Volume III, No. 3, Spring 1976




Interview by Carla Roberts and Teresa Reed

"I worked hard when I was in high school. There was lots to do," Ralph Cook said. "I went to Bloodland High School from 1929 to '32. Bloodland was in the area that was later taken over by Fort Leonard Wood. It isn't any more, but when I went there, it had at most fifty students and three teachers."

As happened in many rural areas of Missouri, to be large enough to support a high school, three elementary districts in Pulaski county consolidated in 1914 to form Bloodland Consolidated District I. The school district built a building and offered two years of high school with a superintendent who also taught and one other teacher. In 1925 the school offered the third year and added a third teacher. By 1927 Bloodland was a first class high school system offering all four years.

When Ralph began high school he remembered, "We had students all the way from fourteen up to nearly thirty years old. Some of them Were coming back. They had had two years of high school and they were coming back to finish their high school."

Many students had to walk long distances. Ralph said, "I stayed at my sister's and walked four miles to school. I'd have to leave maybe seven-thirty to get there by nine. Then much of the time I would ride a horse and that didn't take very long--about thirty minutes. Then over the weekend on Friday evening I walked on home which was twelve miles, and most of the time on Sunday I would walk back to my sister's which was eight miles."

There were no electives in the course offerings. The three teachers would teach all the subjects, the superintendent teaching, just the same as the other teachers. "Subjects alternated," Ralph explained. "We alternated freshmen and sophomores. Because of that we had a full class. That happened all the way through. Sometimes sophomores would take a subject with seniors. We'd have English lit one year and American lit the next year. All the courses were college preparatory. This is what I took--what everybody took.

English I
P. E.
English II
World History
General Science
P. E.
English Lit.
Spanish I
Adv. Algebra
Bus. Arith.
Am. History
P. E.
American Lit.
High School
Am. Problems
Spanish II

"In my freshman year there were eight in my class. Our class was smaller, but as times picked up the class got a little larger."

The students always had homework. "I had about and hour or two hours every night. We handed in papers every day and those teachers checked everything and we had to correct it. They could afford to. Look at the small number of students they had. They had time to do it."

The main activity outside the classroom was basketball. Both boys and girls had basketball teams that practiced and played other schools on an outside court on the bare ground--even in winter. "I played basketball and skipped the snow out of the way," Ralph said. The spectators would stand around the edges of the court just out of bounds, sometimes even while it was snowing. The games were played in the afternoons the last period or two. Practically everyone was on the teams. "We were out to win. One player we had would slip outside through the audience that was standing around the court and run back under the opponent's bracket and holler, 'Throw me the ball!' There's no rule against it. We did win, too."


"As far as difference in the students, it's a different age. They have changed in some ways, but basically they are the same." Photo by Stephen Ludwig

"I've taught about everything except English at several rural high school. Photo by Stephen Ludwig

With such a small enrollment and before schools used buses, transportation to neighboring schools to play ball was a problem. "When I went to high school at Bloodland, we made all our ball trips and picnics and everything else in a cattle truck. That was our transportation.''

Bearkin, the annual of Bloodland High in Ralph's first year was duplicated off with individual pictures of each student pasted in--not only the seniors, but underclassmen as well. For 1929 there were five graduating seniors, seven juniors, eight sophomores and eight freshmen--twenty-eight total in the school.

But in spite of its smallness, there were several clubs and activities during the year in which most everyone participated. Bloodland had two literary societies, one for freshmen and juniors and one for sophomores and seniors "to promote literary activities" and compete with each other. There was a student council, a yearbook staff, and a junior and senior play.

According to the annual the 1930 school year also included several activities: the annual picnic at the Big Piney River with cave exploring and watermelon eating; a school fair with ball games by both girls and boys, refreshment stands, exhibits and programs by the whole school; an annual Halloween party with hobo clothes, a ghost guessing contest, treasure hunt and, of course, refreshments; a wiener roast with each person performing in an extemporaneous program, songs and cheers for the girl's team in the upcoming tournament; an old time fiddlin'' contest and pie supper; a Christmas program by the whole school of readings, dialogues and drills with group singing before Santa Claus passed out presents for each person; the first junior-senior banquet the school ever had held in a hotel in Waynesville with program presented by the junior class; and ending the year in April, the commencement program for the largest class up to that time in the history of the school--twelve seniors clad in caps and gowns. "The ceremony as a whole was very impressive and befitting to the dignity of the Senior Class," wrote the editors of the annual, with speeches by valedictorian and salutatorian that "were thought provoking and well delivered."


Bloodland High School was discontinued when Fort Leonard Wood took over the whole community.

The sophomore Class at Bloodland, 1930. Ralph Cook is second from right on the top row.

The end of the school year then as now brought joking and well-wishing like:

Effie: What's that mark on your forehead?

Jack: Oh, that's just where a thought struck me.

Mr. Miller [superintendent]: Do you suppose your son will forget all he had learned in high school?

Mrs. Brown: I hope so. He can't make a living necking.

If This Ain't Poetry What Is It?

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Vance loves Elsie

And Gladys, too.

In Ralph's annuals are found some more personal notes. His English and history teacher wrote, "Ralph, you are a bright boy--with one exception. You think too much of the fair sex. I'm afraid you are a trifler. Perhaps you will improve with age. At least my one desire is to see you make a success in life. Your sincere friend and well wisher, Nell."

A fellow student wrote, "When you see a monkey in a tree, pull his tail and think of me. A Green Freshman."

The poet of the school wrote:

Bright as a button

As, yes, that's you;

Smart and Brainy

Enough for two.


Ralph was valedictorian of his class of 1932. "I talked for twenty or thirty minutes on Americanism. I had to memorize my speech."

Graduates right from high schools could begin teaching in the rural elementary schools if they passed the teachers' examination given three times a year in March, July and August. The examinations were hard with problem after problem in arithmetic, algebra, English and other basic subjects as well as questions on pedagogy. "That means subjects in teaching," Ralph explained. "What would you do under these circumstances and who wrote this book and what did it say. We hadn't even gone to college and had that book, so the last year in high school our superintendent conducted a special class for us so we could pass the test questions."

Ralph started teaching the next year from high school, teaching a total of ten years in rural elementary schools before going into high school teaching after he got his college degree.


Teachers in high schools have always been required to have college work. Though Ralph got a two year scholarship to Southwest Baptist College, he was not financially able to accept. He began teaching and got his degree during summers at Southwest Missouri State College at Springfield.

He found that his high school education, though from a small rural one, prepared him for college. "I had no trouble in making it in college. I wasn't the only one in those colleges from small schools. And it didn't make that much difference, either. You'll find it out, too. If you can get math you can start in the beginning courses in math and you can work up your math there. Same thing with anything else. But you better learn to read and know the fundamentals. I went to school in order to have something to make a living with. It wasn't play for me. And I didn't date through college very much. Very few dates I had. Towards the latter part maybe, but we didn't go out nearly every night. We just didn't do it. We stayed home and studied, or they'd flunk us out. That was all there was to it. And I graduated from the University of Missouri. I've got a master's degree from there and I didn't have any trouble there, either. Now back then not everybody got the master's degree. There were just very few that went on."

As the years went by Ralph married and raised a family. He continued to teach in rural high schools in the area, teaching "about everything except English'' at Plato, Crocker, Phillipsburg, where he was superintendent, then moving to Lebanon in 1955 where he has taught junior high science ever since.

This year he and his wife, Edna, will both retire. He is teaching his forty-third year. During his years of teaching he has seen several changes in high schools. He has seen enrollments increase in high schools like Plato, Crocker and Lebanon, and has seen smaller schools like Phillipsburg combined with nearby larger ones. As the enrollment increased, he has seen schools offer more subjects with some electives. By alternating years the small school could offer band or home economics if they could find a teacher or share one with a nearby school. Secretarial courses like bookkeeping and typing found themselves in the curriculum in the 1940's. In the '50's even small schools like Phillipsburg offered specialized courses like psychology on alternating years.

There have been changes in pay for teachers also in his years of teaching. Ralph said, "I started out teaching at $55 a month in rural schools. I ended up by drawing about $85 a month I was probably drawing more than the average teacher here in Lebanon at that time.

"I wasn't getting enough to make anything, so Edna went out and taught a couple rural schools and went back to get her degree and then started teaching. If she hadn't we'd have starved to death. Oh, it wouldn't have been that bad, but we wouldn't have been able to send our children through college.

"Edna and I taught two years for $85 a month and we had all the money we needed to spend and saved a thousand dollars--that was a lot of money back then--and bought a little farm with it. And then when I taught at Crocker I got $2400 a year--$200 a month. When I moved to Phillipsburg I got $3600 a year. I came down here and started teaching at $3200 a year plus $300 a year for being safety officer."

Have high schools changed much in other ways? "High schools have changed but basically they are the same. Big schools like Springfield of course, offered more subjects. They had more teachers and probably better prepared teachers. You go back to the time I'm talking Lebanon wasn't very big either. Of course, it was bigger than Bloodland, but it would surprise you how small it was.

"As far as the difference in the students, it's a different age. There weren't drugs, of course. Occasionally a kid'd get out and get a little beer--there was no beer--it had to be home brew. But not too often. But basically they haven't changed a great deal except they didn't have such a wide area. Students back then learned to fend for Themselves. They didn't have so many other things. They didn't have so much night life. They didn't go out over once a week and lots of times not even that. There was just not much outside activity. They have changed in some ways, but basically they are the same.


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

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