The modern day Osceola schoolhouse. Photo provided by John Anderson.

The modern day Osceola schoolhouse. Photo provided by John Anderson.

Memories from the Nielsen family and early days in Osceola

Horses didn’t take well to the onset of fancy new automobiles.

Last month’s local history column told about Andrew and Anna Jensen Nielsen. They had emigrated from Denmark in the 1880s. This month’s article continues the story with an account by Kathrine Marie Basteyns, their daughter. The account comes from a history written by Kathrine entitled “Nielsen, Andrew, and Anna Jensen Nielsen 2-23-73: A Written History.”

When Kathrine began school, it was in the one-room schoolhouse in Osceola. There was one teacher for students from grades one through eight. Kathrine was a scared, shy, self-conscious and bashful child who clung to her oldest sister’s skirts on the first day, sitting next to her in the two-seat desk.

The teacher was a “big masculine type woman, whose voice seemed to just boom through the room.” The teacher pointed her finger at Kathrine, commanding, “You get up there to the front where you belong.” She never tried to explain that that was the place for first graders. For the rest of her first-grade year, Kathrine would burst into tears every time the teacher spoke to her. Fortunately, other teachers were not so frightening in her later years.

Kathrine enjoyed school and deeply regretted not being able to go on to higher education.

During a school Christmas play designed for parents, several of the girls were supposed to be angels. Angels were supposed to have long curls. To create the curls, their hair was put up in rags the day before and taken out the day of the play. Unlike the other girls, Kathrine’s hair came out straight, but the play continued in spite of that.

A Christmas tree and boughs decorated the classroom at Christmas time. Santa Claus came, and each child received either a bag full of candy and nuts or an orange or apple — a big treat at the time.

At the end of each school year there was a school picnic at what is now called Farmer’s Park, which is on the road to Auburn. The day was filled with picnics and games and races.

By the time Kathrine reached sixth grade the school’s big room was divided in half; one side for grades one through four and the other for grades five through eight with a teacher for each side. That division of the classroom meant the end of using the building for social gatherings.

In 1912 a new schoolhouse was built and the old school was taken over by the Osceola Community Club. This continued until its closure in 1972. Both the old and new schools are now privately owned with the new school serving as a family home.

Kathrine showed her shyness to an old Civil War veteran named Gus Smith who lived alone in what she described as the oldest house in Osceola. He frightened her because he had large, bulging blue eyes. According to, bulging eyes can be caused by glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, leukemia and more. The old man used to walk to town for his supplies, bringing them back on a stick with the supplies in a big red cloth and slung across his shoulder.

If Kathrine happened to run into him and she was alone, she would jump the fence, run across the field, and hide in the woods until he passed. Gus would say, “that little devil is scared of me.”

Before cars came on the scene in the 1920s, loads were carried by horses hitched to wagons. Kathrine remembered one horse they called “Old Betsy,” a sorrel mare that was her father’s first horse. She was very temperamental. If she didn’t like what you were doing, she would lay back her ears and either try to take a nip at you or kick at you with her hind leg.

Horses didn’t take to the coming of automobiles, becoming skittish when they were around them. Old Betsy never did get used to them. Upon sighting an approaching car, Kathrine’s father would have to hand the reins to whomever was sitting next to him, jump out and run to grab Old Betsy’s halter, using all his strength to control her. Sometimes, other men would come to his aid if they were nearby. Old Betsy would drop to her knees.

After cars became more numerous, Old Betsy would hear one coming and run to the safety of the barn. One time she put Kathrine’s mother and her buggy in the ditch. At the age of 30, Old Betsy was retired and set out to pasture until she was put down, being unable to feed herself.

Kathrine’s dad had another horse that he raised from a foal. He had purchased a mare that he was unaware was pregnant. The mare bore a beautiful black stallion. When the horse got old enough, he trained it to pull a wagon.

One day, shortly after the horse had been trained, her dad went to the Enumclaw Creamery on business, leaving the team standing outside. Another team was parked head-to-head with her father’s team. Something spooked the other team which ran right into her father’s horses, piercing the black horse with the tongue of the wagon, killing it. This all took place in 1909. It took a long time for her dad to get over the loss.

Kathrine’s history of her life in Enumclaw will be continued in next month’s local history column. Kathrine’s story and those of other pioneers can be found either at the Enumclaw Plateau Historical Society Museum, 1837 Marion St., or through the Enumclaw KCLS Library in the Pioneer Section.

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The old Osceola schoolhouse. Photo provided by John Anderson.

The old Osceola schoolhouse. Photo provided by John Anderson.

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