SCHOOLS OF THE TOBACCO VALLEY
By Bethany Leeman
Log Cabins in the Boonies to fortresses on Central Avenue. Many changes have occurred over the last century in the Tobacco Valley schools. It would not be logical to try to tell about all of the schools that the Tobacco Valley has gone through, or the outstanding teachers for that matter, because there were so many of them. However, over the years the quantity of education and locations in which it has been available has changed. The education needed to be a teacher in this area has also changed drastically, along with the actual school facilities, there have been many developments in the schools up until the ones used now.
The education opportunities and locations have definitely improved as the community of the Tobacco Valley has grown. Up until 1894 there was no education offered to the children of this area.' The first school was in a log cabin at Leonard's (Old Tobacco). Mary Harshman was the teacher of eight students. By about 1910 the number of schools had increased by sixteen times. There were schools operating at Kohln, Cuffe, Philips Creek, Iowa Flats, Gateway, Rexford, Sheldon Canyon, Pinkham Creek (upper and lower), Tobacco Siding, Glen Lake, Fortine, two in Trego, Stryker, and Tule Lake. Of these most of them were one room log cabins or old Homesteads. Now we don't have that many schools, mostly due to better transportation and the advantages to having larger classes. There are now K-8 schools in Trego, Fortine, and Eureka, and then they all merge into Lincoln County High School, which is located in the city of Eureka. The quality of education and the schools themselves have really improved over time.
The education required for teachers early during the twentieth century was quite a bit different than today. Maurine Smith was a teacher here in the Tobacco Valley. She moved here in 1912 at the age of two. Maurine attended school in Eureka and returned from Cheney College, in Washington, to teach in this area. She went to first grade in the old Evangelum school. Then in 1922 she attended 7th grade in the new Roosevelt Elementary School. Maurine went to high school in the Tobacco Valley also. At the end of High school with the Normal Training Classes, she was given a two year teaching certificate along with her class of ten at high school commencement.' Now it is hard to get even a labor type job with only a high school education. Yet, this incredible woman and the rest of her class were proclaimed versed enough to teach in the schools.
Having that certificate gave Maurine the opportunity to teach in the country schools. The classes that she taught include: reading, writing, arithmetic, science, and geography. Her first country school was the Glen Lake School. Maurine had all the grades in a big log cabin. "They were a great bunch kids". The following year she was moved to the Rexford School, the building is still standing to this day but it has been moved to the Historical Village in Eureka. Then she moved on to Trego for one year, and Tule Lake was Maurine's last stop before she headed off to college. She graduated from Cheney in 1932 and continued teaching in various schools in the Tobacco Valley area. Although she taught quite a variety of classes Maurine says, "Kids learn so much more nowadays." Until 1970 when she retired. Maurine Thomas Smith got to see and experience, first hand, a lot of the changes the schools in the Tobacco Valley went through.
Although the buildings of the Eureka schools have not survived through time the school itself has. The first schoolhouse was built around the time that the Great Northern Railroad extended its track up through Eureka into Rexford, in 1903. This school building was located in 41 Tobacco and Mills Springs. The first Eureka school was built in 1906 it burned in 1918; this was the elementary school. The first Eureka High School was established in 1909 with five students. Both of these schools burnt down within several years of each other.' The elementary went first and was replaced by the Roosevelt in 1921, which is still used, and was dedicated as the first Eureka Middle School in 1997. The High Schools' original building on Central Avenue built 1919 went up in flames (1935). The school built to replace the one that burnt is still being used as the high school today. It has undergone a few improvements though, one being the new Gym built in 1961, and the second was senior hall, 1967.
The Tobacco Valley Schools have experienced many changes over the last century. The classes, qualifications for teachers, school buildings, and locations have evolved over time. There are people around, like Maurine Thomas Smith, who have experienced many of these changes during their lifetimes. Good education is becoming increasingly important to the residents of the Tobacco Valley.
1) Marie Cuffe Shea, Early Flathead and Tobacco Plains. A Narrative History of North West Montana, Published 1977, 151-152.
2) Maurine Thomas Smith, interview November 23, 2000 Mountain View Manor, Eureka Montana By: Bethany Rochelle Leeman
3) Marie Cuffe Shea,151-154.
4) Maurine Thomas Smith, interview 11-23-00
5) Marie Cuffe Shea,153.
6) "The First Settlement" The Story of the Tobacco Plains Country, various authors, Published 1977.
7) Maurine Thomas Smith, interview 11-23-00
8) "Complete Sale of $50000 Bonds for New School Buildings The Eureka Journal, July 20, 1921.Â 9) "Gym Dedication Set for Saturday" The Tobacco Valley News, December 14, 1961.