My grandfather, G.M.C. Massey wrote of his school days in late 19th century East Texas in his memoirs. This excerpt speaks to the diversions of the day for young schoolboys.
We had many and various games. Some were seasonable, such as kite flying, mumble peg, rooting the peg and marble playing. In the wintertime when it was cold enough to want violent exercise, we turned to such games as Deer and Dogs.
In Deer, one of the boys took him another boy for his dog, and a third boy took still another boy for this dog. This went on till all the boys were taken up except the boys that were to be deer. The deer were given time to go out into the bushes and hide. Then the dogs were turned loose to go out there and jump the deer. When they got the trail and began to yelp on the trail, the men would make a run for the dogs. The man that got the most deer would win the first round. We only had time each day for one round, as the two short recesses, one each morning and evening were too short. Noon was the only time that we could play that game, because when the bell rang for books, we did not have time to get to the school from the woods in time for study.
One time, we had a new teacher that told us that he had no rules for us to follow and probably never would. He said we all knew what was right and what was wrong and as long as we did that that was not wrong, we would have no rules to follow. But if we got to doing things that were wrong, he was bound to set forth a rule against it.
If we wanted to go through the term without any restrictions, we had it in our power to have a full school without any rules. We were allowed to play any games in school that were not dangerous and were morally right. That gave us plenty of room for the development of our thinking faculties as well as our muscles.
We had races, jumping contests, climbing, playing marbles and many kinds of games with the marbles, such as, Seven Up, Tract Middle Buster, and finally we [got] to playing Keeps. Then the teacher stepped in and taught us that Keeps must be cut as that was immoral and was classed as gambling. So we dropped that like it was hot, and really it was.
We played Squirrel where the squirrel would climb a tree and the dog would tree him, so to speak. Then the man would try to catch the squirrel or get him to going from tree to tree and mage get to where the dog could catch him.
One day, one of the boys climbed so high in a tree and tried to swing over into another tree and the top of the sapling that he had climbed was dead. It being winter there, the leaves of the trees were off them and the boy did not know that the tree was dead. He began to swing the tree till it would bend over toward the next tree and the top of the dead tree broke. The squirrel fell sure enough. The dogs covered him and thought for a great victory, but it turned out that the boy was hurt very seriously.
Then the teacher cut out tree climbing. That stopped the Squirrel game at school, but we played it on Sunday or at any time through the holidays that enough of us got together. At school, there were always some that had rather play ball than any other game, so there was always a ball game going on unless there was snow on the ground. If that was the case, we had snowballing going on.
Most of our teachers had spelling matches on Friday or speaking. Usually, we had spelling one Friday and speaking on the next. I thoroughly enjoyed it either way. On every other Friday night, we had a Public Debate, and the fathers of the students took part in that. There was a lot of enthusiasm added to it by our fathers’ interest in the debates.
Soon, the interest widened to include people of the adjoining communities until it grew to greater proportions than the teacher had expected. All this caused our school to be a really desired position among the schools of the country. That gave us the advantage of getting some of the best talent that the country teachers had. With the best teachers came the best disciplinarians that the country had.
From such teachers as this, I got ambition, enthusiasm, and inspiration that helped me so much when in after years I began to teach school.