Schoolhouse Saturday -Big Arm School

It seems like it has been a forever ago (is that a real unit of time? Probably not, but it’s my blog and I’m going with it…) since I did a blog post on a one room schoolhouse (or on anything else for that matter).  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, but time has definitely slipped away from me.  Oh well, welcome back to another Schoolhouse Saturday post!

Big Arm School

Big Arm School – District #65

Before I tell you about today’s chosen school, there needs to be a brief history lesson…kind of fitting, don’t you think?  Anyways, back in 18887 the Dawes Act was passed giving congress the power to survey American Indian tribal land and divide it into allotments for individual Indians.  Those who accepted the allotments and lived separately from their tribe would be granted United States citizenship.  Named for Senator Henry Laurens Dawes of Massachusetts, the objective of the Dawes Act was to lift the Native Americans out of poverty and to help assimilate them into mainstream American society.  The act also allowed the government to classify those reservation lands remaining after allotments as “excess” and to sell them on the open market, allowing purchase and settlement by homesteaders.

Now, how does the Dawes Act of 1887 play into the opening of the Big Arm school?  Well, it’s probably no surprise that tribal leaders of the Flathead Indians including Chief Charlo and Sam Resurrection, resisted the allotment of the land, but the U.S. Government opened up the “excess” lands of the 1.2 million acre Flathead Reservation to homesteading in 1910.  Within one year, the Big Arm School – District School #65 – was established by the Montana School Board.  For a brief period of time, white children and Indian children attended separate schools but by the mid-1910s all the area children were attending Big Arm School

The school followed the best practices for small school design at the time.  There were two cloakrooms near the entry of the school.  Because health pros believed that “cross-lighting” would harm pupils’ eyes, builders of the school placed a single row of windows on the north side of the building.  There were also two outhouses, a respectable distance apart, one for boys and one for girls.  Students would heat jars of soup on the wood stove for lunch before going out to play games like Red Rover, softball, and Kick the Can.

With improved roads and higher teacher salaries, came the transporting of schools to nearby larger schools in the Polson area and the school closed its doors in 1952.  That wasn’t the end of the Big Arm School however, as the building was, and continued to be more than just a school for the Big Arm community.  The building continued being used as a community dance hall, a polling place and a club room for various organizations.

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 16, 2007, and restoration work began in 2008.  By 2011, the restoration work had been completed and the Big Arm School became, once again, the center of the Big Arm community.


Until the next adventure…