Cursive writing a dying art, skill

© 2018-Brookings Register

The Best of Stubble Mulch

I don’t believe they teach much cursive penmanship in school anymore.

Maybe a spoonful in one of the grades, but nothing like it should be.

It was once standard for teachers to have students roll out those never-ending platoons of  “O’s” and scratching long lines of continuous slants across the writing paper.

I’ll admit that although I scribbled the “O’s” and slanted the lines, it didn’t help my handwriting.

I often jot down items for my shirt pocket du jour musings, and the next day I wonder how a chicken got into my shirt pocket. 

I envied the writing abilities of my grade school penmanship teacher. She transposed a written sentence into a work of art. Today, with computers and text messaging, cursive writing is obsolete.

Most people under 30 print words, but they are grievously and will be forever  handicapped in that they can’t read or write cursive. 

I thought about that recently as I paged through the handwritten (not printed) minutes of the Brookings County commissioners meetings in the early 1880s that were then held in the drafty county offices where Jim’s Taps is now located.

The county paid attorneys George Mathews and James O. B. Scobey $37.50 a month rent for the south half of that building after the county seat was moved to Brookings from Medary.

The county clerk had impeccable penmanship – elegant and graceful.

Perusing those old minutes is fascinating. I learned that in 1884 the commissioners met on July 4. It may have been raining that day, so the firing of anvils and foot races on Main Avenue were cancelled and there was nothing else to do.

The three county commissioners then received $3 a day plus mileage. Getting around by horse and buggy was a big expense. The going rate was 10 cents a mile.

Among the expenses recorded in 1885 minutes were money for “lamp oil” and $4.50 so the sheriff could buy a pair of handcuffs.

Most of county business concerned building bridges and caring for the unfortunate. There were road supervisors enlisting landowners to work a certain number of hours keeping the roads passable in every township.

A bridge could be built for about $100 to $200. The first bridge over the Sioux River between Brookings and Volga cost $250.

The lone citizen board the county had was the Board of Insanity. The people of the county were generous to those in need. Then, the names of paupers, invalids, orphans and the insane were written out in the county minutes.

A smallpox epidemic visited Brookings County in the mid-1880s, and there is mention of buying groceries and a $6.50 wool mattress for a smallpox victim, and paying to have smallpox homes disinfected.

The Hammond family was particularly devastated by smallpox, and there is mention in the minutes of a $2 payment from the county to have a grave dug for a Hammond who died, and another allocation of $10 for a coffin.

Commissioner Thomas Qualey submitted a bill of $2 for payment of shoes he purchased for Sammy Smith, listed in the minutes as “a pauper.” A man named Peterson cared for the two Fjeseth orphans and received a monthly stipend from the county to cover the cost of keeping them.

Taxes for county purposes amounted to about six or seven mills, or $6 or $7 dollars on each $1,000 personal and property valuation. Remember, this is when the state’s attorney only made $175.50 a quarter, and a physician called to testify in district court got $5 for his time. The county auditor made $199.50 quarterly, but with no Social Security or IRS deductions.

A bonanza for the county coffers was the sale of liquor licenses that sold for $500 a year. Today, the county charge for these licenses is based on the going rate for licenses in nearby cities and counties.

In early January 1885, at the first meeting of the commissioners in the brand new wood-frame county courthouse, commissioners approved nine liquor licenses, two in Volga, three in Elkton, one in Aurora and three in Brookings. The saloonkeepers in White and Bruce probably got theirs in February.

It was a fairly simple matter to get a license, but after some prohibitionists showed up in 1884 and shook their fists (the written record called it a “remonstrance”), the commissioners made one concession.

They decided that before a citizen could get a license, they had to be judged by the commissioners as “proper persons.” So far as we know, Brookings County has never had an “improper person” receive a liquor license.

Fortunately, today’s minutes are typed, but future historians will have a devil of a time trying to decipher the cursive minutes I’ve just discussed.  

In some cases, history will start with the days when the art of writing ended and printing became the mode, and that’s too bad for history’s sake. 


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