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The Carlisle Indian School

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

The Carlisle Indian School opened in 1879 as America's first federal boarding school for Native American children. It was located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and was created for the purpose of helping Native Americans integrate into American culture and society. The government sent Lt. Col. Richard Henry Pratt, a Civil War veteran, on a journey to Dakota Territory first, to recruit students from the Oglala Sioux and Brule Sioux tribes. He proposed their children would be educated and taught to read and write in English and standard subjects such as arithmetic, music and physical education.

The offer was well received by tribal leaders. While most undoubtedly distrusted the American government, they understood that it was important to be able to communicate with and coexist with "the white man" in order to preserve their tribes. In many ways, their decision was wise and many of the students probably have descendants living in America today who are free and happy because of these programs, but in the process of being Americanized, many of their customs and traditions were left behind. This has been going on since the beginning of time and continues to this day in America and elsewhere. When a land is overcome by foreigners, native culture, customs and even language are often lost. Various heritage groups and organizations work to keep their heritage and traditions alive but at the end of the day we are all Americans assimilating daily to new people, new challenges, and new opportunities.

The Carlisle Indian School operated for about 39 years before it closed in 1918, but it was the first of many other similar schools working toward the same goal - unification in America.

A fascinating collection of photographs of the students at Carlisle were printed in a book published in 1902. "A Souvenir of the Carlisle Indian School", by J. N. Choate, gives us a sneak peek into the alumni - the Sioux, Navajo, Cheyenne, Pueblo, and Apache, the Piegan chiefs visiting, portraits of other chiefs, the resident physician called "Dr. Montezuma", and even an Eskimo group. The Famous Indian Band of 1901 is quite impressive looking and the football team looks all American!

Before and after photos demonstrate that within a few short years, Native Americans blended right in with the rest of America. I think it's great that these photos were taken and preserved. What a treasure! Enjoy!

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