Three School Massacres That Predate Columbine

Einstein Shrugged
8 min readSep 28, 2022

Mass shootings make headlines, in part, because they combine two basic fears: safety and crowds. Knowing what to do in a moment of crisis is hard enough — being able to do that when surrounded by panicking strangers is nearly impossible. If mass shootings are frightening, school shootings are downright terrifying. Shooting into a random crowd of people is difficult to understand; intentionally choosing a crowd populated by children almost defies comprehension.

School shootings have become uncomfortably common within the past several decades and the common belief is they essentially “began” with the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. But the history of violence in American schools stretches back much further than the Columbine massacre. While that incident may have brought the issue to the mainstream public and began a wider conversation, school shootings are a common theme throughout American history.

School Shootings During the Wild West

School shootings in the United States date back to at least the 1850s. The shootings during this time aren’t exactly on par with modern American school shootings. More often than not, the shootings recorded during this time were the result of personal, one-on-one grievances and accidents.

At a time when guns were used for everyday issues like clearing out barn rodents and garden pests, accidents were common. There was the summer incident of 1864 when 13-year-old Arthur Day took his pistol to school in order to shoot a dog he claimed had bitten him. While showing it off to friends, however, he accidentally shot and wounded a schoolmate. Earlier that same year, a group of kids pulled up in their wagon to show some schoolkids their .45-caliber needle gun. The gun had a faulty lock and went off, wounding three children.

Using firearms to settle personal disputes during this time was also not unusual. In November of 1853, for example, Mathews Flounoy Ward felt his brother had been harshly punished by their schoolmaster, William H.G. Butler. Ward shot and killed Butler and was ultimately acquitted. A similar situation occurred in February when a man shot the school headmistress for whipping his son. In Knights Ferry, California the winter of 1867 saw a double…

Einstein Shrugged

Writer. Bibliophile. Optimistic Pragmatist. Co-Author of Killer Word Games on Amazon / Lulu