- Historic Sites
The Great White Father’s Little Red Indian School
Supporters of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School believed that complete absorption of the Indian into American society was best for everyone
December 1970 | Volume 22, Issue 1
Pratt also sent one Etahdleuh, one of the ex-prisoners from Saint Augustine, to the Kiovva and Comanche agencies, and another protégé, Making Medicine, to the Cheyenne and Arapaho agencies. The two disciples rounded up parties of would-be students, which included some children of Pratt’s Florida prisoners. A. J. Standing, an English Quaker experienced with the southwestern Indians, was recruited as a teacher by Pratt and showed up from the Washita and Fort Sill agencies with a group of Pawnees in tow. The combined student body numbered one hundred and forty-seven pupils when the school opened officially on November 1, 1879.
The new school was not legitimatized by congressional action for three years. Expenses for the lean first years were borne mainly by the “Civilization Fund,” which the Interior Department had derived from the sale of usage lands in Kansas. Pratt wrote to General Joseph R. Hawley, a member of Congress, in 1880: I do not know what is proposed, but as the matter will come before the Appropriations Committee, may I not hope that you will do what you can for me? I must cither have relief or return to my duties in the line. I simply can’t stand it. Il the Committee only could see the work that is grown up here, and understand the leverage it has upon a better state of things for the Indians, I am sure they would help me stand by it.
The recruitment of new students was not always easy. Family ties were strong among the American Indians, and Indian fathers were reluctant to part with their children in return for the questionable benefits of a white man’s education.
Jason Betzinez, an Apache of Ceronimo’s band sent to Saint Augustine as a prisoner of war in 1886, was there when Pratt made one of his recruiting trips. Although Pratt brought along an Apache student from Carlisle to assist him, he was unable to drum up a single volunteer for the school. Undaunted, Pratt marched down the line and raised the hands of sixty-two Apaches: boys, girls, and young men, married and unmarried. Betzinez was one of those who were thus “volunteered.” He was twenty-seven years old, spoke no English, and was full of resentment.
Some of the young Indians were not only completely unfamiliar _with their new environment but were painfully unprepared to accept it. When the first group was gathered for the Hampton experiment, Mrs. Pratt was placed in charge of the girls for the trip East. She was struck by their astonishment over the two-story buildings they saw at the Indian agency. She told one of the little girls who understood some English that in a few days they would be surrounded by buildings five times as high. The child refused to pass this fantastic story on to her comrades, saying, “Maybe so you lie.” In Chicago, three days later, Mrs. Pratt placed her hand on the girl’s shoulder and pointed to the city outside. The child looked into her face, flushed with shame, and covered her head with her shawl.
When the new students arrived at Carlisle complete with blankets and beads, they were subjected to an almost shattering reorientation. Off came the blankets and the braids of hair, and the newcomers were completely reoutfitted, the boys in uniforms and the girls in voluminous Victorian dresses. Hapless neophytes reaching Carlisle without white man’s names were presented with them as a part of their reception.
As might be expected from Pratt’s background, the boys were organized into a military formation. Since Pratt held his commission as an officer of the ioth Cavalry, the student military organization was composed of “troops of dismounted cavalry,” complete with a band. The resulting “regiment” was officered by cadets from the student body. This organization provided a convenient means of control. Military guards were posted, and wayward pupils were sometimes apprehended and locked in the guardhouse by student guards. The life of the Indian girl pupils was more genteely regimented. A school catalogue says: The discipline of the girls is firm, but kindly. Just as in a well regulated home the daughter does not go away without the consent of her mother, so here the girls must have the matron’s permission before leaving the grounds. When girls go to town to shop or for other purposes they are always accompanied by a matron, or by a teacher who acts as chaperone.
On the last Saturday of each month a general social gathering for both the pupils and the employees of the school was held in the gymnasium, and it was noted that this gathering “gives ample opportunity for the proper association of the two sexes.”
Along with the white man’s clothes the Indians were expected to adopt various extracurricular activities on the white man’s pattern. In addition to the Y.M.C. A. and Y.W.C.A., there was, for the girls, a choice between the Mercer Literary Society and the Susan Longstreth Literary Society. The boys were offered either the Standard Literary Society or the Invincible Debating Society.