Mrs. Lewis and the High Schools

By Ralph Spencer Lewis, Sr.

Keya Paha County, Nebraska, is a cattle country. Probably less than one fourth of it is farmed because the soil is so sandy. It has a small population, no railroads and only a few small towns of which Springview, being the county seat, is the largest. In 1914 it probably had a population of 400 and has no more today. It is about 25 miles from the railroad towns of Bassett and Ainsworth.

Springview also had no high school, but they needed one, so during the winter of 1913-1914, a board of regents was appointed to get a school started. One of them was Mrs. Belle Spencer Lewis, who had taught grade school there for six years before she was married. With the help of the school board and the county superintendent, they planned a new building to be opened that fall. She had twins ready to enter high school, so she rented a house in Springview intending to move there with her four children in early September. Her husband, Stillman, would remain on the ranch, twenty miles away, and live with a family who worked for him. He objected to this move, saying that an eighth grade education was enough for any rancher, and also he needed his boys to work on the ranch until they were 21 as he had done for his father. But his time Belle had her way and insisted that the children would at least have a high school education.

Just a week before school was to open, however, Belle went shopping to Dallas, South Dakota. It was twenty miles north and an all-day trip with team and wagon. Dallas was on a railroad which was built when Tripp County was opened to settlement about 1908. It was a growing town as most of the land around it was farmed. By 1914 it had a high school which was held on the upper floor of a nice brick school building.

After doing her shopping, Belle visited her dentist, Dr. Duncan, who had his office over one of the stores. While he was filling a tooth for her, she told him of her planned move to Springview the following week. Now Dr. Duncan was a booster for Dallas and soon persuaded her to move to a railroad town with an established high school. So she soon returned and rented a house in Dallas. When school started, the four Lewis children enrolled. The twins, Ruth and Ralph, graduated in 1918, and Lillian and Howard a few years later. Stillman came up nearly every weekend and during the winter bought a hardware store and later added a farm implement business.

During the winter of 1914-1915, there was a very heavy snowfall and the wind kept the railroad cuts drifted full of snow so that the trains could not run for two weeks. One passenger train, coming west, was stalled in Bonesteel, four stations east of Dallas. On the train was Belle’s sister, Flora, who was on her way to visit us.

The railroad sent a rotary snow plow through to clear the cuts, and on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it came through Dallas. A mile west of town was a twenty-foot cut and the plow spent several hours cutting through. Most of the townspeople were out to watch. They crowded on a snowbank above the cut just back of the plow. Suddenly some of the bank gave way and several of the people plunged down onto the track. One of them was the dentist, Dr. Duncan. As he rolled down the bank, his neck was broken and he died instantly. This was the sad end of a fine man, who was responsible for the Lewis family moving to Dallas, South Dakota instead of Springview, Nebraska.

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