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Cherokee County School History 1934

Cherokee County School History

WITH the close of the Civil War and the subsequent return to more normal living conditions, the education of Cherokee children again became a matter of public concern. In addition to the development of a free school system the latter half of the 19th century witnessed the establishment of a number of other schools which left an indelible imprint on the lives of Cherokee citizens.

The earliest of these post-war schools, known as the Cherokee High School, was established in Rusk in 1865 by Peyton Irving. It was first located in a two-story building on the corner south of the present fire station, but was afterward moved to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The following extract from an advertisement of its opening, January 6, 1868, is a sidelight on its work:
"The session lasts 24 weeks. Strict discipline will be enforced. Orthography, reading and writing, $18; arithmetic, grammar, geography and history, $27; logic, rhetoric, natural philosophy, physics and chemistry, $36; classics, higher mathematics, moral and mental philosophy, $45. Half tuition must be paid in advance Board at reasonable rates in the best families."
Incredible as it seems, the program for the annual exhibition in 1870 included seventy-three numbers, grouped under the following alternating heads : music, declamations, literary gems, select essays, original essays, select orations and original orations. James Stephen Hogg appeared in a musical number. The audience came in the morning, brought lunch and remained for an after­noon and evening session. All exhibition programs had a com­mittee on order, composed of leading citizens.
Among Cherokee High School faculty members were C. J. Harris, who is remembered chiefly for his readiness to inflict corporal punishment on girls, and Mrs. A. S. Sturdevant, mother of I. L. Sturdevant, president of the Stone Fort National Bank at Nacogdoches.
For Peyton Irving, the principal and founder of the school, surviving students have a respect almost akin to reverence. Emi­grating from Virginia in 1856, Professor Irving opened a school at Lynn Flat in Nacogdoches County. Leaving the schoolroom for the army, he became an orderly of General Albert Sydney Johnston. After the battle of Shiloh, dl health forced his retire­ment from Confederate service. When his strength permitted it, he again taught at Lynn Flat until Doctor J. M. Noell invited him to open a school at Alto. Here he brought his bride, Miss Emily Massey, in 1864. In 1865 he moved to Rusk where he directed the Cherokee High School until he accepted a position on the Masonic Institute faculty. Later he taught in Galveston, Ladonia and Cleburne. Death came at Cleburne in 1923. His son, Peyton, Jr., was for many years prominently connected with the State Department of Education.

In accordance with the Masonic policy of promoting educational interests, Rusk local organizations provided Cherokee County with its chief school in the '70s and '80s.
In 1869 a group of citizens had organized the Rusk Educational Association and purchased land on which they expected to build a school. After two years of effort, hampered by inadequate resources, the association sold its claims to the Euclid Lodge No. 45 and the Cherokee Chapter No. 11, Royal Arch Masons. The Masons erected a two-story colonial building on Henderson Street, the present site of the grammar school, and opened the Rusk Masonic Institute, with ninety-six students in attendance. On March 14, 1873, it was granted a state charter with the following board of trustees : R. IL Guinn, C. C. Francis, J. T. Wiggins, J. J. Mallard, Thomas E. Hogg, T. L. Philleo and M. H. Bonner.
The first R. M. I. faculty consisted of four members: John Joss, superintendent and principal of the male department; Peyton Irving, principal of the female department; Mrs. R. E. Shanks, principal of the primary department ; Miss Harriet Mitchell, music teacher. Among the higher subjects listed on an old report card are trigonometry, surveying, natural philosophy, logic, chemistry, Latin, Greek and bookkeeping. Students were graded on politeness.
Professor John Joss, a graduate of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, was not only the first but also the most famous of Masonic Institute superintendents According to his students, he could quote ten thousand lines from Homer's Iliad and Vergll's
AEneid. The study of logarithms he considered excellent holiday sport. In 1874 he moved to Galveston. Afterward he returned to the Institute as professor of natural science and foreign lan­guages, in which capacity he was serving when the school was sold. Many Galveston boys followed him to Rusk. The esteem in which he was held is further revealed by the dedication of Thomas E. Hogg's poems : "To Professor John Joss as a testimonial of my gratitude for acts of kindness done me as well as my appreciation of his high attainments as a scholar and his intrinsic worth as a gentleman."
Among later superintendents were John A. Boone, Winfield M. Rivers, R. E. Hendry, J. D. Nevins, W. F. Cole and B. A. Stafford. Other faculty members included Robert McEachern, the blind poet-musician, J. W. Phifer, Mrs. M. A. Rogers, Mrs. M. Blasingame, Miss Kate Fairiss, Miss Lula Guinn and Miss Laura Philleo. The student body included boarding students from various parts of the state. Tom Campbell, future governor, was enrolled in 1873.
In 1888, because of financial difficulties, the Grand Chapter of Texas granted the local lodge permission to sell the property and pay the outstanding indebtedness. In December, 1889, it was purchased by the Rusk free school district, the Institute having for some years been partially supported by public school funds. The Masons donated half the purchase price.