GREAT FALL TRIBUNE: APRIL 6, 1939, BROWNING
CROFF, AGAIN ELECTED TRUSTEE, WATCHES BROWNING SCHOOL GROW
(Photos are not reproduced here, but the captions read thus: 1. This picture shows the old dormitory after completion of the new gymnasium and dormitory, just before the old structure was razed. 2. This school was built about 1910 and considered too large and of too great expense for the district. It was moved about 1919 to the site of the new school as a dormitory. 3. A portrait shot of Richard Croff.)
Two school trustees were re-elected, C.L. McKee and Richard Croff.
This starts Croff on a new term after service on the same board of 21 years. He was one of the first elected trustees.
For many years prior to the first election, trustees were appointed by certificates issued from the county superintendent of school’s office in Choteau.
In 1918 Mrs. Isabell Cooper received a patent to her allotment and became an owner to patented land within the bounds of the school district about a mile from Browning. This made it possible for an election to be held as polls might be established on that tract. On election day in 1918 voters numbering 94 went from Browning and cast ballots for three trustees, of whom Croff was one.
Many others served with Croff through the years and he has helped to make many changes from a small school of two rooms and about 50 students, mostly in primary grades, to a school second to none in the state, with 570 students from the kindergarten through high school.
The high school includes 125 students. This plant has a value of nearly $230,000 and includes a dormitory, auditorium with a seating capacity of 1,500, a domestic science department of manual training and Smith Hughes department, typing and business department, a large library and study hall and a science laboratory. Besides this school plant and its more than 20 teachers, there are in the same district six rural schools, the largest of which is Starr School, accomodating over 100 children.
Croff was on the board when the transition was made from a little school to the big modern school. This came about when the townsite of Browning was thrown open to sale. In 1919 the general land office offered lots in the townsite and these Indian lands were sold for the benefit of the Blackfeet tribe, again turning trust lands into patented and taxable area. About this time also much other land in the district was patented in like manner. All of this made taxable income and a basis for a bond issue of sufficient size to enable the trustees to build and equip a school big enough to accommodate the fast increasing number of school children.
By 1920 the two-room school used in 1918 was so overcrowded that five other rooms or buildings at various places in the town had been rented and the school was scattered all over town. The district was bonded for $25,000 and by doing this made a deal for cooperation of the government to set aside one city block for a school. The government agrees to set aside $15,000 to match the district bond money. This was done by a special act of Congress. S.B. Hege of Washington, DC, through his friendship with J.H. Sherburne, gave invaluable assistance in this. He followed the measure, with information given him by the Browning school board and by his personal acquaintance with those in Washington, including Senator T.J. Walsh, to passage.
In the bill which appropriated the $15,000 there was a clause which stated that the money was given with the agreement that all Indian children should be admitted “on equality wit6h whites.”
When the school was completed, it was necessary to get other funds besides the taxes, so it was planned by the school board to request the payment of tuition by the government for the school privilege to Indian children. This was arranged by contract and approved by the Indian department but could be paid only after it was submitted to the comptroller general. In a letter from J.R. McCarl in the fall of 1921, everything was held up by him for the reason that he construed the wording of the bill that Indian children should be admitted “on equality with the whites” to mean that because the whites were admitted without tuition, Indian children should be admitted likewise.
Again the school board sought the assistance of Hege and he was able to personally inquire into the methods of getting relief and giving assistance to finally get payment of money. In the last spring of 1922 Hege wired from Washington to the Browning school board: “From the gallery I saw today the house pass our resolution that nothing contained in the act of Feb. 14, 1920, shall be construed to preclude payment of tuition for Indian children enrolled and educated in Montana state public schools. Have seen Ginn, Merritt, Higgins and auditor for quick action as soon as the president signs. Your trouble is now all passed. Advise about new contract and bill for tuition.”
Many such difficulties have come up over the years and in his capacity as Chairman of the Board for most of the years, Croff heped to unravel the trouble.
Two years ago Croff met Edwin S. Hege, son of S.B. Hege. Edwin S. Hege inspected the school.
It is Croff’s custom to make his daily visits to the school. To him it is the most important thing in his life. Most of the children call him “Uncle Dick.”
NOTES BY Prairie Mary: This little story contains many important American concepts, most principally the idea that schools should be funded by taxes on land. A problem arises when the land belongs to a government entity rather than an individual or corporation. Indian reservations, military land, wilderness, national forest, and so on do not pay county or state taxes. Therefore, if there are to be schools on these lands, the federal government must compensate with funds.
Also, public schools are normally state/county functions and so could not be established on a reservation without the creation of an area considered to be returned to the state, called “patented,” which presumably meant that the person to whom the land was alloted by the federal government was a competent person who did not need federal protection. Then the patented land is treated like a bit of state land that is located within the federal land. This complexity of jurisdiction has given rise to many issues and controversies.
It is ironic that at present the reservation charter schools, usually primary grades in a few rooms with a total of maybe fifty children, are considered the most progressive innovation -- though they are a return to a system that was used a hundred years ago.