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1. The First School in the Northwest
Location at Vancouver. The first school in the Oregon country was at Fort Vancouver, which was located in what is now Washington, and was taught by John Ball, a young man who came out with the Nathaniel Wyeth party. John Ball possibly had no idea that he would assume the role of educator shortly after his arrival at Fort Vancouver. He was then 38 years of age, having been born in New Hampshire in 1794; and was a graduate of Dartmouth of the class of 1820.
The party arrived at Vancouver October 29, 1832. Ball was not content to remain at the fort, as he did not consider that he really bad crossed the continent. Therefore, a few days later, he and four others took an Indian canoe and paddled down the Columbia, passed the mouth of the Willamette River, to the place where the river meets the sea. Having reached Clatsop Point, he, being the only one of the party desirous of going ahead, tramped 3 miles around the point to look at the ocean.
Here I stood alone, as entranced, felt that now I had gone as far as feet could carry me west, and really to the end of my proposed journey.
There to stand on the brink of the great Pacific, with the rolling waves washing its sands and seaweeds to my feet! And there I stood on the shore of the Pacific enjoying the happiest hour of all my journey, till the sun sank beneath its waters, and then by a beautiful moonlight returned on the beach to camp, feeling that I had crossed the continent."
He relates that Mr. Wyeth and he were invited by Dr. McLough. lin, upon his return to the fort, to his own table and given rooms in the fort, and the others had quarters outside the grounds.
And I soon gave him and Mr. Wyeth to understand I was there on my own hook, and that I had no further connection with the others, than that for the making of the journey. We were received at the fort as guests without talk of pay or the like, and it was acceptable, or else we should have had to hunt for subsistence.
1 Autobiography of John Ball, p. 92.
? Ibid., p. 93.
The return to Vancouver was on November 16. On the following day he dissolved all connection with the N. J. Wyeth party. He wrote of this experience:
But not liking to live gratis, I asked the doctor, as he was always called, being a physician, for some employment. He at first told me I was a guest and did not expect to set me to work. But after further urging, he said if I was willing he would like to have me teach his son and other boys about the fort. I, of course, gladly accepted the offer. So he sent the boys to my room to be instructed, all half-breed boys of course, for there was not then a white woman in Oregon. The doctor's wife was a Chippewa woman from Lake Superior, and the lightest woman, a Mrs. Douglas, a half-breed woman from Hudson Bay. Well, I found the boys docile and attentive and making good progress, for they are precocious and generally better boys than men. And the old doctor used to come in to see the school and seemed much pleased and well satis fied, and one time he said, “Ball, anyway you will have the reputation of teaching the first academy in Oregon." And so I passed the winter. The gentlemen in the fort were pleasant and intelligent, a circle of a dozen or more usually at the wellprovided table, where there was much formality. They consisted of partners, clerks, captains of vessels, and the like-men to wait on the table and probably cook, for we saw nothing or little of their women, except perhaps sometimes on Sundays out on horse-back ride, at which they excelled.'
Date of establishment.—There seems to be some confusion as to the date upon which the school was started, some placing it in November 1832, while others put it on January 1, 1833. Facts seem to point toward the former date rather than the latter, and it is more probable that the school was inaugurated soon after November 17. A number of sources which have been consulted to straighten this matter reveal that the most authentic, no doubt is the daughter of John Ball, Miss Lucy Ball, who is one of the compilers of his autobiography. Her communication, which has much historical significance bearing on this point, states: Letter of Lucy Ball
Aug. 7, 1927. My Dear Mr. BiBB: I have just received your communication of August 1st and have been looking at the original journal kept on this trip. There is no entry after November 17 until the next year in September. The last two entries are as follows:
Nov. 16. I land on place 3 miles below Ft. Vancouver. (He was returning from his trip to the Pacific.)
Nov. 17. Dissolve all connection with N. J. Wyeth, etc.
I am inclined to think that his school began soon after this date. According to the “Autobiography" on page 93, Doctor McLoughlin did not at first accept his offer to be put to work, but after some urging suggested the school. As father was always a man of action, there is no doubt in my mind that the school began but a few days after November 17, 1832. I am sorry I can give no more definite date. Sincerely yours,
(Signed) Lucy BALL.
* Ibid., p. 93.
The following note confirms the belief of Miss Lucy Ball that the school was opened in 1832. It is taken from the biography of Ranald MacDonald who attended Ball's school for a time. The account is as follows, partly in the words of MacDonald, and partly by his biogra. pber, William S. Lewis:
In the winter of 1833–1834 (?) Ranald for a short time attended the school of Mr. Ball, an American gentleman who taught at Fort Vancouver. This was the first school in the Pacific Northwest. Describing it, Ranald MacDonald has said: “I attended the school to learn my A B C and English. The big boys had a medal put over their necko, if caught speaking French or Chinook, and when school was out had to remain and learn a task. I made no progress.
John Ball was a Yankee schoolmaster who reached Port Vancouver in Nathan J. Wyeth's employ in the fall of 1832. On Nov. 17, 1832, he opened school at the fort for two dozen half-breed Indian children of the Hudson's Bay Company's employees. These children ranged in age from six to sixteen and talked the Cree, Nez Perce, Chinook, Klickitat and other Indian languages. Mr. Ball said: “I found them both docile and attentive, and they made good progress." Doctor McLoughlin, whose son was one of the pupils, was a frequent visitor to the school. Mr. Ball was succeeded as a teacher at Vancouver by Solomon H. Smith in March 1833. He (Ball) was the first American to teach school and the first American to raise wheat in what is known as "Old Oregon.".
The success of the school.—But even more important than the date of opening is the question of the success of the school. Here again the authors must take issue with those who say his school was a failure. He taught the school about 3 months, and then decided to go to farming. He said himself, that though urged by Dr. McLoughlin to continue the school, he determined to go to farming. It is quite proba. ble that he looked upon the venture as a temporary expedient, yet this is not to say that the brief session did not have its beneficial results upon his pupils.
In an editorial the Oregonian stated: It is inconceivable that Ball, being the man that he was, and being moved as he was by wonder over the meaning of the imponderables, should not have succeeded in imparting some of his fire to his young pupils. Though the records of the time are regretably imperfect, and lacking the detail necessary to the historical completeness of the story of the beginning of education in Oregon, we have undoubted warrant for inferring that had he elected teaching as a permanent vocation he would have been a conspicuous success.
And again they give emphasis to this thought, at the same time revealing some of the difficulties he was required to surmount.
Lewis, William S. and Murakami. Naojiro. Ranald MacDonald, Spokane, Wash., Eastern Washington State Historical Society, 1923. P. 25.
" Autobiography of John Ball, p. 94. • Portland Oregonian, July 26, 1925.
As Ball had succeeded measurably in teaching without books, contriving his own texts as best he might and relying upon the expedients of the moment, so he managed somehow with his farming.?
While he taught the school only a brief term, he did leave his impress on the lives of his pupils. George H. Himes stated to one of the authors that he has personal acquaintance with four of them, these being Ranald MacDonald, William C. McKay, and Louis LaBoute, all of whom were born in Astoria in 1824, and David McLoughlin, bom on the Canadian side of Lake Superior in 1821.
Some of the personal effects of Ball are preserved by the Oregon Historical Society. They consist of
writing roll, pens, inkstand, beeswax, pins, thread, buttons, and thimble, brought across the plains to Oregon in 1832 by John Ball, who taught the first school in American territory west of the Rocky Mountains, beginning in November 1832, at Vancouver, and closing in February 1833. He was also the first American to raise a crop of wheat in the region referred to
He left Oregon September 20, 1833, returning to Michigan. In 1838 he was elected to the legislature, serving on the education committee that helped frame the law that governed the university. He became one of the influential citizens of that State.
Later teachers of this school.—Shortly after Ball resigned, Solomon Howard Smith was engaged by Dr. McLoughlin to continue the school. Beginning in March 1833, he held the position for 18 months. Smith also was a Wyeth man. He married Celiast, second daughter of Yah-na-ka-sak Cobaway. She was very intelligent and sometimes taught for him. In the fall of 1834 he opened school near the home of Joseph Gervais at French Prairie in Oregon. He settled at the mouth of the Chehalis River, and afterward at Clatsop Plains."
The next event pertaining to this phase of the history was the coming of the missionary party of the Reverend Jason Lee, which reached Fort Vancouver on September 15, 1834. Lee had provided for the teaching of the natives by bringing with him two teachers, Cyrus Shepard, of Lynn, Mass., and Philip L. Edwards, a native of Kentucky, but who had been living in Richmond, Mo.
Cyrus Shepard took charge of the Vancouver school, while Edwards went with Lee up the Willamette valley to establish the mission school. Shepard had three Japanese sailors among his pupils. He remained at Vancouver 1 year, then took charge of the school at the mission, referred to above, which had been started in the meantime by Edwards."
' Ibid. "Oregon Historical Society Quarterly, 6: 342, 1905. • Bancroft, H. H. History of the Northwest Coast, vol. II, p. 365. 1. Grubbs, F. H. Oregon Pioneer Association Transactions, 1913, p. 73. 11 Scott, Harvey W. History of the Oregon Country, vol. I, p. 297.
Cyrus Shepard married Susan Downing, who came out by sea on the Hamilton with the Elijah White party, arriving in 1837. He died in January 1840, leaving a wife and two children. 13
Program of the Vancouver School. The school at Vancouver was made into a manual-labor school by Mr. Shepard. For a while there were two teachers, Mr. Shepard and the Reverend Samuel Parker.
Possibly as fine a description as one will find of the conduct of this early school is given by the Reverend Mr. Parker, who arrived at Fort Vancouver September 30, 1835. Parker seems to have been a man of ability, who wrote much, and with unusual clearness. He had ample time to make observations, as he spent the winter at the fort.
There is a school connected with the establishment for the benefit of the children of the traders and common laborers, he wrote, some of whom are orphans whose parents were attached to the company; and also some Indian children, who are provided for by the generosity of the resident gentlemen. They are instructed in the common branches of the English language, such as reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, and geography, and together with these, in religion and morality. The exercises of the school are closed with singing a hymn; after which they are taken by their teacher to a garden assigned them, in which they labor. Finding them deficient in sacred music, I instructed them in singing, in which they made good proficiency, and developed excellent voices. Among them was an Indian boy, who had the most flexible and melodious voice I ever heard.
It is worthy of notice how little of the Indian complexion is seen in the half-breed children. Generally they have fair skin, often flaxen hair and blue eyes. The children of the school were punctual in their attendance on the three services of the Sabbath, and were our choir.16
2. The Whitman Schools near Walla Walla
There were some early schools started in the Walla Walla country by the missionaries H. H. Spalding and Marcus Whitman, who were sent to that district by the American Board of Commissions for Foreign Missions. The Reverend Mr. Spalding commenced his residence among the Nez Perces about the close of November 1836, while Dr. Whitman began his work among the Cayuses on December 10. Wil. liam H. Gray was a physician who accompanied them from the East. The mission was strengthened by the Reverend Cushing Eells, Asa B. Smith, Elkanah Walker, and Mr. Rogers, after Gray had returned East for reinforcements.
u Carey, Chas. H. History of Oregon, vol. I, p. 210.
Scott, Harvey W. History of the Oregon Country, vol. I, p. 210. 1. Parker, Reverend Samuel. Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rocky Mountains, p. 171.