My first one-room school:
Chromo, Colorado, 1950 (Archuleta County)
Submitted by John Little <>

Chromo SchoolAfter the Navy, I went to the U. of Colorado at Boulder (Fall of 1946), thinking that I would do pre-law and get ready to become a Christian version of the great trial lawyer Clarence Darrow (of evolution/monkey trial/labor-union-defense fame). Even with the GI bill, I found myself driving a taxi three nights a week.

After two years at Boulder, I'd used up the GI bill, so had to get a job. A good friend, the Rocky Mountain area staff member for the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, urged me to "get a school," as it seemed there was a nationwide shortage of teachers in rural areas; this was the end of 1949.

Signed up at the Colorado State Teacher Placement Service (registration fee, 25 cents), and got a two-year temporary teaching certificate. Four days after registering, the 'phone rang: "There's a man coming to Denver tomorrow who wants to interview you."

It turned out to be the secretary of the Chromo (24 miles south of Pagosa Springs) school board; he was the only member of the three-man board who had a high school diploma. (The treasurer was the richest rancher in the region, but could neither read nor write; his wife signed checks and other documents for him.)

Fitzhugh Thomas Havens, who interviewed me, had what looked like a three or four-day growth of beard, was dressed from head to toe in oil-stained denim, and wore dark glasses so dark I couldn't see his eyes. I was pretty nervous, but we had a fairly relaxed talk about the school (24 kids, eight grades, in one room). At one point he asked "You're not afraid to work, are you?" And naturally enough, I answered appropriately.

the teacherageWhen it looked as though we had run out of anything further to discuss, I wracked my brain for something bright to say, but all I could come up with was "I guess there's a well on the school ground?"

Mr. Havens's response was, "Well? The river's right over there!" And sure enough, every morning I would go down to the Navajo River (15 steps from my one-room cinderblock "teacherage," break a hole in the ice, and carry a bucket of water up to the teacherage and then another one to the school. Heated my bath water on an old cast iron wood-burning stove, then poured it into a wash tub on the floor with lots of old newspapers spread around. We drank the water straight from the river, but when the Spring thaw came, with all the run-off from manure-laden cattle pens, etc., we did find it necessary to filter the water--using paper towels!

As I drew the water from the river in the dead of winter, mink would play around me, almost tame. (I had never seen a mink before that.)

Chopped the wood for heating my house and the schoolhouse; made the fires; swept the floor. And then I was supposed to be ready every morning to teach eight different grades right through the day. Still don't know how I managed--but the kids were wonderful, very tolerant, patient, a lot of fun, etc. 12 of them were of Irish descent, and the other 12 were Hispanics (yes, I, too, am "into" political correctness!). Some of the pupils came 15 miles each way every day in an open Jeep; two others, a brother and a sister, came eight miles each way on a horse.

After a very long bus ride from Denver, I was met at Pagosa by the president of the board, who took me to his ranch for my first night. Next night, a square dance and potluck dinner to welcome the first male teacher in the school's 46 (?) years. As each set of parents would pump my hand vigorously, they would say something like" Welcome, Mr. Little! Whip 'em; they get it at home! " Apparently nobody had told these folks that corporal punishment, according to state law, could only be administered by the principal with a staff member as witness. (The last female teacher had been " let go " because she couldn't bring herself to whip the naughty kids.)

The younger son of the man who had interviewed me for the job was the child who had to be whipped most often--but he, like the others, never seemed to resent being whipped; guess they knew they deserved it when they were naughty. The one whom I had to whip most often, when he learned that I would not be coming back the following year, said to his mother, " If Mr. Little isn't coming back, I ain't going to school! " (His mother told me this.)

When a blizzard accompanied by strong winds descended on us, the contract-built schoolhouse would tremble and shake, and the stove pipe of the heating stove would suddenly fall, in red-hot pieces, all over the floor. But the older boys knew what to do: They would quickly grab pieces of kindling, climb up on chairs, and reassemble the stove pipe!

Forgot to mention that the nearest telephone was in Pagosa Springs, 24 miles away. And on Sundays, I could make it to the Baptist church there only by hitchhiking. Same on the one or two occasions when I went to Denver to visit with my wife, who was studying medical technology at the U. of Colorado's Medical School.

I attended Grant Junior High School and South High School between 1940 and 1943 (both schools in South Denver, where I grew up). Then moved to Leadville in October 1943. Graduated in 1945; then off to the Navy Training Center in San Diego. After ten weeks of recruit training, was assigned to the "Communications Shack" on the same base.U. of Colorado at Boulder, 1946-52, during which time I taught two different one-room mountain grade schools (the second one was at Parshall, CO, near Kremmling--cain't remember the name of the county). 24 pupils there, too, and eight grades.After finally getting my B.A. (in History and Political Science), I taught high school for 1 1/2 years at Merino (near Sterling (U.S. and World History. Civics, Typing, and Gregg Shorthand).Then off to the U. of Michigan at Ann Arbor to get an M.A. in Linguistics (1953-54), so that I would be qualified to train English teachers overseas. (Wanted to see the world, since I never got to do so when I was in the Navy.) My wife's great-aunt took pity on me when she found out that I had to hitchhike from Denver up to Parshall and back, so in 1950 she bought me a new Plymouth sedan! Salary at each of the one-room schools was $2,400.Hope this is enough info, and not too much!
john little

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