recollections by lucy mason
Transcribed by Ida Frances Marshall from Lucy's handwritten pages:
Hill Ranch School by Lucy Mason, Teacher-Mom
The summer of 1918, Herb Hill and his family, who lived on this ranch two miles north of our ranch, asked us to go on a picnic with them at Big Creek Lake. My mother (Ida Donelson) and I had never been there and were delighted to go.
Herb Hill talked about the Hill Ranch as he drove. He told us how his mother-in-law and granddad of his two sons, Leslie and Harry, had been housekeeper there first for Art Hill, for whom the ranch is named, and later for Harry Hunter who bought the ranch from Art Hill (Art Hill was no relation to Herb Hill). Both Herb Hill’s sons had been born on the Hill Ranch and for several reasons Herb had a soft spot in his heart for it. First he thought it an excellent ranch with the water coming from Big Creek Lake. Second, his mother-in-law and her husband, Lou Moore, had taken up land north of it, land which is still known as the Moore field, and they had later worked on the Hill Ranch.
“We will soon come to Dead Horse Hill.” Herb told us when we were about 10 miles west of Cowdrey. “From the hill, you get a good view of the Hill Ranch.”
“Why do they call it Dead Horse Hill?” my mother asked, because she was always interested in the names the people had given places.
“Just like it says,” Herb Answered. “A dead horse. A four horse team ran away down the hill during the mining boom at Pearl – one horse was killed, so the name.”
Sure enough, from the top of Dead Horse Hill we got the view we were promised, a beautiful ranch with the hog back directly west of it and west of that the Continental Divide with Zirkel Mountain and Mt. Zirkel in all their splendor.
“A beautiful ranch but isolated,” Herb remarked. “Sometimes they don’t get their mail for several months in the winter and there are no near neighbors. When Harry Hunter owned it, there were neighbors over the hogback at Helena. Harry Hunter had a stage station and built the house for that reason. The stage stopped at the Hill Ranch before going on to Helena and then to Pearl, but now no close neighbors.”
“Gee," I said out of my ignorance. “I would hate to live there even though it’s pretty!”
Little did I dream that in a few years, I would go to the Hill Ranch as a bride, that my three children would be born while we lived there and that they would nearly grow to adulthood there, all of us loving it.
Bob was five years old and the depression really getting its teeth into us all and school was staring us in the face. I was worried! If I moved into town, I would be taking the three kids away from their dad and he would be left to batch on an isolated ranch. True, he had a hired man all the time and sometimes two but there was the cooking and when men are working hard, meals are sketchy. We had a good thing going at the Hill Ranch because we were on contract and labor was cheap. I said to myself, “Why can’t I teach my own kids? I taught other parents’ children for six terms and it was a success. Why can’t I make it work with my own?" So, that winter of 1931, I started teaching our son to read. He ate it up!
The summer of 1932, I went in to Walden and talked to the County Superintendent of Schools. She was very cooperative. We were in the Cowdrey district and there was to be a school at Pearl for the winter of ’31 and ’32. The County Superintendent suggested I take Bob to school at Pearl on Fridays until bad weather came. She loaned me books to use and some that were samples she gave to me outright. I sent for busy work out of a school catalog. We ordered a small blackboard, erasers and chalk. We were all set. I never asked for pay.
Ida Frances, who is only eleven months younger than her brother, was anxious to have school too, of course, so I started her on kindergarten work but I never took her to Pearl on Friday. I thought that year was for Bob.
Amy Taylor, the teacher at Pearl, was fine for Bob. She was a good teacher and very kind and understanding. He got to mingle with some other children and he liked it. The falls of 1933 and 1934, I took Bob and Ida Frances to Cowdrey each Friday. The Cowdrey School Board, on their own accord, started sending us transportation money. This bought all our books and other supplies! The next year, the county Superintendent suggested taking the children to Walden for one day a week in the fall and spring. Florence was in the first grade now and we thought it would be a good thing for the children to be with a larger group. The teachers in Walden were great about it, and because of this, our children were not the back woods kids they might have been otherwise.
We had school in the kitchen at the ranch. Our blackboard hung on the wall there, and a small bookcase held the books [Note: Ida Frances has this bookcase]. Careful planning took care of everything. All the house work was finished before 9 a.m. (children helping); vegetables were prepared for the noon meal; the meat already cooking. School opened at 9 a.m. and recess was at 10:30. Out for lunch at 11:45; school again at 1 p.m., out for recess at 2:30; out for the day at 3:30. Sometimes we kept going ‘til 4 o’clock if we were into an interesting project and most of our projects were interesting. Ida Frances has said, “We enjoyed learning because everything was illustrated.” The pantry and store room were handy. We measured and weighed. We saw what a pint was and a pound, and I can still see them hanging on a line in the kitchen. We made candles of both wax and tallow; studied seeds they collected from the meadows and mounted them and they drew pictures of the seeds and studied them in a “Flowers of Mountain and Plains” book.
We belonged to the Young Citizens’ League and had regular meetings once a week. We had president, secretary and treasurer and changed these every three months so that very young they learned how to conduct a meeting, keep minutes and handle money. It was for this Young Citizens’ League that we made scrap books and ours won in the county when Bob was in the 7th grade. He won the speaking contest also when presenting the book and won a trip to Denver, where he again presented the book. Florence won the same speaking contest when she was in the 6th grade. That year, each school made so many pages on a certain subject and it was all put in one scrap book to be taken to Denver. Our subject was the old mining towns and Florence had to talk spontaneously on the subject when called on at the state meeting. They said she did very well.
The County Superintendent always visited our school once or twice a year and came over to the Hill Ranch to give final tests. The three pupils enjoyed this and never seemed self conscious or afraid. They were always glad to start school in the fall. “It gives us something to do,” they said.
If you had looked at one of the forest maps during any of the years in the 1930’s and ‘40’s, you would have seen Hill Ranch School printed on the north side of the map. That was us. The Mason School, really. I am proud of it since both Ida Frances and Florence have bachelor’s degrees from University of Colorado and Bob a PhD from Oregon State University.
There were some disadvantages, of course, but they made the change from 8th grade to high school (in town) without difficulty; one was valedictorian of the senior class and one salutatorian and one third in the class. Of course, the classes were small but it was all pretty good for hill billies and they had the advantage of being with their dad all of those years.