In the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” there is a line that says “He’s making a list and checking it twice.” At this time of year, many folks are making Christmas lists. I often put books on my Christmas list. If I did not already own a signed copy of Tom of Peace Valley, it would be at the top of my list. This is an exciting juvenile novel about vocational agriculture written in 1925 during the early days of agricultural education.
Tom of Peace Valley (subtitled Boy Knight of Agriculture) published in 1925 tells how the hero and main character, Tom Woodson, became involved in vocational agriculture. Tom, who was reared in an isolated backwoods valley where trapping and hunting were the mainstays of existence and "eddication" was ridiculed, had the opportunity to go "outside" the valley to the little town of Blanton 10 miles away for schooling. With moral support from his mother and financial support from an "outside" uncle, Tom went to Blanton, found a place to board, and enrolled in school. Tom’s decision to go outside the valley for education was not warmly received by the populace in Peace Valley.
On the way to school the first morning, Tom came across a group of local boys beating up on the town drunk. He broke up the altercation but this action was the start of a lasting hostility between Tom and the local "in group" which was led by "Bull" Durham, the only son of the town banker and school board president.
It was only a matter of time before Bull provoked a fist fight with Tom. Bull received a thrashing in an honest and fair fight but told his father that Woodson and a gang of boys beat him up. Mr. Durham convened the school board and attempted to get Tom kicked out of school, but was not successful because the agriculture teacher, John Roberts had seen the fight and told what happened.
Because of his love for the outdoors, Tom was enrolled in vocational agriculture which was a new program that year. Mr. Roberts was not only the agriculture teacher but a collegiate football star and Blanton High’s football coach. He encouraged Tom to join the team. Even though Tom had never played the game he quickly caught on and was soon giving Bull Durham considerable competition on the playing field.
Tom found vocational agriculture to his liking and was soon planning a corn project and was enrolled in the state corn growing contest. Tom, with help from Mr. Roberts, rented a plot of land in Peace Valley for the project. Because of Tom’s outstanding performance in a state corn judging contest, the top corn grower in the state gave Tom some high quality seed corn. However, the plot thickened when a midnight thief stole Tom’s seed corn. Tom enlisted the aid of his mountain kin (and trusted coon dog) in following the trail of the thief and found where the seed corn had been hidden.
Soon Tom was preparing the ground and planting corn to the great amusement of the locals in Peace Valley. Everyone knew crops just didn’t grow in Peace Valley, farming was hard work, and the time could be better spent fishing and hunting. Tom was soon studying the art of growing corn with great determination and applying what he learned in the vocational agriculture class; to the great derision of the locals in Peace Valley. However, after a while, it became evident that Tom would have an exceptional corn yield and the hill folk started taking pride in Tom’s field and even started protecting the field from varmints, both two-legged and four-legged.
The book concludes with Woodson and Durham grudgingly working together to carry Blanton High to a major football victory over arch rival Denman High. This stirring victory united the town folk and the hill people. Tom made a profit of $700 on his corn crop, placed second in the state corn growing contest and won a prize of $250. The book ends with Bull Durham repenting of his treacherous ways and confessing to stealing the seed corn and trying to destroy Tom’s corn field.
This novel was followed by a second vocational agriculture novel - Moon Vallev. In this novel Tom has graduated from the state agricultural college as a vocational agriculture teacher and has the hard job of convincing the adults and students in a new school district, Moon Valley, of the values of vocational agriculture. Tom is also the school principal (it was common in the early days of ag ed for the ag teacher to also be the principal because he often was the only teacher with a college degree) and teaches adult farmer classes. In a suspenseful plot, the school is torched, bullets are fired, and a girl is wooed before Tom and vocational agriculture triumph. In the third novel written by John F. Case (Peace Valley Warrior) Tom is elected to Congress and goes to Washington to represent his rural constituents.
The author of the three vocational agriculture novels, John F. Case, was editor of the Missouri Ruralist and President of the Missouri Board of Agriculture. He spoke at the first FFA convention in Kansas City and was awarded an Honorary American Farmer degree in 1931. Case also wrote a novel about the 4-H (Under the 4-H Flag, 1927) and one on Scouting (Banners of Scoutcraft, 1929).
In the early days of agricultural education, many agricultural departments had small libraries and would loan books to the students. These books included technical books about agriculture and novels. A series of "Suggestive Helps to Teachers of Vocational Agriculture" was started in 1935 by the agricultural education staff at North Carolina State University. The first publication was a "General Reference List for Teachers of Agriculture." This publication recommended Tom of Peace Valley, Moon Valley, and The Greenhand (featured in an earlier Friday Footnote) to the vocational agriculture teachers. Brunner (1954) compiled a list of recommended fiction for Future Farmers that was published in The Agricultural Education Magazine. Most of their recommendations were general outdoor action books by authors such as Zane Grey, Jack London, and Rudyard Kipling. However, he does list the Case novels.
In a few instances, reading these novels was not voluntary. In some areas of Louisiana, The Greenhand had to be read in order to get the Greenhand degree and Tom of Peace Valley had to be read to get the Chapter Farmer degree (Curtis, 1984).
If you want to put Tom of Peace Valley on your Christmas list – good luck. This book is very rare. The few copies I have seen for sale range in price from $32 to $350.
If you were to have a chapter library today, what books would you include? I would start with these three:
- Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People
- David Schwartz's The Magic of Thinking Big
- Alan Lakein's How to Get Control of Your Time and Life
If you have not read these books, you might want to put them on your self-improvement reading list for the new year. As a high school teacher, I required all of my seniors to read the Carnegie book. I would be interested to know what other books you would recommend.
Brunner, H. S. (1954). Fiction for Future Farmers. The Agricultural Education Magazine. (27) 6, 136. Check this out to see what fiction books were recommended by Brunner (not all of them were fiction).
Curtis, C. M. (Jan. 14, 1984). Personal conversation.
Past Friday Footnotes can be found at https://footnote.wordpress.ncsu.edu/ or at https://communities.naae.org/groups/friday-footnotes.