By Ray Carlson

Between 1864 and 1869, the Arizona Miner, Prescott’s newspaper, described efforts by eight individuals to open a school in a private home or commercial building.  Each relied on fees paid by families, but none survived more than a few months, a story that was repeated in other pioneer communities.

The published history of the school district in Moreland, California, offered some hope.  In 1851, that town’s leaders established a school that met in private homes, but, like the later Prescott experience, the first two teachers quit after just a few months. Then, in 1852, Samuel Curtis Rogers arrived.  He had left his wife and young son in the safety of Indiana to follow the gold rush, but Moreland’s school problem caught his attention.

Rogers decided the key was a schoolhouse and circulated a petition looking for support.  Zecheriah Moreland, the founder of the town, offered his home for use as a school if he was paid $335.  Rogers organized a subscription drive, raised the required money and became the teacher, business manager, and custodian for the resulting school.

After running the school for two years, he decided to return to his wife and son in Indiana.  The district built on his foundation to keep the school running and credited him as their founder.

Thirteen years later, in 1867, the Rogers headed west again but now with his wife and their six children, and the youngest only three.  They joined with others but, in New Mexico, their wagon broke down and Sam Rogers was injured.  They were abandoned by their party in an area that had a history of Indian attacks.  An expensive stallion and some cattle were stolen by the Indians, but, before experiencing personal harm, they encountered two brothers driving cattle from Texas.  Those men encouraged the Rogers family to join them in heading toward Prescott.   A scouting party of four men from Prescott had been looking for this stranded family and helped them get safely into town.

A week later Rogers asked the publisher of the Miner newspaper to print a thank you to their rescuers.  The note states, “The gratitude Mr. Rogers and his family feel toward these gentlemen can be but faintly expressed in words, and can only be appreciated by those who have been rescued, in the manner as they were, from the most fearful perils and distressing anxieties.”

Rogers decided that, like Moreland, Prescott needed a schoolhouse.  He began building a one-room log cabin on land along Granite Creek, but he had only minimal help, and the construction took several months.  Finally, in August 1869, Rogers opened the town’s first school building.  Another school opened in a private home at the same time prompting the newspaper to comment that after being without a school for several months, the town is now “threatened with two.“

The threat was financial.  Rogers intended that the school be open to any child, but he had to rely on payments from parents and the question was whether there were enough paying parents for two schools.   The newspaper gave occasional updates including the eventual demise of Rogers’ competitor.  On a few occasions, brief articles indicated that Rogers’ students were given holidays so that he could plant his crops or do other work to supplement his school income.

In January, 1871, Governor Safford told the Territorial Legislature that it was necessary to develop a school system for Arizona.  He noted the lack of public schools in the Territory, but added, “There is and has been for some time a school in Prescott, under the management of S.C. Rogers, and much credit is due that gentleman for his zeal and efforts to encourage education.”  However, by the time the Governor offered this praise, Rogers had closed his school and moved to a farm on Walnut Creek, 40 miles northwest of Prescott.

The whims of travel in the 1860’s had brought Prescott a dedicated educator and school developer, but lack of adequate financial support led to his tenure as a teacher lasting less than two years.

(Over the years, there have been varied accounts of early Prescott schools, but the above reflects what was reported in the newspaper of the time.)

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.