"History of Lincoln, Oneida, and Vilas Counties Wisconsin"

Compiled by George O.Jones, Norman S. McVean and Others. Printed in 1924 by H.C.Cooper. Jr. & Co., Minneapoli-Winona MN. ill. 787 pages. The first two hundred pages are history of the three counties, the remainder of the book is biographies.

Chapter IX: The City of Merrill

   In connection with Merrill's school system it is interesting to note the present positions held by some of the members of the high school foot ball team of 1898: Ward Porter is a physician at Trout Creek, Mich.; Ralph E. Hetzel is president of the New Hampshire Agricultural College; Ray McQuillan is superintendent of the Langlade Lumber Co. at Antigo; E. S. Jordan is president of the Jordan Motor Car Co. at Cleveland; Richard Landers is an attorney; A. J. Stange is in charge of the Stange interests at La Grande, Ore.; W. T. Evjue is editor of the Madison Capitol Times.

   Some account of the early schools of the city has been given previously; a pleasing and more personal touch is lent to this subject as well as to all the early history of the city in the reminiscences of Mrs. M. J. Miller Armstrong, printed in the form of a letter to "Miss Jordan" in" The School Bell Echoes" of March, 1898. Mrs. Armstrong was the Miss Mary Jane Miller who is mentioned in the reminis-cences of Mrs. White, quoted previously, as having been one of the earliest teachers of the village school in Jenny. Writing from Wausau under date of Feb. 3, 1898, Mrs. Armstrong tells of being engaged in the spring of 1859 to fill the position pre-viously held by her friend, Miss Kate Goodrich, during the following summer at $20 per month and her board at the home of the Space family. She was but a slip of a girl in short dresses at the time. Going on, Mrs. Armstrong says: "The next week, one pleasant sunshiny day, one of my mother's boarders (who afterwards became my brother-in-law) brought out his magnificent horses "all saddled and bridled and fit for a flight." I hastily kissed my little sister and dear mother good -bye and after receiving the usual, God bless you my child, and' Be a good girl', from my mother, sprang lightly into the saddle and away we cantered, the big tears rolling down my cheeks, but anxious to try my fortune as a teacher. Though the woods were thick, the roads rough, and long hills to climb, we arrived in Jenny about eleven o'clock, none the worse for traveling twenty miles on horse-back, and we were cordially welcomed by the Spaces, and after an elegant dinner, when we were introduced to the children, Allen and Etta, the latter subsequently the wife of M. H. McCord, I took the examination I had dreaded, and should not had I known that the questions which I could not answer would be promptly answered by the secretary, John Cooper, who was determined that that girl should pass, which she did. You may be sure ever after that I never forgot to feel grateful to Mr. Cooper. When my brother-in-law started back the same evening leading one riderless horse, I felt very homesick, a veritable orphan, deserted and alone in the world. Did you ever notice what a wonderfully recuperative influence tears give to drooping spirits? After indulging in a good cry and counting the seven weeks which would intervene before the Fourth of July, when I could go home, I was as happy as a lark and ready to battle with the world. "The next day was Tuesday and Allen, Etta, and Sarah Strowbridge, now Mrs. Walter Alexander, went over to the old house that was fitted up for a school. Let me describe a room 15x18 feet whose walls of rough boards were blackened with the mosquito smudges that everybody kept going at that time-three small windows without shades of any kind, three long benches with long desks in front of them, a home-made stool and table for the teachers, the floor of wide boards, showing great cracks, not a blackboard or picture on the wall of any description. I found a dozen bright boys and girls waiting to greet me and spent a very enjoyable forenoon getting acquainted with them, even going with them at recess away up to what they called the cold spring, near the mouth of the Prairie River. It was a beautiful, romantic spot and I felt glad to be there, for it seemed the birds were welcoming me with their songs and the saucy squirrels beckoning me to a frolic with them as they chased each other out on the branches of the tall trees, chattering as loudly as they could. There was such a delicious, piny spiciness in the odor of the pine and hemlock. The children were all so kind and volunteered to enlighten me upon all subjects of sport, and one little fellow, Walter Kollock, asked me if I liked to catch frogs, and if I would not go with him after school to catch some, to which I gladly assented. Looking at my borrowed watch I discovered that we had taken nearly an hour's recess, but we had become acquainted and I liked my pupils and did not worry about what the board would think or say. "Among other girls there were three young ladies, one older than myself, Mrs. Space's sister, and one just my age, who was later the wife of a millionaire and resided in a palatial residence at Nyack on the Hudson. I had the pleasure of dictating the first letter she ever wrote to her husband while' Jim' was taking a trip down the river. It would take too long for me to tell you everything that transpired during that eventful summer, but I may say that I was happy and taught the children everything I knew in poetry and prose, in song, dance and games. We had to teach twenty-two days in a month those days, so on Saturday afternoons every two weeks, the girls would help scrub the floor with water which the boys brought from the river close by. We covered the walls with illustrated papers, the New York Ledger and Harper's Weekly, which were sent from home each week; made window curtains of papers and bedecked the homely places and niches with birch and princess pine and hemlock boughs until the old place looked like a picture gallery. Mr. Space made us a blackboard and a low bench for the babies. Mr. Pat Smith brought a dust-pan and broom and Mr. Stowbridge a brand-new dictionary. Mr. Norway brought a set of maps. Talk about environments we had the very best if we had not learned the meaning of that word yet. I worked hard in and out of school, rambled in the woods with the children, teaching them the names of birds, flowers, shrubs, trees, rocks and animals, they in turn teaching me where to find them, how to catch fish and frogs, how to fasten them securely with string and bush, their names and habits, and when not used for food made good bait when we did not have a good find of angleworms. "The brave boys taught me how to paddle a canoe, pole a float, ride on a log, and to swim. 'Chilli' and 'Billy' Averill gave me my first lesson when I went home to stay all night at the old 'Jo Newcomb Landing.' 'Chilli', with his hand under my chin to keep my head above water, laughing at my efforts to keep from going to the bottom, while little' Billy' bravely swam ahead, shouting encouragingly, . Miss Miller, do the way I do; kick and paddle like thunder', which I did and suc-ceeded in getting several good duckings. I thought of my early training years after when I dipped in the briny surf at Santa Monica, and wished I had' Chilli' with me, knowing that he was not far away in California. How those scenes all come back to me as I recall those lessons learned from these boys; the rides on the carriage in the sawmill, the hoisting of the old-fashioned gates to let the water on to turn the wheels; the gang saws going up and down which seemed to say' Get away, get away, no time to play, no time to play, saw big logs every day.'

   "We watched the men raft the logs and knew that only clear stuff would be floated to market and all shaky boards and slabs would go into the flood trash piles. We learned just how many feet it took to raft a crib, how many cribs in a rapids-piece, how many rapids-pieces in a raft, how many rafts in a float; what wood was used to make wedges, if the grubs were elm or ironwood, or if their heads were a perfect root, if the oarstems and blades were the proper size and shape, and we were delighted when we were allowed to pull on the tail-oar while we rode, making the shoot over the mill-dam; it was such fun to get sopping wet.

   "I live it all over again and in my mind's eye see the swings in the high trees, the children jumping rope, playing' ante high over,' 'chase the squirrel,' 'blind man's buff,' 'London bridge,' 'funeral,' and what not, and I say to myself tonight, 'Play on, play on, I am with you, there in the midst of your merry ring. I can feel the thrill of the daring jump and the rush of the breathless swing.'

   "We learned the Chippewa language and often visited the Indians in their wigwams, ate the maple sugar out of their mococks, although we knew it had been strained through a blanket before sugaring off. It was' heap nish she shin.' We knew the names of all the tribe that spent much of their life in Jenny, and found them very good friends when sober, but when they got too much' scooty wauboo' they were inclined to be aggressive and quarrelsome. On one occasion the tribe had returned from a payment at Wausau and were encamped near the school house, and had partaken of enough fire-water to render themselves, bucks and squaws alike, 'heap squiby.' They surrounded the house, pounding on the windows and doors, shouting in their hilarity for the' shmoky man's papooses' and the' nish she shin squaw school-ma'am indos' to come out and dance with them, which nearly frightened us to death. I tried to be brave and not faint, but it was an effort when I saw' Chilli' and' Billy' who knew them so well, sit pale and trembling, and warning me not to let them in. We sat there, it seemed to me an age, when at last I heard Mr. Cooper's kind voice say, 'Janie, open the door, it is me.' Oh, joy. It did not take us long to drag away benches and tables with which we had barricaded the doors, and recklessly fairly tumble into the arms of the rescuing party, consisting of John Cooper, George Kollock, Cyrus Strowbridge, Mr. Space, and Dan. Klein. They knew how frightened we would be when we heard them, and came to bring us home. I lived through that scare and went back to school in September promising to teach the next year, and did for five months at $22 per month and board, this time making my home with the Strowbridges, who were like my own kindred. 'Lib' was my sweetheart and I her love; Sarah was noted for her frankness, and the faculty of crying the biggest tears of any child in Jenny. The next two summers I concluded to teach at Eau Claire (now Schofield), and was about ready to return to school again in Ripon, when Gid Young came down and offered me the school at Jenny again and would pay me $75 per month. I agreed to take it, but a few nights after there was a ball at Forest House and the alarm was given that the Indians were now surrounding the village and' every man to arms.' I received such a terrible fright that I have never entirely recovered from it, and the very next day I departed on the stage for Ripon, where I went to school day-times and had the nightmare nights all winter long. I forget that I am only writing reminiscences of Merrill. Once when riding to the mouth of Pine River to visit another school, and had one of my girls astride behind me on the horse, just as we came to a curve in the road, we saw a big bear sitting on her haunches right in the middle of the road and a short distance off. I changed my position so that I was also astride, and said' Flora, put both your arms around my waist and hang on tightly; see that bear? I am going to turn this horse and make him run like sixty, if I can whip him hard enough.' I did some, but he refused to budge an inch. At last I began an Indian war-whoop which scared the bear off into the tangled wildwood and next day she was shot by Frank Andrews, who went in pursuit of her. I wish I had her hide now. The men at the' burnt mill' offered it to me and I was too unsophisticated to know enough to accept the trophy as a memento of a young girl's bravery(?)."

The End of Chapter IX.

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