards of all kinds and other decorations from colored paper that we obtained from wrappings of groceries, etc. and tinfoil. We cut out pictures from magazines and seed catalogs, using paste made of water and flour.
“We appreciated all this as much and more than pupils of today do with the modern equipment and supplies. The teacher and volunteer pupils were the janitors in all the schools then.”
By 1918 many of these little schools had gone by the wayside. The others consolidated, and the pupils were transported by buses (most home-rigged) to and from school, some over long distances on rough roads. Over time, modern roads, modern methods and better trained teachers have reduced our county’s public school systems to only four today: Clovis, Melrose, Texico and Grady.
Don McAlavy is a history buff who lives in Clovis.