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The new era, that had been so auspiciously continued for three years, and gave promise of rapid and substantial material development, was destined soon to be interrupted by the experience of three dark days that occurred, one soon after the other.
On June 5, 1908, one week after the end of the term and after three and one half years of faithful and efficient service as a matron, the death of Miss Adelia M. Eaton occurred at the institution.
On the 7th of November following the Boys’ Hall, and most of its contents were consumed by fire.
In the spring of 1909 Mrs. Flickinger experienced a serious injury by falling from the open conveyance while on the way to Valliant, and, going home for treatment during the summer was unable to return in the fall and resume her former duties.
On March 13, 1910, the Girls’ Hall, laundry, smokehouse, wood house and Old Log House, together with most of their contents, suddenly disappeared in smoke.
Nothing was then left of this cherished and promising institution, except the chapel, temporary hall for the boys, built the previous year, and a lot of ashes and burned rubbish, the sight of which suggested the loss of comforts and working outfit; hopes and plans indefinitely deferred if not completely blasted, and the expenditure of a vast amount of labor and time to replace and refurnish the buildings destroyed; and the utter impossibility of any immediate recovery from the oft-repeated and fatal checks imposed on the enrollment, ever since the loss of the Boys’ Hall in 1908.
Two rays of light relieved the darkness of the gloom that followed the experience of these staggering losses.
(1). All of the lady helpers manifested the real spirit of missionary heroes. Presuming they were greatly needed during the period of reconstruction, instead of running away when there seemed to be no suitable place for them, they discovered a readiness to suggest possible and acceptable arrangements for their comfort.
(2) There was also available for assistance, a clever squad of intelligent and trained student boys, one of whom, having served for a term as an assistant teacher, was believed to be capable of serving as a foreman of the carpenters; thus making it possible to erect buildings entirely by the aid of colored workmen and principally by student labor.
In 1903 the Mexican boll weevil in its northward migration from Brownsville, Texas, crossed Red river and, during the next seven years, continued to deprive the farmers in the country north of that river of all profit on the cotton, their principal money crop; and greatly to injure the corn, their food crop. These long repeated ravages of the weevil came at a time when the colored people were by no means prepared to meet them.
In 1904 and 1905 they had been allotted 40 acres of unimproved timber lands appraised at $3.23 an acre, or $130. The allotment was the occasion of many changes in their location. They were really pioneer settlers, in their own native country and without funds to make needed improvements. They were happy in the possession of a home they could call their own, and entertained great hopes for the future. But this new and destructive pest, year after year for seven years, completely checked the prosperity they had so hopefully anticipated. The years came and went and they had nothing to sell worthy of mention to bring them money.
In April 1905, at the first meeting of the Presbytery after the reopening, many of the colored people voluntarily and enthusiastically united in making pledges for the purchase of the land needed for the buildings and farm at Oak Hill. But of the many generous hearted friends, who united in pledging about $300.00 at this time, only ministers and teachers receiving aid from the board, and a couple of others ever became able to pay these pledges.
Parents bringing their children to school, with only a few or no dollars in hand, would make pledges of payment during the term. The amount proposed was $25.00 for boarding a pupil seven months, about one half the real cost. When they became convinced they had no money to send, some would send for their children during the term, while others would leave them at the end of the term without notice, and even make it necessary for the superintendent to pay their way home.
These disappointing experiences had a two-fold effect on the school. They meant the loss, not merely of some expected income, but almost invariably of the pupil and patron, and the constant change of the student body prevents the development of the higher grades which must be reached by the students, if the school is to accomplish its mission, namely the training and development of Christian teachers.
The term reports of the last eight years will show that all the full term students that continued long enough to reach the higher grades, 7th and 8th, were self supporting ones, who were either sent to remain at the academy during the vacation periods until they completed their course, or were accorded the opportunity to work out a part of their expenses at the academy. The full term students whose boarding was entirely paid by their parents did not average a half dozen a term.
Inability to provide for their board, meant the loss of the brightest and most promising pupils of the earlier years, about the time they reached the fifth grade. But a good boarding school can be developed only where the conditions are favorable for the continuance of the pupils from year to year, until they reach the higher grades. The fact that the 7th and 8th grades were reached only during the last two years and then only by the self-supporting young people is quite suggestive, not merely of a past embarrassment, but of that which should be an important feature in the future management of the institution, namely, a constant endeavor to increase the opportunities for young people to support themselves by the employment furnished at the institution.
Another embarrassment was experienced as a result of the changes incident to the establishment of statehood.
The constitutional convention that met at Guthrie, the old capital, Jan. 1, 1907, changed the map of Indian Territory. From the time the Indians were located in it until that date the civil divisions consisted of the general allotments to the different tribes or nations and Oak Hill was near the center of the southern part of the Choctaw nation. In 1907 when the boundaries of the counties were established Oak Hill was near the west line of McCurtain County. The first election of county officers occurred that fall and they entered upon their duties on Jan. 1, 1908. It was made the duty of the county superintendent to divide the county into school districts so as to meet the needs of the colored people as well as the whites and Indians.
On Sabbath, Jan. 20, 1908, the first superintendent of McCurtain County called at the academy and left the papers showing the establishment of Oak Hill district No. 73, for the colored people of that neighborhood. The district included the northeast quarter of section 29, on which the academy is located and the southeast quarter of the section adjoining it on the north. The board of education for this Oak Hill district was organized on February 20th following, by the election of Henry Prince, chairman, Rev. R. E. Flickinger, Secretary; and Malinda A. Hall, treasurer. All this was done at a time, when the county superintendent could not think otherwise, than that the teachers and work at the academy were in some way under his jurisdiction. A little later the Oak Hill district was quietly quashed and its honorable board of education went into “innocuous desuetude.”
This incident is narrated because it illustrates what was then taking place all over McCurtain County, and all the other counties of the new state. The law provided that a district and a school might be established wherever there were six pupils to attend the school and the people furnished a building for it. In a short time three schools for the colored people were established in the vicinity of the academy, and parents were made to believe that they must send their children to these schools or penalties would be imposed on them. A host of colored teachers from Texas and other localities were attracted to the new state to meet the needs of the public schools, now for the first time established in the rural districts.
The mission schools previously established for many years in the chapels of the Churches of the Presbytery of Kiamichi became public schools and the pastors that continued to teach became public school teachers. Parents were also for the first time in their lives, taxed for the support of their local school. Will they be able and willing to pay their annual taxes and additional tuition or board at Oak Hill for the education of their children.
These important changes, occurring both in the immediate neighborhood and also in distant ones that furnished the supply of students for Oak Hill, were destined to exert considerable influence on the work of that institution. What the effect of that influence would be, was a matter of great anxiety and constant watchfulness on the part of the superintendent. The previous missions of our Freedmen’s Board at Muskogee, Atoka and Caddo were abandoned as unnecessary as soon as the increasing population of those towns made adequate provision for the public education of their colored children. Shall this be the outcome of the work at Oak Hill, now that the rural districts are supplied with public schools and teachers?
That these changes would temporarily affect the enrollment of Oak Hill, even under the most favorable circumstances was believed to be inevitable. This problem was all the more difficult to meet, while undergoing the experience of repeated checks, that made it necessary to send pupils home during term time on three different occasions and twice to check their incoming on account of “no room.”
The most efficient and faithful service possible, on the part of the superintendent and teachers, was believed to be the best means of meeting this crisis. Parents and young people must also have a little time for observation that they might see and be convinced of the greater value of the work at the academy.
To visitors at the academy the difference was very quickly perceived. These were some of the things that attracted their special and favorable attention.
The Bible was in the hand of every pupil, and even the youngest were familiar with many of its most beautiful and instructive passages.
Every pupil had all the text books he needed from the day he entered the school.
All that were old enough were required to spend an hour each evening, in quiet study under the helpful and encouraging eye of the principal, in addition to the forenoon and afternoon hours.
All were forming the habit of using their spare moments to advantage, by reading some good books from the library, a Church paper, or practicing on some useful musical instrument.
Their voices were being correctly and rapidly developed for intelligent use in song and public address.
In the visible results of their work they witnessed their skill in the necessary arts of life, such as farming, stock raising, carpentry, painting, masonry, cooking, baking and sewing.
And then it was very unusual for any pupil to return home at the end of the term, without having voluntarily become an active Christian worker in the endeavor meeting and Sunday school.
During the spring term in 1905 only 34 pupils were enrolled. During the next three years the increase was very encouraging, the enrollment reaching the full capacity of the buildings at 115, May 31, 1908.
The loss of buildings that began with the opening of the next term compelled a reduction in the enrollment. For 1909 and the subsequent years it was 84, 108, 90 and in 1912, 95.
It would seem from the foregoing facts, that, whatever demand there was for the Oak Hill Mission as a school for local elementary instruction in the earlier years of its history, the conditions of the country, to which its work must now be adjusted, have experienced a very great change. So long as there are families living in sparsely settled districts that are not provided with ample school privileges; or the interest of parents in the welfare of their children leads them to prefer the select boarding school, under well-known Christian influences, to the rural school; elementary instruction will be needed at Oak Hill. But the greater need now is for the higher Christian education that will best fit the young people to become intelligent and successful teachers, and for the industrial training that will fit them for the performance of the necessary duties of life.
A comfortable home on a well-tilled farm, that is every year increasing in value, is the ideal and happiest place for ambitions young people. Such a home affords healthful employment, the greatest freedom and is usually a very profitable investment.
The young farmer needs not only a knowledge of soils, their drainage and how to use them to best advantage, but also a practical knowledge of carpentry and painting, to enable him to erect good buildings economically and to take proper care of them afterwards.
The teacher needs this knowledge and training that he may create a constant demand for his services during the long summer days when he is not teaching.The young minister needs this knowledge more than many others, and a great deal more than is generally appreciated, to enable him to give intelligent counsel to his people, when they have need to make repairs or build new Churches and parsonages.
As these higher and special lines of industrial instruction are perfected and emphasized, and the facilities for self-help both during term time and vacation are gradually increased, the efficiency and patronage of the academy will continue to increase with the progress of the years.
The deficit in the running expenses on June 30, 1911, the last day included in the annual report of that year was $1,693.95. This was the largest deficit at the end of any previous month, and was a big one with which to commence the improvement work of our last year. It was due to the fact that the completion of Elliott Hall with good materials and workmanship, including furniture, cost nearly $1,500 more than was expected, and the appropriation made for it.
We were called upon to experience some serious losses and bear, for considerable periods of time unusually great and heavy burdens. The burden twice became so great, indeed, as to awaken the fear that another straw would break the camel’s back. Happily the needed relief came in time to avert that unhappy experience, or check the aggressive onward progress of the improvement work.
When the burden became large and a matter of personal anxiety, it also became the measure of the valuable and loyal co-operation of the new friends who came to our assistance, in addition to our Board of Missions for Freedmen; which is the first and final resort for the resources that are necessary to successfully administer, and gradually develop the work of this institution.
We deem it appropriate to gratefully record the names of those who have most signally aided us in the management of the finances, so as to keep them locally on a cash basis, namely, the Security State bank of Rockwell City, Ia.; 1st National bank of Valliant; and in succession the following dealers in Valliant: O’Bannon & Son; A. J. Whitfield and Planters Trading Co.
Hon. T. P. Gore, United States Senator from Oklahoma, (blind), has favored this institution by sending for its library more than a dozen valuable volumes, among which are 2 Year Books of the Department of Agriculture; 2 Handbooks,-I & II,-of the American Indians; Report of the Commissioner on Education for 1911, in two volumes; Report on Industrial Education; Manual of the United States Senate; Directory of Congress, and several other smaller volumes.
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