Carlisle Indian Industrial School

Photographs taken by John N. Choate. Pictured are Spotted Tail (Sioux), Iron Wing (Sioux), American Horse (Sioux), Red Shirt (Sioux), White Eagle (Ponca), Standing Buffalo (Ponca), Poor Wolf (Mandan), Son-of-the-Star (Arickaree), White Man (Apache), Stumbling Bear (Kiowa), Tso-de-ar-ko (Wichita), Big Horse (Cheyenne), Bob Tail (Cheyenne), Man-on-the-Cloud (Cheyenne), Mad Wolf (Cheyenne), Little Raven (Arapahoe), Yellow Bear (Arapahoe), Left Hand (Arapahoe), and Ouray (Ute).

Collection name: Carlisle Indian School

Original held by: Archives and Special Collections

Institution: Dickinson College

Location: Carlisle, PA

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The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was a formalized and well-structured institution that spent a half-day on academic classes and the other half learning various in trades. Classes included subjects such as English, math, history, drawing and composition. Carpentry, tinsmithing, blacksmithing were common trades for the boys, and cooking, sewing, laundry, baking, were common trades for the girls. Music was also a part of the program with many students who studying how to play instruments.

Gertrude Bonnin - Zitkala Sa

University of Virginia
Heard Exhibition
(LEFT) Zitkala Sa a.k.a. Gertrude Bonnin became a fierce critic of Carlisle after her time there.

Although the Carlisle Indian School taught the students the trades of “western culture,” many critics still disagreed with the structure and the aim of the Indian boarding schools at the time.

One of Carlisle’s harshest critics was Gertude Bonnin, (Zitkala-Sa), a famous Indian author and artist who once taught at the Carlisle Indian School. She believed that Indian students were capable of and should be exposed to higher learning and academic subjects, and should not be limited to vocational training. She also disapproved of the military discipline and Christian evangelizing the school imposed on its students. According to Zitkala-Sa, the boarding school system was a “miserable state of cultural dislocation,” that created problems long after the children returned home.

Pratt’s initial motives of educating the Indians might have been noble, but his methods could be quite harsh. Military style discipline was strictly enforced with regular drill practices and the children were expected to march to their classes, and from the classes, to the dining hall for meals. Beatings were a common form of punishment for students’ grieving behaviors, speaking their native languages, failure to understand English, or attempting to escape and violating the harsh military rules. According to Dr. Eulynda J. Toledo of the Boarding School Healing Project, children at Carlisle had their mouths washed with lye soap for speaking in any language other than English. If the children broke any rules their punishment was determined by an organized justice system of their peers.

Other forms of punishment included being set to hard labor and confinement to the guardhouse. Built in 1777 by Hessian prisoners during the Revolutionary War, the guardhouse contained four cells in which children were locked, sometimes for up to a week. It still stands as a haunting reminder of the school’s rigidity.

Class Room at Carlisle

Library of Congress
Students learning at the blackboard at Carlisle.

The children at the Carlisle Indian school had extremely difficult times adjusting to their new living conditions. The health of many Indian students was in peril after European contact due to the lack of natural immunity. Food was scarce and of poor quality. Illness and death among the children were common. Many of the children suffered from separation anxiety, smallpox and tuberculosis which at that time quickly resulted in death because of the lack of medical treatment. While most of the children were sent back to their reservations, hundreds of others passed away at the school. A hundred and ninety two children died and were buried in the school cemetery, a majority of whom were buried from the Apache tribe.

The Carlisle Industrial School did, however, provide many programs to benefit the Indian children. One particular program was the “Outing System” where students were sent out to different towns and live with white families to learn how they lived. Pratt referred to the “Outing System” as “The Supreme Americanizer.” It provided a means through which students could obtain special training in skilled occupations which eventually would lead to profitable employment. During the first summer of the school, Pratt found places at individual homes, including homes of Quaker families in eastern Pennsylvania and local businesses for twenty-four students. The students were paid for their services and the money earned was deposited in an interest-bearing bank account by the school, and then given to the student when he or she graduated. The second year, the program grew to 109 students. The Outing System succeeded in placing the Indian children closer to the culture they were to absorb and continued throughout the school’s thirty-nine years of existence.

Throughout Pratt’s twenty-five years of supervision, he often conflicted with government officials over his outspoken views on the need for Native Americans to become absorbed into Euro-American society. He was against the reservation concept and continued to fight with the Indian Bureau. Pratt was eventually relieved as Superintendent of the Carlisle Indian School in 1904 and soon his strict disciplinary ideals for the school were relaxed.


Top Photo: Olympian Jim Thorpe attended this institution



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