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Monday, April 11, 2011


This post, written by Tracy, originally appeared 8/21/2008.

Elisabeth has been working on a reference request this week dealing with the history of the railroad in Como, Mississippi, which is in Panola County. She was hot on the trail until she came to a little volume called History of Panola County: Compiled from Reminiscences of Oldest Citizens, which, um, she refused to read because “it smells like an armpit.” Having detected no armpittian aroma, I looked at it on her behalf. While there were no references to the railroad (which, btw, came to Como in 1857), there were many funny stories told by those oldest citizens. I thought this one was pretty good:
In 1845, Mitch Woolard, a boy of about 15, whose father lived at Hernando, had the contract to ride the mail from the town of Hernando, to Panola, passing through our settlement, and directly in front of the school house. One day in passing, the mail-rider called out ‘School-Butter,’ a term of contempt which in those days was considered an insult, not only to every pupil in the school, but to the teacher as well. The mail was carried between these points only twice a week, as this was before we had a post office in our settlement, and by the time the mail-rider came again, the boys made a plan to show their resentment of this insult, and they came to me to get me to make a signal when I saw the mail-rider coming so that I might let them know.

I hung a piece of sheet-iron and told them when I saw them coming I would strike on it with my hammer and they could then carry out their plan of action. The teacher had given his permission for them to have some fun and show that they were prepared to defend their school, but he made them promise that they would not hurt the boy, nor be too rough with him. When I saw the mail-rider approaching along the public road, I gave a stroke with my hammer on the sheet-iron and the next moment the school boys, big and little, came swarming out and started down the road to meet him. He saw them coming in time to realize what it meant, and putting spurs to his horse, tried in vain to escape. Almost before he knew it they had surrounded him and pulled him from his horse and I guess he must have thought his time had come. Beyond pulling him around pretty roughly, however, and making him promise not to repeat the offence, they did not do him any harm, although I suppose he was pretty badly frightened and very angry.
According to Slang and Its Analogues (reprinted 1970, originally 1890-1904), “school-butter” means “a flogging.” The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue defines it as “a cobbing, a whipping,” and the OED describes it as “a teasing call to school children.”

Look, don’t mess with the ruffians of Panola County. Let the story of the school-buttering of poor old Mitch Woolard (whose father equipped him with a pistol for future journeys), be a lesson to you!

Cromie, Robert. 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence. Digest Books, 1971.
Farmer, J.S. and W.E. Henley. Slang and Its Analogues. Arno Press, 1970.
History of Panola County: Compiled from Reminiscences of Oldest Citizens. Southern Reporter, Sardis, MS. 1908-1909.
OED Online.

1 comment:

  1. Sadly, this story loses its humour when you read this article from The Austin weekly statesman published 28 February 1884.

    Wamack, at Danville, Va., should
    have known better than to call out
    "school butter" as he was driving by a
    negro school house. The whole school
    Attacked him. several shots were fired
    ' at him and in return he shot two of
    the negroes. "Wamack is only fifteen
    years old.

    It appears even now the sympathies would still lie with the white child.


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