Cheney Free Press -

Story of Sanders Branch School more than expected

Of Cabbages and Kings


Helen Boots' book about Sanders Branch School and a teacher doesn't make for light reading.



When I asked Helen Boots if I could browse through the book she had written about the country school she attended as a girl, I expected it to be a text I could easily hold in one hand.

She held out an object tipping the scales at nearly 10 pounds, 11 inches across, and four inches high. She quietly told me of taking a course in college on how to tell a story. Again, I presumed she had written another few pages somewhere else. But here in my lap was the story. I turned the first page and read, "The story of Sanders Branch School (Brush College) and Mrs. Jennie Smouse, a community legend" by Helen Babb Boots.

Because of hungry coyotes and other wild animals close by, Helen and her brother John rode horses to school. She said her horse was trained to carry her to school, turn and go home. In the afternoon the horse, without instructions, made the trip to school and back home again.

"Our teacher Mrs. Smouse had a very small room at the school where she stayed. There was a pot-bellied stove. In the winter she warmed up soup for us," Helen said. Her dad, John Babb, his brother and other men had helped to build the school.

Mr. Grogan had long horn cattle. One day the bull got out. He charged the side of the schoolhouse. Mrs. Smouse told her daughter to climb out a window on the other side of the building and run to her uncle for help. Meanwhile Mrs. Smouse kept the bull's attention until it ran into the privy and got stuck in it. Two other farmers came along and helped get the bull under control.

The children really liked Mrs. Smouse. "She had us, girls and boys both, embroider quilts with red thread, single bed size. I still have mine. We skated on a nearby pond," Helen said. Sometimes when they could get away with it, they skated "a long time."

Mrs. Smouse always made sure the kids were ready for the state penmanship test. Palmer penmanship was the model, and they were to carefully copy it. Mr. Hale was the teacher, but was ill at the time. His son Millard took his place. Helen and her friend Phyllis Hale took advantage of the situation. Helen said, "Phyllis did not see it necessary to mind her brother." And Helen went along with the idea. The brother got the last word after all. The girls, as Helen described it, "were frequently sitting in the corner or writing lessons over and over on the blackboards." Does anyone ask why?

Their seventh- and eighth-grade exams were taken seriously. However, to children raised on farms there was a problem. "I did well on the agriculture exams, but home economics was a close call," Helen said.

Like many farm-raised families, their flour was home grown and ground at the Chapman Lake Mill and spices came with the Watkins man, a traveling salesman who provided rural families with small items. "We made our own soap. Mother made all our clothes, so the home economics questions were far over my head. And to think that I went on to be a home economics teacher," Helen said.

Next week we read more of Helen Babb Boots and her friends at the Sanders Branch School.

Luella Dow is a Cheney-area author. She can be reached at


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