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MUSEUM MUSINGS: Country school teacher remembers the old days

Written by David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times on September 24, 2020

The building was very primitive in construction. It was about 16-foot square with a puncheon floor and seat made of split logs. The girls were seated on one side and the boys on the other. The blackboard was made of 1-by-12 boards nailed to the wall. The students brought rags from home to use as erasers.

This very simple and humble structure was known ironically as the “Do Better School,” and it was where D. R. Eoff began his education.

Eoff grew up in the latter part of the 19th Century in the Watkins community. He taught school for many years in the area.

In 1962, at the age of 91, he told of his life story in a piece titled “Reminiscences of a country school teacher.” It appeared in the Harrison Daily Times.

Eoff’s father owned a small tobacco farm near the head of the east prong of Crooked Creek. According to Eoff, his father’s farm equipment consisted of a mare named Molly, a wooden plow stock, a bull tongue plow, a half shovel, two hoes and a chopping ax. The Eoff farm was made up of a log cabin and a tobacco barn.

Eoff was born in 1871 on his grandfather’s farm, which was located near the foot of Sulphur Mountain on the south and Boat Mountain on the east.

The Eoff cabin, he recalled, served as living room, bedroom and kitchen combined. The woods were filled with wild animals.

“There were panthers, bears and many other fierce and very dangerous beasts in that locality,” Eoff said. “Bears would ransack the garbage cans at the side of back doors. Bobcats caught our pigs.”

When he was very young, Eoff’s father became an invalid, and it became necessary for his mother to do the farm work.

“The children would go with her to the woods nearby to cut the firewood,” Eoff recalled, “and then it was their job to carry it to the cabin home. She plowed the field and performed other duties which belonged to a man’s work.”

It was at the age of six that Eoff entered the Do Better School. He remembered that details of students were assigned to bring water from a spring located 200 yards away. Others were assigned to sweep the floor.

School was called to order by the teacher pounding the door casing with a stick or by simply calling out, “Come to books!”

“Here I learned to write with a goose quill pen,” Eoff said. “The ink was obtained from ink balls gathered from the woods.”

The boy was able to spend only a few years in school.

“When I was old enough,” Eoff said, “I was bound out and worked like a slave. Vehicles known as tarpole wagons and prairie schooners were in common use at that time.”

In 1891, at the age of 20, Eoff entered the Valley Springs Academy. His board was six dollars a month, and he paid his tuition by sweeping the schoolroom floor.

Eventually, Eoff began teaching in a rural Boone County school for the salary of $25 per month for three months of the year.

In 1898, Eoff married Ruth Wingate. The two had been classmates at the academy and had taught school together in Boone, Newton and Washington counties.

“When we were married,” Eoff said, “I felt very fortunate to hold a contract for five months school at $25 a month.”

Furnishings for the Eoff home were “far from elaborate.” Cracker boxes served as chairs, and the couple bought a used stove for two dollars. A good suit for his teaching position cost Eoff $7.50, and he said he bought his wife’s first dress for 50 cents.

Eoff’s first child was born on July 3, 1899.

“Later I made ax handles at 15 cents each to pay for the baby’s first shoes,” he said.

In an attempt to better himself, Eoff left the teaching profession and went into the hotel business. However, two fires prevented him from enjoying any success.

In 1914, Eoff moved his family to Fayetteville, where he became a house builder and contractor.

“My formal education is limited to the eighth grade,” Eoff told the Daily Times, “but I have tried to improve my knowledge by doing correspondence work and have several hours of college credits toward a college degree.”

Eoff’s wife had died earlier that year, and he said, “We spent more than 60 years together on the sunny side of life.”