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Senior Correspondent

I went through the first five grades in a two-room school in Bonita in the ranching country of Southeastern Arizona. My mother was the principal and one of the teachers. The students were bused from miles around: children of winter visitors at the dude ranch, children of the staff at Ft. Grant, and children of the ranchers.

Rural life in Arizona at that time meant lots of solitude. So the schoolhouse was not only our school but the center of our social life.

Our "one room" schoolhouse was divided into two rooms by folding doors across the width of the building. The first four grades were in one room and grades 5 through 8 in the other room. There were two or three students in each class so individualized instruction kept us on our toes. The teacher knew exactly what each student was learning and what needed more work.

This little school didn't lack for the "arts" simple as they might be. We sang and presented programs for the community. Country people in those days were not distracted by TV, theaters and other entertainment, so they loved to gather for fellowship and to watch their children perform. Their contact with people outside their family was curtailed by the distances between ranches and the burden of hard work that was never finished.

The Saturday night dances held in the schoolhouse were part of the entertainment for the hardworking people on holiday. The doors between the schoolrooms were pushed back, the students' desks were moved out and long tables set up at one end of the now big room. The families came loaded with home-cooked food for the evening of festivity-hams, fried chicken, potato salad, cowboy beans, hot rolls and loaves of bread, whatever fresh vegetables their gardens offered, pies and cakes, all made with home-churned butter and fresh eggs.

Along one wall of this room were the "cloakrooms," small cubicles where students on school days hung their coats and stashed their lunch boxes. For these gala evenings those cubicles became the younger children's beds. Quilts and blankets were spread on the floor, making a snug and cozy retreat yet easily watched over by the parents.

I don't remember who or what provided the music — I expect it was mostly fiddles accompanied by the piano. Whatever, it was the grandest of times.

One of the ranches, the Sierra Bonita, the largest in Arizona, was established in 1873 by Henry Clay Hooker. At the time we lived in Bonita the matriarch of his family was a member of the school board, and her daughter was an eighth-grader at the school.

Many times I was privileged to visit this unique compound. It was built to be secure against bandits and Apache Indian attacks. The living quarters and outbuildings were surrounded by a courtyard where the well stood. The stables were large enough to house 50 horses.

I was intrigued by a very large woven wool rug hanging on a wall of the living room. Apache chieftain Cochise had presented it to Colonel Hooker as a token of respect. But that is a whole different story!

Photo, right: Vergie Ferguson (second row center, plaid dress of the picture below) stands outside her schoolhouse with first four grades in Bonita, Ariz., circa 1933-34.

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