Why We Have “Red” Schoolhouse History

Posted by Rusty LaGrange on March 26, 2020 (Comments Closed) as ,

Back to School in a Little Red Schoolhouse

Our Easter break is over now and (if not for the corona virus) millions of children would be returning to their brown, beige, or light green school campuses. Of course, they come in other colors, but those are the most common. You don’t see little red schoolhouses any more.

  A typical prairie style red school building

Over one hundred years ago, children returned to their little red schoolhouses, many of them known as “one-room” schools, when the smaller number of students filled one room — and that was enough.

Although most wooden schoolhouses in the U.S. are now painted white, a few generations ago it was customary, especially in New England and other northeastern sections of the country, to paint framed schoolhouses red. It’s not because that color was preferred, but because red paint was cheaper than any other kind obtainable. So the “little red schoolhouse” became a symbol of popular education in general.

When Secondary School was the Next Step

In 1930 the U.S. Bureau of Education issued a bulletin on secondary education. Those who instituted the charge of this work were surprised that most people didn’t know that term at all. Secondary education is the training provided at high school levels.

In other words, secondary schools are simply high schools, institutions that give instruction between elementary or primary school and the university level. The name was adapted from the French usage. It’s now distinctly American.

Probably the first time, in 1821,  a secondary school was established was known as the English High School of Boston. Now every state in the Union maintains free high schools at public expense.

As you enter your school, you can dazzle your classmates with the reason why old prairie schools were painted red. And, if you think about it, most “white-picket fences,” typically marking the front yards of well-to-do families, were easily kept bright white due to the lye and water-based paint that could be made right on the farm. Just whitewash, common paint with a glimmering effect.

Simple effect, simple design in a century of simple life lifestyles.

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Rusty LaGrange

Chuck Wagon Fare and Hard Scrabble Lives

Posted by Rusty LaGrange on August 26, 2019 (Comments Closed) as , ,

If it wasn’t for the portable kitchens designed to follow the moving herds on a cattle drive, then I expect the cowboys would sit at a campfire and eat hardtack and jerky at the end of the day. A hot nutritious meal mended a lot of sore bones. Chuck wagon fare was also designed to keep the drovers healthy on their long trips, not just fed. Their hardscrabble lives on the trail were hard enough.

Nobody wanted to climb off their worn saddle after a long day in it, then sit and look at a bowl of beans — every day, day after day. The “cookie,” one of the many nicknames given the chef managing the chuck wagon, managed to whip up biscuits, bread, pies, cobblers, stews, steaks, and beans. He foraged for wild onions, miner’s greens (wild and edible leafy plants) as well as negotiating with ranchers and farmers along  the way for fruits and vegetables, sometimes eggs.


The chuck wagon was always full in the beginning stages with plenty of flour, beans, salt, lard, sugar, some herbs and spices yet by the time the men were getting a bit mean and fidgety on a long trail ride, the cookie could fashion up something tasty to settle them down. They also carried brown sugar, rice, cornmeal, dried fruit like apples, peaches. Staples were baking soda, baking powder, sourdough, and of course, coffee.

A well-stocked chuck wagon (courtesy of Hansen Wagons)

You can thank Charles Goodnight for inventing the chuck wagon. He took an old Army surplus Studebaker wagon and modified it with a bank of open shelves and slots to keep everything in its place. Driving across that hardscrabble ground could be deafening so tight storage helped to keep the kitchen pots and utensils from banging around. Nervous steer loved to run when panicked.

That iconic Dutch oven cast iron pot and lid swung from the rear cross-member on the wagon. It was a good place to let biscuit dough rise in the sunny side, and often allowed beans to soak while traveling.

An assortment of canned goods were available but were known as “airtights” since the sealed canned kept longer than most other staples. Those delicacies included: corn, tomatoes, peaches, oysters, and syrup of molasses.

Another hardbound book I found with helpful advice is from the 1860s called The Hearthstone — it too was a collection of necessary tips and tricks to keep a home.

As I studied up on the trail recipes, I found that most chefs and “cookie”‘ didn’t use any cookbooks. Their memory sufficed. It wasn’t until about 1902 that the early printing of general use recipe books came into fashion. Of course, every lady loved the insightful readings of Godey’s Ladies Journal, one of the early subscription magazines. It was filled with recipes as well.

Here’s one pulled from the pages of Civil War Era Recipes as is:


One pound of Indian meal, quarter of a pound of butter, two eggs, half pound of sugar, quarter pound of raisins, and quarter pound of currants. Cut the butter into the Indian meal, and pour over it as much boiling milk as will make a thick batter; beat the eggs very light and when the batter is cool, stir them in. Stone the raisins, wash, pick and dry the currants. Mix the raisins and currants together and dredge as much wheat flour on them that will stick. Stir the fruit into the batter and add the sugar. Bake in a moderate oven for two hours. That might translate to 350 degree oven, just guessing.

So that should keep you very happy that our cookbooks of today go out of their way to give you “tested” recipes that are guaranteed to be edible. I’m not sure if i could even reduce this recipe to a small loaf with so many ingredients to feed an army.

Next time I have an army to feed, I’ll let you know.


Rusty LaGrange

Mail Delivered on Foot in the Snow? Snowshoe Thompson Did It.

Posted by Rusty LaGrange on August 9, 2019 (Comments Closed) as , , ,

When I think of my dad telling me he had to walk to school up hill, both ways, in the snow,

it didn’t really mean that. It was a silly saying that meant the going was tough. But when I learned about Snowshoe Thompson trudging through deep snow over the Sierra Mountains of California, I had to stop and consider.

You see, this guy was really doing a service for the mountain communities that were cut off from mail, and supplies, and any other services during the winter months.

At first Snowshoe just did it when requested. Then he did the treks for the U.S. Postal Delivery service. The railroads hadn’t been built yet, and he was more capable being that he was Norwegian and used to deep snow all of his life.


The legendary “Mailman of the Sierra”, John A. “Snowshoe” Thompson, carried mail from Placerville, California, to Ge

Snowshoe Thompson

noa, Nevada (Utah Territory) for 20 years, twice a month during the winter.


I don’t remember this man and his daring adventures trekking over the Sierras as part of my grade school  learning. I loved History in school and I’m sure he was one of those unsung heroes. If you want to learn more about his life of service, there’s an historic group online that has a great resource dedicated to him.

Thompson was born Jon Torsteinson–Rue on April 20, 1827, on a farm called Luraas–Rue gård in Tinn, Telemark, Norway. Jon was the fourteenth and youngest child of Torstein Olson-Rue and the sixth and youngest child of Gro Jonsdatter Einungbrekke.

He was known for carving his own snowshoes in a design from his Norwegian heritage. They were ten feet long. He didn’t use ski poles like most skiers would, but crafted a balancing pole that he would lay across his lap as he cruised. His squatting stance and balance pole allowed him to maintain faster and longer distances with less energy.

Snowshoe traveled light, often with only a small backpack to carry the mail — depending on what he needed to deliver. Otherwise, he didn’t carry a rifle or much else to survive with.  I’ve done some cross country skiing and it can be brutal if you wear too much clothing and get soaked in the rain or snowfall. I could have used some of his knowledge.


Thanx for reading my blog. Reprint permission was granted by the historic society that knows everything about the man and have books about his life available as well.

Rusty LaGrange

Simple Water Level

Posted by Rusty LaGrange on April 14, 2019 (Comments Closed) as , ,

You Can Make Your Own


Simple tools were often the easiest to make on the ranch. Many of the daily tools we have now a crafty pioneer adapted from a similar tool he had seen at another ranch, a mercantile, or even adapted from Native Americans.


Using the simple concept of water always finding its own level due to gravity, this water level is something you can make and use today.

Water Level Tool handmade

Consider that you need to find a level piece of ground for pouring a cement slab or a new patio, a water level can help in long runs where a string level might not work as well. String levels tend to sag over long distances.

Mark Your Increments


25-foot garden hose

2 wooden flat garden stakes

duct tape

a ruler and felt-tipped marker

36 inches of 5/8-inch clear plastic tubing, cut in half (18” long)

2 adaptable hose ends with 5/8-inch hose clamps



Take two wooden stakes and holding them with points upward, allow about 6-8 inches of room before marking lines. Then by using a felt marker and a ruler, measure off one inch increments on the flat sides of each stake upward from that first mark. You don’t want to use the pointed ends on the ground or the measurement will be off. Compare your stakes to be sure they match.



Both stakes will be fitted with hose ends attached at the base of each stake. One male and one female. This will allow a standard 5/8-inch garden hose to be filled with enough water to show level when held upright. Actually, you can use larger hose lengths or hose diameters. I just chose a standard 5/8th size to start.



Take the clear plastic viewing tubes, such as the type for evaporative coolers. For this tool, 5/8-inch thickness will work. Use duct tape or Mylar clear tape and position the two tube ends with hose adapters and hose clamps to the base of the garden hose ends. Wrap the garden hose ends securely to the stakes with duct tape. Be sure to anchor the hose well enough so it doesn’t shift on the stake. (See photo for detail)



Pour enough water to fill the garden hose so that, when both stakes are upright, you can see water standing in the clear viewing tubes. Adjust for best viewing, not too full. This tool is so forgiving that you can use long hoses, just be sure the hose is full without trapped air in it.



With one person at each end of the level, lay out the garden hose flat. You can place it in a serpent style pattern on the ground, but don’t let it lay over any part of the hose. By taking measurements around your work area, you’ll see what soil will need to be moved to bring the ground level. Watch the water levels at the inch mark and you’ll see how much difference the ground is to a natural level.


Adjust several times as you work and measure again. Once you have the concept working, you’ll adjust until both viewing tubes are showing the same leveled mark. I’m not sure of the earliest use of this invention, but it may go as far back as the Egyptians measuring their pyramids.


Old Fashioned Sponge Cake

Posted by Rusty LaGrange on September 4, 2018 (Comments Closed)

Cookbooks are nearly as valuable and cherished as Bibles in some homes. This made me recall all the kitchen chatter and special moments growing up in a kitchen of the 60s. Betty Crocker was on the shelf along with my mom’s time-worn recipes from her early years as a young mom and house wife.

I came across a food writer years ago who is also a chicken rancher. She plans her meals around old favorites that uses plenty of eggs. Her name is Meredith Chilson of Western New York. She recalls the chilly winters and finding a good reason to warm up the kitchen with a bit of baking time.

“Sponge cake is a yummy way to make use of a few extra eggs,” says Meredith. “It’s been a while since I made one, and I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to take photos as I go along, but … here we go.”

The Recipe is Fairly Simple

I don’t remember making any sponge cake like hers but I do remember eating it. Melt in your mouth memories. Remember that these measurements weren’t as exact as today. Most “cookbooks” were just collections of notes keep in a box or drawer.



1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 egg yolks
6 egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
1/3 cup cold water

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon lemon flavoring
½ teaspoon cream of tartar


Betty’s recipe also calls for 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind, if desired, but I didn’t add it.

First, heat your oven to 325 degrees. Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

Separate the egg yolks and whites. (Have you noticed that with very fresh eggs, this is sometimes difficult?) I’ve also heard that pioneer eggs were much richer and larger.

Beat the egg yolks in a small mixer bowl until they are very thick and lemon-colored.

The hand mixer and eggs

We never had an electric beater. Just old-fashioned manual beaters.

Pour the beaten yolks into a large bowl and beat in the sugar gradually.

Beat the dry ingredients in slowly, on low speed, alternately with the water and flavorings.

In another large bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff. Gradually and gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the beaten whites.

Pour all this carefully into an ungreased tube pan, and bake about an hour.

Tube Cake form or spring form — it all tastes like heaven

Turn the pan upside down with the tube over the neck of a funnel or bottle, cool. Remove from the pan and be ready for appreciative murmurs. Meredith explains its history: ” My family likes this sponge cake just plain, with maybe a glass of milk … but it’s also great with a fruit sauce, using berries frozen from last summer!”

Uummmmm… I can taste it from here.


Rusty LaGrange

(photo credits: Creative Commons from www.pexels.com)


Tombstone’s Strange But True Tale From the Old West

Posted by Rusty LaGrange on March 17, 2016 (Comments Closed) as , , ,

Five different newspapers were historically known to be running as daily or weekly editions in the early days of 1880 Tombstone, Arizona. If you had the leisure time to peruse the variety pages of their old archives, you might have come across this one based on a true account.

Johnny Blair of Double Dobe (short for adobe mud) Ranch was looking forward to riding  into Tombstone to see the sights with a bunch of cowboy comrades when he was taken down with a sudden case of smallpox.

Dragged to the Grave

Saddle Pardner Dies of Smallpox & Goes to the Grave Fast

Smallpox was a frightening disease that was hard to survive or to get rid of. Whole Native Indian tribes had been wiped out due to the lack of any natural tolerance to the affliction. Everyone was afraid of smallpox. His friends quarantined him under care of a Mexican woman, immune from the plague, in a cabin out on the mesa. His friends occupied another cabin a half mile away to lend whatever long-distance assistance they may. They waited patiently and seemed honor-bound to support their trail buddy.

After five days, the Mexican nurse approached within earshot and announced that poor Senor Juanito was ‘very dead.’ To bury the victim, and pal, of this dreaded disease, without endangering the lives of the other cowboys became their immediate problem. Having scooped out a grave, they played ‘seven-up’ card game to determine who would officiate as mortician.

The loser of the game saddled his pony and, riding to the open door of the cabin where the dead man lain on a blanket on the floor, threw a loop of a lasso about his feet. Spurring his pony to a gallop with the corpse dragging and bouncing at the end of the rope, the rider raced at break-neck speed toward the grave, into which the dead man flounced headlong. The other cowboys, anticipating the delivery, rushed up with spades and made the dirt fly as they filled the grave, establishing doubtlessly a world’s record for lightning speed in funerals.

Hold Lightning in Your Hand? Yup.

Posted by Rusty LaGrange on August 4, 2015 (Comments Closed) as , ,

Some tall tales come out of the Old West, and here at Old West Stagecoach and Trading Post, I could fabricate ones that would leave you scratchin’ your head.

Just wanted you to know that what you read here has been carefully researched and I try not to hornswoggle you or flat out lie to you. I want the Old West to be entertaining, as it should be, but also educational.

Here’s a case in point:

Old West Stagecoach and Trading Post with fulgurite

Specimen of large fulgurite with branches

If you come across a strange looking black stick protruding out of the ground, and it looks covered with bumpy, black sand crystals, you may have a fulgurite. Fulgurite (Latin for lightning) is a term for a lightning-formed, fused, rock structure. When lightning hits the ground and the silica content, as in a sand dune, is high enough to be fused by the high heat temperatures of several thousand degrees Fahrenheit, then a tube of fused sand is formed. The walls of the fulgurite might be as thin as one-thirtieth of an inch but can reach as many as 30 feet into the ground. The denser ones found have been as large as three or four inches in circumference. Most are much smaller and brittle.

Old West Stagecoach and Trading Post with sand dune lightning

Raw fulgurite dug from sand dune

Go ahead and ask at your local museum or a rock hound enthusiast to see if they ever found one. Then ask them how they found it.



What makes collecting fulgurites so odd is that as the shifting sands tend to uncover whatever is beneath, you could find yourself walking through a forest of lightning, frozen in time to be found and studied.

Old West Stagecoach and trading Post with fragile glass tube

Fragile tube of glass is fulgurite example

So, next time you play on a sand dune, watch out for gnarly black sticks with weird formations of blackened sand. If the interior is black, smooth glass — you have yourself a fulgurite.

Rusty LaGrange

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Legendary Stagecoach Driver — One-Eyed Charley Parkhurst

Posted by Rusty LaGrange on July 9, 2015 (Comments Closed) as , , ,

Folks love to hear about living legends. Even if they don’t live up to the pedestal folks place them on, well, it still is a place suitable for them.

Case in point is the odd story of a “whip” — the nickname for a stagecoach driver — with a lot of history, and plenty of guts and glory earned on the trail. One-Eyed Charley Parkhurst was one of the best stagecoach drivers out West and known to frequent Wolf Creek Tavern up on the Oregon Coast driving for the Butterfield Stage. Once having driven San Jose and Santa Cruz routes in California, and others up in the Gold Country back in the 1849-50s.

As compelling as any hard driven Whip -- Charley was top-notch

As compelling as any hard driven Whip — Charley was top-notch

Folks said for every mile he drove his team hard, spat his tobacco juice harder, and cussed like Sam Clemens; the only time he missed work was the day after payday, when he’d be too hung over to drive. So the drinking and swearing would have been those other attributes he would have been known for. A good whip could earn the highest pay for the most coveted routes. Over time, more than 20 years, that’s what Charley did. For every cantankerous word that flew out of his mouth, he earned the best paying route and others looked up to him for it.

Others added that he was curt and ornery, hell on wheels in a game of cards or dice, and possibly the best handler of horse teams in the West. One source passes on a rumor that he shot and killed at least one bandit who’d hoped to rob the stage. If you rode with Charley you were in good hands.

Monument to the Legend

Monument to the Legend

In 1868 after the Civil War, at the age of 57 or so, he went and got himself registered to vote so he could help Ulysses S. Grant clinch the election. Even though Charley never got into the war, the feelings of those out West were strong. No one wanted to tangle with Charley just to prove a point.

So it was in 1879 that One-Eyed Charley Parkhurst earned his legendary status and died at the age of 67 — his hard life ended in a small cabin near Watsonville, California. But there was another legend to add to Charley’s after his death. Seems that the mortician at the funeral home discovered something that nobody knew — Charley was a woman. Some say her name was Charlotte, some say Mary, either way they found she had been orphaned at an early age. Dressing as a boy helped her to escape the orphanage, and she found the masquerade opened a lot of doors that were closed to girls and women in early 19th-century America. She had a way with horses and her slight build and structure helped her fit in with the males she worked with. It became a way of life for her, from that day forward.

A Stagecoach similar to the type driven on Parkhurst's route

A Stagecoach similar to the type driven on Parkhurst’s route

Legends need to be hardened over time. With Charley it took some doing because most of the male population who worked with her and gambled and drank regularly couldn’t believe she was an actual woman. It was hard to swallow. Not only that, she’d up and voted in a Presidential election in 1868, possibly the first woman in America to do so. That alone could help place her a bit higher on the pedestal.

Over time the stories ran out and all that was left was a true legend of a famous stagecoach driver who truly outlived her scandalous death.

Ladies Handiwork Arrives at Trading Post

Posted by Rusty LaGrange on April 9, 2015 (Comments Closed)

The latest in ladies handiwork have just been delivered by stagecoach. We’re hurrying to get them out and displayed. Once completely on the shelves of the Trading Post, you’ll have the top quality doilies, dresser scarves, and demi cloth available.

Prices will be set based on Vintage, Collectible, and New World. First come, first served.

My Momma used to make these dainty little doilies and attach them to the jar tops of preserves and jellies. A narrow ribbon around the lid secured the doily very well. Those gifts were cherished by both ladies and their husbands.

The larger doilies were often placed on arm chair backs and side arms to reduce the oils penetrating the upholstery cloth. Most times they were crocheted using an ecru bone color thread and a fine hook. A few I have in a darker beige tone. Some are made by tatting intricate loops together to form a fancy pattern for either a doily or dresser scarf. Momma showed me how to tat years ago but it’s hard to remember if you don’t do it often enough.

There’s a trend now for ladies planning their wedding gowns and trousseaus to have a vintage purse to match. Some of these are created by taking a round doily and weaving a color-matched velvet ribbon through the edges, and by pulling the ribbon, making the doily come together much like a satchel. Others have gone a step further and lined the purse with matching satin lining.

I do wish I were more of a seamstress than just a purchasing agent for the Trading Post. Either way I have no time to work such magic and create such pretty purses. If you make them, please send me a photo and I can post it here. It always helps to see an idea before actually making it on your own.