Historical Markers
Carlisle Indian Industrial School [Vision of Penn] Historical Marker
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Carlisle Indian Industrial School [Vision of Penn]

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
North side of Claremont Road, 50 feet east of the Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle

Dedication Date:
August 31, 2003

Behind the Marker

Head and shoulders in uniform.
Captain R.H. Pratt

"Dear Captain Pratt: What shall I do? I have been here two weeks and I have not bathe. These folks have no bath place. Your school daughter, MAGGIE STANDS LOOKING."

Thus arrived the short letter from a young Indian girl to her schoolmaster, Richard Pratt. Spending her summer working for a white family when Pratt's Carlisle Indian Industrial School was closed, Maggie Stands Looking's letter revealed the dependency which had grown up between Pratt and some of his students. Pratt responded, suggesting that she bathe with a basin and water. Signing his letter, "Your friend and school father," he continued to encourage trust in hopes that through assimilation into the white man's culture, Indians would escape the annihilation that threatened Native Americans in the late nineteenth century.
Group photograph of students.
Carlisle Indian Industrial School

Pratt had witnessed the Indian wars firsthand as commander of a unit of African-American Buffalo Soldiers and Indian scouts in Oklahoma. Seeking to keep Native Americans on their reservations and whites off of their lands, he became disgusted at the Bureau of Indian Affairs' corrupt and inhumane treatment of Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa and other Indian nations under its jurisdiction. Meeting Quakers and missionaries involved in Indian reform during the 1870s, Pratt arrived upon his solution to the nations' "Indian problem", a school devoted to "kill the Indian, [in order to] save the man."

After winning government and private support for his venture, Pratt and an interpreter arrived in the Dakota Territory to enlist recruits for their school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in September 1879. In a meeting with Spotted Tail, Pratt argued that Indians would continue to be deceived by misleading treaties and false translators until they learned the white man's tongue and ways. "[Your people must] be able to meet [the white man] face to face and take care of themselves and their property without the help of either an interpreter or an Indian agent," Pratt told the skeptical leader. Eventually, he cajoled the Lakota and Chiracahua Apache to send eighty-two children to his new school.
Images of a Native American, young, man with long hai, hoop earrings, necklaces and soulful eyes. An image of the same man with short hair, wearing a suit adn tie.
Tom Torlino

Upon their arrival in Pennsylvania, Indian children were stripped of their tribal identity. The first order of business was haircuts, new clothing, hard shoes and strict rules. Pratt and his assistants ran the Carlisle Indian School like a military barracks. Half the day focused upon academics, while the other half provided practical training in trades like shoemaking, farming, and training for domestic work.

Ever eager to show off the success of his school, Pratt organized his wards into choirs that entertained guests, and a band that performed at expositions and competitions. Reflecting Pratt's assimiliationist views, his students wrote papers extolling their American educations, which the school sent to newspapers and magazines, after careful editing by school staff. Responding to a reader's request that the school newsletter, the Helper, describe the Indian lifestyle, Pratt explained that keeping Indian cultures alive hurt Native Americans. "We give the rising Indian," Pratt wrote "something nobler and higher to think about and do... We do not like to keep alive the stories of his past, hence deal more with his present and future."
Printing Room at Carlisle School, by F. B. Johnson, 1901, depicting a group of Native American boys standing in long aprons at several antique looking printing presses.
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Carlisle Indian School
American Horse sitting with children during a visit to the Carlisle School, 1882.
American Horse with children during a visit to the Carlisle School, 1882.

To modern sensibilities, Pratt's attitude and actions bespeak a patronizing arrogance. At Carlisle, Native American children were stripped of their identities, forbidden to speak their native languages, cut off from communication with their families and then trained for their "appropriate" roles in modern America: as domestic servants, bootblacks and farm workers. Despite this kind of training, graduates of Carlisle did include the first Native American doctor and lawyer.

The school continued to operate until 1918 and when it ended more than 10,000 children had been taught. Carlisle failed in its goal to complete assimilation of Native Americans into Euro-American culture, but it did train young men and women who would play important roles in the Native American movements of the twentieth century.

While the massacres, relocations and broken treaties remain sad realities of America's past, Pratt's school did represent a sincere attempt to save Native Americans from extinction. In the late nineteenth century, Pratt's Carlisle Indian School in its own way championed the basic human rights of Native Americans. Though the education provided at the Carlisle Indian School might not measure up to contemporary standards of respect for other cultures, it did seek to continue Penn's legacy of respect for all humanity, regardless of race.
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