September 11, 2020 — The role that education placed in the new territory of Dakota was evident from the beginning when the Organic Act of 1861 stated that Sections 16 and 36 were reserved for “the purpose of being applied to schools.”

Although homesteading was not allowed here, there is a common misconception that the schools were located on these two sections. However, in the thinly populated rural areas of Dakota Territory the one-room schools were located in any of the sections of a township in an area central to the local school population. A central school placement would allow, as much as possible, for all students to have an equal distance to travel, usually within two or three miles.

Normally the schools were small, one-story structures in which all the students shared one classroom. By 1913 there were 4,684 one-room schools in North Dakota which provided instruction to 85,115 students. One-room schools permitted one teacher to supervise all the students at the same time while still being able to work with individual students at their respective grade level. One of the problems associated with one-room schools was that as the population aged and the children graduated from school, the center of the school-aged population changed.

Country school consolidation was becoming a major issue by 1930 however the most common approach was still to rebuild or relocate the school. A group of patrons of Schoolhouse #3, located in Bakker School District in the southern part of Emmons County, were trying to have the schoolhouse removed to a more favorable location. Twice the district voters failed to provide a majority of votes to relocate the school.

On this date in 1934, it was learned that while the opposition slept, the “removalists” jacked up the schoolhouse- building, desks, seats, blackboards, and all, and hauled it away, approximately two miles to the northeast. Over thirty years prior to this, a group of Emmons County citizens, wishing to move the county seat from Williamsport to Linton, removed all the county records in the dead of night. It appears that history can repeat itself and, if Emmons County history was being taught in the one-room schools in the area, it was a lesson well learned.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.

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