CAPTAIN STIVERS was not a native Daytonian.He came here in 1865, then already married, and with a family. He had no social connections in the city, and began therefore as a stranger.At his death, in 1907, he was the friend, the dear familiar friend of, it may be said, thousands of people.How this came about is a story that gives pleasure in the telling.
Charles B. Stivers was born in Kentucky, in 1834, and in 1852 was appointed to the United StatesMilitaryAcademy, at West Point. On his graduation, in 1856, he was ranked Second Lieutenant in the Seventh Regiment Infantry, and dispatched to Fort Belknap, Texas.The commanding officer at the fort was General G. R. Paul, and in 1857 Charles Stivers married Gertrude Paul, his daughter.In next year at the outbreak of the Indian troubles, the young husband was ordered into active duty in the famous Utah Expedition of 1858-60.The troops went from FortBelknap to Shreveport, Louisiana, on the Red River, a long and toilsome journey in wagons.Here in a tent, a son was born.After some weeks' delay, the journey was resumed down the river, by boat, to New Orleans; thence to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where the regiment was concentrated.
Mrs. Stivers, the soldier's daughter, and the soldier's wife, thus describes some experiences of those early years of their life:
"After the Mormon trouble was over, my father returned to the States for his family.The party,
with an escort of soldiers as a protection against the Indians, then crossed the Great Plains, a distance of twelve hundred miles, with ambulance and wagons to Camp Floyd, Utah, where the army was stationed.Our next long march was to Fort Buchanan, New Mexico, sixteen hundred miles, and after service here I accompanied my husband, with only a small detachment, through the country of the hostile Apaches, to Fort McLean, New Mexico, a march of several days, in constant expectation of attack by the Indians.On this route our troups had captured, and hanged several Apaches, the bodies being still suspended from the limbs of a tree near where they had murdered some emigrants."
In the Mormon expedition, Charles Stivers was appointed quartermaster, and later received promotion to the rank of captain.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Captain Stivers, then regimental quartermaster at Fort Fillmore, New Mexico, having in his possession about sixteen thousand dollars of Government funds, was, with his wife, taken prisoner.Mrs. Stivers held the money in her possession, and carried it safely back into our lines, after they had been kept in confinement some time and paroled.Then came another long march through New Mexico, and across the plains back to the States, passing through the valley of the Rio Grande, where they saw immense herds of buffaloes.Mrs. Stivers wrote:
"For days the valley, looking up and down as far as the eye could reach, seemed a solid mass of
buffaloes. * * * There seemed a compact body of black.As we advanced, the hordes would open and close as we passed. There appeared to be millions of them."
The army record of Captain Stivers during the War of the Rebellion was an honorable, though not an eventful one.He was on garrison duty in Missouri, and later with the army of the Potomac.The battle of Fredericksburg gave him active service.It was here that he received injury to his ears; the heavy cannonading rendered him deaf for a time, and his hearing never fully recovered its strength.
At Rouse's Point he was put in command of a battalion, and was later engaged in the battle of Snickers Gap, on the Rappahannock.From this place, leave was granted him on account of ill health, and he remained at home for several months. His next post of duty was Fort Union, New Mexico.In 1864 he transferred to recruiting and mustering duty, at Columbus, Ohio, where in December he was retired from active service.
In the late fall of 1865, Captain Stivers came to Dayton, accepting a position as Commandant of the WesternMilitaryAcademy.Two years later he entered the CentralHigh School, as teacher of Science, and in 1872, was appointed principal.That appointment is a chapter in the ancient history of the Board of Education.It was not achieved without much opposition; of which Captain Stivers was fully aware.It was following the principalship of William Smith, a man of remarkable intellectuality, and a trained teacher. Captain Stivers was a trained military man, and none knew the difference better than himself.He did not seek the promotion; with characteristic modesty he acknowledged his comparative unfitness for the position, and let the School Board argue upon it.When a somewhat grudging decision placed him at the head of the school, he, with equally characteristic faithfulness, undertook to do his best there.
Professor Werthner wrote of this epoch:
"It would be an interesting matter to follow the line of history from opposition to enthusiastic
support of the High School during Captain Stivers principalship; the half-hearted interest of elderly men in the Seventies changed to the enthusiasm of younger men in the Nineties, because these young men had been the Captain's pupils at the earlier period."
He gained this enthusiastic support, not suddenly, but gradually; not by aggressiveness, but by the calm quiet force of his methods, impressing pupils, faculty and School Board alike, with his character as a teacher.
The building of the new SteeleHigh School is another story, not ancient, which can hardly be appreciated even at this short interval, so rapidly do conditions change. Only twenty years ago there was grave doubt as to whether Dayton really needed a new, and costly High School.Captain Stivers saw into the future.He knew Dayton did need it, and would want it still more as the years passed. He urged the High School question at all times, and it was his ambition to see the old school moved into the new, under his charge.It so happened.He took the school from its old quarters, on Fourth and Wilkinson, into the new, at the head of Main Street then, after twenty-three years of faithful work; he resigned the principalship.Made happy with a silver service from the graduates, and a leather chair from the faculty, he hoped to devote himself uninterruptedly to the joys of raising prize melons, and making violins.As he said to his friends, he was too old to teach, but still young enough to know when to stop. In an address, acknowledging the offering of his school friends, he said :
"Advancing years admonish me that I ought to cease from labor.Duty to my family and to
myself demands my retirement.If it be good for me to retire, it is better for the school.The duties and responsibility of the position require a young, energetic, vigorous man, one who has the ability to prosecute the work of the growing school, and to advance the "new education."I have served my country on the western plains, in the tented field, and in the DaytonHigh School.I feel now that I am entitled to rest, and to have at last, 'no noise, no care, no vanity, no strife.' "
Not for long was Captain Stivers allowed repose.In the fall of 1897, he was elected a member of the Board of Education, and in that capacity he served the schools of Dayton for two years more.Then came the final subsidence from active life into the quiet privacy of home and advancing age.
Captain Stivers had always loved a garden, and the cultivation of his ground in Dayton View became his occupation and pride.During the early years of his principalship he built a house, so far out on Salem Avenue that people wondered how he could get to and from school.It was indeed real country; but one other house beyond River Street, and nothing farther, except the Arnold farm, and the woods and hills.There was room enough on his property for modest horticulture, and the Captain spent all his time out of school hours, in raising vegetables and fruit.Many a large basketful of grapes, pears, and plums has been sent to my mother's house from that garden.I think the Captain's pleasure in growing them was second only to his pleasure in giving them away.I said "all" his time in the garden, but that requires modification.What time he was not wandering, pruning-knife in hand, among the trees and bushes, he was upstairs in his workshop cutting and bending thin pieces of fine-grained wood, and fitting them together; beveling, inlaying, polishing, until some months later the product was a beautiful violin.These two occupations, gardening and cabinet-making, kept the last years of the Captain's life happy, and, as he said, "out of mischief."
Mrs. Stivers' kindness to the boys and girls of the High School classes will long be remembered.When we got to be seniors, ( There were, think of it, only twenty-eight in the class of 1874.)Mrs. Stivers was in the habit of inviting us, as she did each graduating class, until they became too large to entertain, to spend the evening out on Salem Avenue.They were the pleasantest times of our school days.Once, a severe storm made going home from that inaccessible suburb impossible.The army woman was quite equal to an emergency such as twenty-eight casual house-guests.Part of the boys ploughed through snowdrifts to the Benham place on Grand Avenue; shakedown beds were improvised on the parlor floor; three in a bed was the rule upstairs, and we thought it a "lark" from beginning to end.
To all those graduates having gone out of the High School, in increasing large numbers for twenty-three years, what a clear personality will Captain Stivers always be!They will, in imagination, be able to see him on the edge of the platform in the Assembly Hall, calling the school to order; a tall figure, with a mild eye, a slow walk, dark blue clothes always, and a frock coat.I think for about ten years Captain's long coat was the only one in Dayton.The dress suited the figure, and seemed a part of it.The graduates will also recall his little gestures; the way he folded the fingers of one hand in palm of the other, or stroked his beard and his temples.He had large, white hands, with long fingers, and they were always much in evidence as he talked.Old pupils will remember his invariable patience in the class-room, and his quiet gentleness.Kentucky birth and West Point training combined to make their teacher that best product of any land or clime, a gentleman.
As testimony of the wisdom of Captain Stivers, in dealing with refractory or unreasonable pupils, we have the word of a newspaper-man in Minneapolis---a pupil in 1875.In his freshman year he had been reading about Raphael and Michael Angelo; this, combined with a rather promising facility with his pencil, and a natural restlessness, convinced him that his career was being hampered by continuance in the routine of class work at SteeleHigh School.His ambition was to become a great artist, and with such an end in view, proceeded to make himself so troublesome in the school-room that his presence would be considered no longer necessary.He thus describes it in a letter to Captain Stivers on his retirement in 1895:
"After you had sent me home, and said that I could not come back until I had decided to behave
myself, you had a talk with my father, and then you sent for me to come and see you at your office the next day at .I went, expecting to be lectured on my perverseness, and feeling in my heart the pride and spirit of the martyrs.
"But you did not lecture me.You told me you had understood that I wanted to become an artist,
and that you could help me in the desire.
"You help me! I had never thought of such a thing.
"You explained, however, that artists must know history, and that I should therefore complete the
first year in High School.Then you said artists required a knowledge of geometry, which would be taught in the second year in High School; artists could not get along without anatomy, and the junior course includes anatomy; and to be a first-class artist one should be familiar with English literature, which was taught in the senior year.
"To emphasize your remarks on the need of geometry as a basis for pictorial art, you had made
some perspective drawings on the blackboard, which served to astonish me with your knowledge of the subject, and by the time you had finished your talk, I was as eager to complete my four years in High School as I had been before to be expelled."
Another tribute from a pupil comes from E. D. C., of class of '99:
"There is a tradition in the memories of old CentralHigh School boys and girls, which Steele
High School students know not, and they are the poorer for it.It is the spirit which had bodily form when Captain Stivers walked the corridors, and smiled at us with humor and tenderness.The spirit of those days, and the man who represented it, survived, be it said with thankfulness, the removal of the school to the pomp and circumstance of a new site; 'Central' became 'Steele,' but Captain was still Captain to the youngsters who in the middle Nineties, were privileged to go to school under him as had their parents in the Seventies.With his later years all this changed, and those of us who graduated after '95 must shift to other principals the loyalty that we loved to think belonged to Captain Stivers.
"And then came days---as the days are now---when Captain's administration was only a memory,
but so vivid and dear a memory in the hearts of hundreds of men and women, that a class reunion nowadays can afford no greater attraction than the possibility of our talking over old times, with Captain Stivers as the central figure of most of our stories.A tall, grave, slender figure, hands clasped behind his back, or pulling at his gray beard strolling with unhurried gait down the halls, stopping to speak to this girl and that boy with a kindly twinkle, or a slow, doubtful shake of the head. Some of us see him talking to Mr. Noyes, some of later days love to remember him marching along by the side of little Miss Durst---a most lovable contrast!We even cherish the memory of that dreadful time we were 'sent down to Captain,' and he scolded us for throwing paper wads.Dear old Captain!Well could he have said in Horace's words---'Exegi monumentum aere perennius'---a monument of unperishing affection in the hearts of thousands of Dayton boys and girls."
Now, lest it be thought that I, in the treble relation of friend, neighbor, and pupil, may have spoken my love and gratitude too strongly, let these few extracts, among the many others that have been written of Captain Stivers, support my story:
"His exalted character as gentleman and scholar."
Board of Education.
"As a husband and father, Captain Stivers reached, to my mind, the summit of ideals."
Dr. J. C. Reeve.
"I never knew him to do an act of which he need be ashamed."
E. Morgan Wood.
"He made the subject so real, so vital, that it fitted right into my needs; it gave me a chance for greater common sense."
A Member of His Philosophy Class.
"The title 'Captain,' as we knew and used it, was, in his care, transformed from a term of the camp and the battle-field into one of affectionate endearment and personal regard."
"It was an education to be associated with him."
"He will live longest in our memories, from the fact that that stern rigidity and integrity of his was flanked on the one side with the most loving gentleness, and on the other with the mildest humility."
Charles L. Loos, Jr
CHARLES B. STIVERS.
"There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave to tell us this."---Hamlet.