Carlisle School set the tone for other American Indian boarding schools, historians say

KELOLAND.com Original

Two boys study in a dorm in the Carlisle boarding school for American Indians. Library of Congress photo.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” was the premise behind establishing the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, according to the National Park Service, the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center at Dickinson College, George Mason University and Smithsonian magazine.

The words are those of Col. Richard Pratt, who started the boarding school that housed indigenous children from across the U.S. including South Dakota. The school opened in 1879 and closed in 1918.

About 200 children died at the school. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “… many of the first Carlisle students became ill from diseases, such as tuberculosis, and died in the school’s opening years. “

Those who died were buried in the cemetery at Carlisle.

This week, the remains of children from the Rosebud Reservation who died at Carlisle will be returned to South Dakota. The names of those children are listed by the Federal Register.

Those from the Rosebud Sioux: Lucy Take the Tail (Pretty Eagle); Rose Long Face (Little Hawk); Ernest Knocks Off (White Thunder); Dennis Strikes First (Blue Tomahawk); Maud Little Girl (Swift Bear); Friend Hollow Horn Bear; Warren Painter (Bear Paints Dirt); Alvan (Kills Seven Horses); Dora Her Pipe (Brave Bull). 

The children died between 1880 and 1910. The links for the information about the children and their deaths are from the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center of Dickinson College.

Roughly 10,000 students were enrolled there. Among the children who attended Carlisle were legendary athlete Jim Thorpe.

Carlisle was the first of many boarding schools in which indigenous children were forced to live, according to historians. Pratt’s belief was that American Indian children should abandon their heritage in order to become full Americans in society.

According to multiple history sources including a 2002 paper by Anita Satterlee, the Registrar at the U.S. Army War College, Pratt essentially held the children hostage at the school to ensure that no armed resistance to the U.S. Army would continue. Satterlee credits 1998 documents in the U.S. National Library.

“A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man,” Pratt said in a speech in 1892, according to History Matters at George Mason University.

Pratt believed that if an Indian child was removed from his surroundings and placed in what he viewed as a more civilized settings, the child could then assume the qualities that would make him fully equal.

“It is a great mistake to think that the Indian is born an inevitable savage. He is born a blank, like all the rest of us. Left in the surroundings of savagery, he grows to possess a savage language, superstition, and life,” Pratt said in 1892. “We, left in the surroundings of civilization, grow to possess a civilized language, life, and purpose. Transfer the infant white to the savage surroundings, he will grow to possess a savage language, superstition, and habit.”

Carlisle was part of the forced assimilation of American Indian students.

“The students arrived at the school at midnight on Oct. 6, 1879. They traveled by horse, steamboat, and train from the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian reservations in South Dakota to Carlisle,” according to a National Parks’ educational website page on the Carlisle School. “They came at night so white Americans would not come to stare at them, but even in the darkness a crowd waited. They were the first of thousands of young American Indians to attend Carlisle Indian Industrial School and Carlisle was the first of many American Indian boarding schools.”

A photo of called Sioux boys arrive at Carlisle from 1879. Library of Congress photo.

Children from at least 70 to 100 indigenous tribes or cultures were brought to Carlisle. The staff at the school cut the children’s hair and made them wear American or European-style clothing.

The photos below are from the Library of Congress.

According to the NPS, Carlisle was known for its sports teams and for its band. Thorpe of the Sac and Fox Nation is its most famous athlete. Thorpe won two gold medals in the 1912 Summer Olympics and became a professional football player.

The Carlisle band performed at presidential inaugurations while the school was open.

The Carlisle school was established at the site of an old military base that had been used during the colonial era and the Civil War, according to the NPS. The buildings used by soldiers were used by the school.

A map of the Carlisle school. The map is from the National Park Service.

As many as 1,000 students were on campus during a year. The campus included a chapel, three-story dining hall, classroom building, laundry, hospital and other buildings. There was also a six-foot fence around the perimeter.

 If a student disobeyed a rule, they went to the guardhouse for punishment or were sentenced to hard labor, according to the NPS. Students also regularly marched to and from classes across the school grounds, according to the NPS.

In 1928, the U.S. government released a report called the Meriam Report on American Indian boarding schools. The Meriam Report said this: “The survey staff finds itself obliged to say frankly and unequivocally that the provisions for the care of the Indian children in boarding schools are grossly inadequate.”

Students were underfed, the report said. They were also overworked and worked in some unsafe conditions. The overall education was inadequate and so was the medical care, according to the report.

“…the child has almost no free time and little opportunity for recreation,” the Meriam Report said.

Carlisle is now the U.S. Army War College, at Carlisle Barracks.

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