White Deer Land Museum

John V. Thomas Taught In Pampa From 1905 To 1907

The third teacher of the Pampa school was John V. Thomas, brother of Sam (S.S.) Thomas and Charlie (C.L.) Thomas who came to the Pampa area in 1902.

Photo of Eloise Lane

Eloise Lane

(Sam Thomas and his wife, the former Eula Duncan, were the great-grandparents of Bart and Zach Thomas, outstanding football players at Texas Tech.)

In the summer of 1905, T.D. Hobart wrote to ask if John V. Thomas would consider teaching the school at Pampa . The two men met and agreed that all of the public money would be used for teachers’ salaries and that the White Deer Land Company would furnish buildings as they were needed. Thomas’ salary for the eight-month session of 1905-1906 was $75 a month.

Two weeks before school was to begin, Thomas found only six pupils of school age. He persuaded three overage children to enroll and found mothers who were willing to send three underage children. The 1905-1906 school year opened on the first Monday of September in 1905 with twelve pupils. The trustees were M.K. Brown, J.E. Chapman and E.P. Vincent.

That fall Freddie Hobart, son of T.D. Hobart, counted all of the people in Pampa for a project in his geography class. Freddie’s count was 52.

Outside the building ten thousand cattle belonging to Swift and Company grazed on the prairie in sight of the school. Emily Case said that occasionally mountain lions came near and caused quite a commotion.

During this school session, cattle ranches were breaking up and people began coming to Pampa on trains, wagons and horseback. In the last month of the eight-month session, the school enrollment increased to 43 and Mrs. Thomas was employed to help her husband with the younger children.

In the summer of 1906, Hobart had two rooms added to the original one room building. This made a T-shaped building of three rooms. The 1906-1907 school session began with 150 pupils and a third teacher, Miss Tat Worthington.

When school closed in the spring of 1907, Thomas resigned and moved to a farm near White Deer, Texas . He had an A.B. degree from Milliagan College in Tennessee and received a M.A. degree from the University of Georgia . He was at Auburn , Georgia , in 1938 when he sent information to Zenobia McFarlin (Mrs. J.R. Holloway) for her master’s thesis, The History of Education in Gray County .

Beryl Wynne Vicars, who returned to the Pampa school in 1905, and Kate Lard Heiskell, who enrolled in 1906, told of the years when Thomas was principal.

The school day was from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. with one hour for lunch and two recesses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The ringing of a bell at 8:30 warned pupils that they should be in the school building before the 9:00 bell stopped ringing. Thomas checked attendance by using tallies, round pieces of tin with numbers for each child. As pupils entered the the schoolroom, they removed their tallies from hooks hung on boards beside the windows and dropped the tallies in a box. Tallies left on the hooks showed which pupils were tardy or absent. Tardiness and absense were reguarded as serious offenses.

There were no cloakrooms; pupils hung their wraps on nails driven into the wall. There was no cafeteria; lunches (“dinner buckets”) were kept on shelves placed around the room. Water was brought from a community well (Lot 4 of Block 12) across the alley west of Lovett Memorial Library. Thomas and the older boys attended to the stove which heated the room.

Lower grade pupils had double desks; upper grade pupils had single desks. Thomas allowed pupils to sit wherever they chose in the handmade seats if there was room. He did not require boys to sit on one side of the room and girls on the other. He kept a switch for punishment, but he seldom needed to use it.

The school day began with prayer followed by singing religious songs, or sometimes ” America .” All the grades from primer to geometry were taught, but none of the pupils were advanced enough to have graduation exercises.

Some of the books used were McGuffey’s Reader, Butler ‘s Grammar and Language and the Blue Backed Speller. Spelling and geography were recited by the pupils who stood up and turned each other down. Those who stood the longest received gold and silver stars. At certain times, pupils with the most stars were given an entertainment of some sort, such as bobbing for apples.

Pupils took slates and sponges to erase the slates, but later they had tablets on which to take notes (or to write notes if the teacher was not looking). They had two big examinations, one just before Christmas and one just before school closed in May.

It was considered a privilege to stay after school and clean the building. Usually the cleaning alternated between two boys one day and two girls the next. The boy who went to the town well for water had to be a model of good behavior.

Another privilege, which appealed especially to the girls, was to have charge of the lower grades if the teacher had to leave the room. Once Kate had to whip her own brother. Although she was only fourteen months older and not much larger than he was, she managed the whipping.

The pupils had very little play or any other kind of equipment. Some of them brought balls, bats and marbles from home and organized teams. A favorite game played at noon was “King, King Canesco.” Other games included Blind Man, Follow-no-follow, Miller Boy, Dare Base and London Bridge. In the winter snowballing was the most popular sport. Thomas always played with the children at noon and recess because he believed that teaching them to play was an important part of his duties.

At noon one day during the 1905-1906 session, the wind was blowing so hard that Thomas thought the light 16′ by 20′ box school building might overturn. He arranged seats on the north side of the room and kept the pupils inside to play indoor games in that part of the room. The pupils, not realizing that they were serving as ballast, greatly enjoyed the games.

Beryl said of Thomas: “A better teacher never taught. He was very strict but always just—a man one could always respect.” She remembered his card system that really worked. At the close of each day, each child who had had good recitations received a little card with the words “one merit.” On the last Friday of each month, any child who had four “one merit” cards could remain for a “treat” after the other pupils left. In those days, it did not take much to please a youngster – perhaps pop corn, candy, an apple or an orange. Once there was a “picture show” consisting of some slides Thomas had made.

At the close of each day Thomas gave a little purple card to each pupil whose “deportment” had merited it. When a pupil had acquired twenty of the little purple cards, the pupil received a large purple card with the Biblical quotation: “Let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” This quotation meant a great deal to Beryl in later life.

Over 200 Articles, written by Eloise Lane, were published in the Pampa News. These articles may be accessed by clicking on each section below. A list of articles will be revealed that are linked to a page containing the text of the article.

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