Prairie Mountain School

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Photo by wanderingYew2
By John Hallowell

Stanley Keese and Billy Bob Schneider are two long-time residents of the Prairie Mountain community who are leading the effort to preserve the old school they once attended.

There was a community about twenty miles southwest of Llano long before it became known as Prairie Mountain. First called Starks, for early settler Starks Moseley, the community changed its name to Putnam (for Madison Putnam, another pioneer) and then to Hickory (for the nearby creek). It already had a post office, a cotton gin and a grocery store before community leaders built a new school in 1906 and renamed the community and school for Prairie Mountain, which (along with House Mountain, across the valley to the west) dominated the local landscape.

A few of the most noted residents were: Sherrod Porch, a local farmer who brought the mail from Llano at least once a week in his one-horse buggy during the late 1800s; R.F. “Bob” Rountree, who accumulated almost 9,000 acres around Prairie Mountain and had a beautiful sandstone home built on a nearby hilltop in the 1880s, and Mr. and Mrs. Ernst Marschall (Mrs. Marschall was the daughter of Fredericksburg founder John O. Meusebach), who lived in the Rountree home during the early 20th century. Mrs. Marshall taught piano to many of the children in Prairie Mountain.

In what would become probably the community’s most historic event, Bob Rountree was ambushed and killed as he returned from Llano with a wagonload of supplies in 1893. His majestic home remains, although no longer in livable condition, as a local landmark to this day.

Prairie Mountain School

Photo by wanderingYew2

The first school was built on the west side of Hickory Creek, then moved to the east side and named Putnam School in 1897. As the population continued to shift to the east, the community got together in 1906 to build a frame building in a central location (land donated by Mrs. Rountree) near Prairie Mountain. The community and school (which also served as a church for the community) both took the mountain’s name. A brush arbor for church gatherings was built next to the school in 1917.

Prairie Mountain grew in 1913 and 1914 when Bob Rountree’s widow began to split off and sell parcels of her husband’s large ranch. By 1924, the small one-room schoolhouse was filled to capacity, with just one teacher in charge of more than 25 elementary-school students (high school students went to Llano or Fredericksburg). The community rallied once again to the cause, raising money and mixing concrete to build a new school. The new school was larger, and had a partition which could be used to divide it into two separate classrooms. A large open-walled tabernacle with a dirt floor, suitable for school, church and other community activities, was built to replace the old brush arbor in 1936; but by then, the community’s population was already beginning its slow decline. The size of the classes grew smaller and smaller, until there were just six students at Prairie Mountain School in 1947, and the decision was made to consolidate with the Llano school district.

Two of those 1947 students were Stanley Keese and Billy Bob Schneider, who were enrolled in the sixth and third grades, respectively, in 1947. They reminisced last Wednesday about their days at the Prairie Mountain School (the others were Martha Ann and E.J. Staedtler, Joe Miiller, and Charles Henry Keese. “Nearly all of us rode horses,” Keese recalled. “We had two white flour sacks hanging from the saddle; one with our lunch bucket on one side of the horse, and the other with our books, on the other side.” Distances varied, but Keese remembers that the Rodes had to ride five miles to get to school. Mr. E.C. Fiedler was the teacher when Keese started school, and he would park his 1941 Ford sedan in the tabernacle during school hours. Clara Schorlemmer became the teacher the same year that Billy Bob Schneider started school; she was a young lady who boarded with the Schneider family, and one of Billy Bob’s parents would give both teacher and student a ride to school (there were no vehicles normally there during school hours). The old bell hung over the doorway of the school, and when Miss Schorlemmer rang it, the boys would line up on one side of the doorway, the girls on the other side (there were eight students enrolled that year. She was not nearly the disciplinarian that the Prairie Mountain students were accustomed to, and the older boys found that she was easily fooled. “We got pretty wild that year,” Keese remembers. The children’s habit was to climb the hill behind the school during lunch hour; they would carry their lunch buckets with them, sit in a tree, and eat. One day, they came up with the bright idea of pretending that Billy Bob Schneider had been bitten by a snake. They tied a red hanky around his leg, and Oliver Rode carried him down the hill, with all the kids calling out that he had been “snake-bit.” No doubt the trick frightened Miss Schorlemmer at first, but she fortunately caught on quite soon to the joke. Snake bites were a serious thing, with no medicine and no transportation available; the only options would be to slice open the affected area, and suck the blood out, or place a half of a recently-killed chicken on the bite to soak up some of the venom.

Prairie Mountain School

Billy Bob’s mother, Mrs. Emilie Schneider, became the teacher for the last two years at Prairie Mountain School. She had previously been the teacher (as Miss Emilie Dechert) between 1927 and 1929.

All the families in Prairie Mountain were ranchers; they had cattle, sheep, hogs and a few angora goats. Most had grown cotton in earlier decades; by the 1940s, some grew peanuts for a cash crop. Most of the young people were involved with the 4-H or FFA, and raised livestock for the show. “I fed club calves, turkeys, hogs, sheep and capons,” Schneider recalls. “I tried everything, and didn’t like any of it.” By the ‘60s and ‘70s, coastal Bermuda hay became the crop of choice in Prairie Mountain.

“We used to coon-hunt all the time,” Schneider continues. “We never heard a coyote. Now you can hear coyotes almost every night.” All the families in Prairie Mountain had telephones and electricity by then, but most homes had just one electric light bulb and a refrigerator.

In 1948, the boys began to ride the bus, an old International, along the poorly-maintained dirt roads to Llano. The bus driver was Eric Staedtler, and the route – over to Oxford, and up to Llano – took more than one hour on the “washboard” surfaces. The bus would shake and shimmy,” Schneider recalls. “It had a ten-window air conditioner.”

Prairie Mountain School

Photo by Richard Denny

The old school became a community center, and continued to serve as the local Methodist Church. “They’d have three-act plays in the tabernacle, and a big barbecue once a year,” Schneider remembers. “Church services and baptisms were held in the schoolhouse; our daughter (Kay Virdell) was the last baby baptized here, in 1962.”

Looking across the valley toward House Mountain, Schneider sounds a little sentimental. “In the evening, you can see the most beautiful sunsets ever, from right here,” he says. “The Comanches used to use that mountain as a landmark, because they could see it clearly in the moonlight.”

It is a spectacular view, and the old school is a genuine historical treasure. Keese and Schneider are working (with Hugh and Pat Dawson, and others) to raise money for repairs at the old school. “We need a new roof on the tabernacle,” Schneider tells us, “And maybe a new ceiling inside.” The floor inside the schoolhouse needs repair, as well, and several other things need attention. We’ll keep you posted on the progress.