The Sun Bonnet

Told by Anne Kemp Gowdy.

I was six years old in November, 1849. The next spring I went to school for the first time. We were living on a farm, near where is now the city of Sedalia, Missouri. My teacher was Mrs. Ferguson. She taught, or kept school, as we said then, in her home.

It was a one-room log cabin, a clapboard roof, and a mud chimney. Inside there were two beds in one end, the fireplace at the other end, with a spinning wheel in one corner. In the other corner was a table, with some open shelves for a cupboard over it. There were some split-bottom hickory chairs, some pots and pans for fireplace cooking, and a few dishes.

We sat on narrow benches without backs. The only book I had was Webster’s Elementary Speller. It had a blue back and was called the blue-back speller.

Mrs. Ferguson had four girls. One of them, Sallie, was my age, and we were chums. There was one girl, Julia, we did not like. She was bigger than we were, she would pinch us and make big black and blue marks on our arms. Ferguson would not let Sallie tell tales on pupils, so I would not tell either for fear of being called a tell-tale.

My mother would fold white or colored paper, then cut it in different shapes for me to put between my thumb and my book, to keep the book clean. We called them thumb papers. Julia would take them away from me, and put them through the cracks in the floor. Sallie and I planned to get even if we had a chance.

One day Julia was wearing a new calico sunbonnet. She was very proud of it, for she did not often have anything new. That afternoon Sallie and I went out to get a drink. The water was in a piggin,- a wooden bucket – on a bench by the door. A noggin, or a wooden washbowl, was also on the bench, and a gourd dipper, from which we drank. A ladder was leaning against the cabin, and on a round of it was hanging Julia’s bonnet.

We threw that bonnet in the dirt, poured on water and stamped on it. Then we began to think about what might happen to us, and to hunt a place to hide it. We went around by the chimney, where there was a big stone against the cabin. On one side, there was a big small hole next to the cabin. My hand was small enough to go through the hole, so I threw the bonnet under the cabin. Then we washed our hands and went back to our bench, looking like two good little girls.

When school was over, Julia hunted and hunted for her bonnet. She went home crying, for her big sister told her that her mother might whip her for losing it. In our naughty little hearts, we hoped it would be a hard one. I don’t remember now if she got one or not.

A hen laid an egg under the cabin that evening. Mrs. Ferguson took up a loose plank to get it, and there was the bonnet. She found the hole, but it was so small she did not think anyone could put their hand through it. She thought the stone had been moved.

She knew it was too big for a small girl to move, so the next day she asked all the big girls if they had done it. My big sisters were very angry that anyone should think they would do such a mean thing. I listened to them telling mother about it, but I never said a word and no one ever asked me about it.

I never told until I was a big girl, long after we moved to Oregon. My mother said I still deserved a spanking.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *