In Part I we looked at the home life of Native Americans as they moved about hunting. In Part II we examined their life on the move, and here we look at their youth in government schools established to civilize them by acculturating them to the white man’s lifestyle.

In Part I we looked at the home life of Native Americans as they moved about hunting. In Part II we examined their life on the move, and here we look at their youth in government schools established to civilize them by acculturating them to the white man’s lifestyle.

American Indians

America was settled by landless emigrants from Europe who relentlessly pushed back the frontier and headed west, settling essentially limitless and virtually free land occupied by Native American Indians. Naturally, that involved slaughter and war where the frontier met the Indian’s territory. War and the white man’s diseases such as small pox eradicated Native Americans.

The U.S. government dealt with bands and tribes as foreign nations which involved “treaties.” First, Indians, unlike whites, were not organized under single, permanent leaders who had the authority to act on their behalf. Second, Indians couldn’t read those treaties let alone understand them. Third, Indians were hunters moving about vast hunting grounds so the idea of a person or family claiming a plot of land as their own private property had no meaning for them. Consequently, every treaty was broken by the white man and the Indians’ land owned in common was surveyed , divided into 160-acre tracts, and its title conveyed to white settlers. The white man used the law to savage American Indians they labeled “savages.” 

By the end of the Civil War many Indians had lost their land and livelihood. They were reduced to vagrancy, so government policy changed to “civilizing” through Indian Schools.

By 1892 it was estimated that only 240,000 Native Americans remained including 30,000 of their children sent to Indian boarding Schools. “The appropriation of 1891 was to support 13 great industrial training schools established at various convenient points, and five more are about to be added. In them nearly 5,000 children are learning not only books, but all manner of industries, and are adding to civilization the training of character.“

There are no less than 70 boarding schools on the various reservations teaching and training as many more of these children of the hills and plains, and half as many gather daily at the 100 little day schools which dot the prairies, some of them appearing to the uninitiated to be miles away from habitation. This does not include the more than 30 mission schools of the various churches, and great centers of light like Hampton, Carlisle, and Haskell Indian schools. In 1892 nearly two-thirds of the 30,000 Indian children can be reached with schools.” [1]  

Hampton Institute

Hampton Institute is located where the James River in Virginia empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It was founded for its first twenty students--escaped slaves called Union ‘contraband of war” who first held classes under an oak tree in 1861. Brig. Gen. Samuel Armstrong was reassigned from Fort Marion as Superintendent by the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1866 and founder of Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1868.

In 1868 a young African-American man appeared at the door seeking admission to Hampton. “His clothing and person were so unkempt from his long journey he was nearly turned away.” Given a work test to clean a room, he cleaned it so well he was accepted. His name was Booker T. Washington who would become their most distinguished graduate.”

In the night of April 18, 1878, a group of Native Americans arrived from Ft. Sill where they had been imprisoned at the close of the Red River War. They became the first American Indian students at Hampton-beginning a 40-year program for Indians.

That year Thomas Wildcat Alford, a full-blood Shawnee Indian from this area was chosen by his band to attend Hampton on a scholarship funded by Alice, daughter of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Alford’s sister, Nancy, is the great grandmother of local Dick Tiger.

Alford described it as a semi-military and industrial school then having four or five hundred students. He and a fellow Shawnee were then the only Indians. They wore uniforms and were subject to a daily military-like regimen. Up at 5:00 a.m., every minute was regulated until lights out and taps at 9:30 pm. Tooth brushes and bath tubs were conveniences we had to learn to use. It was all very strange to us, but we liked it. In only a short time all these things came to us just as naturally as if we had practiced them always. Every hour of the day had its duties; there was no shirking.” [2]

In 1879 the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania opened with children from reservations in the Dakotas and released prisoners from Fort Marion. . “The boys’ long hair was cut as Lone Wolf of the Blackfoot tribe remembered. Long hair was the pride of all Indians The boys, one by one, would break down and cry when they saw their braids thrown on the floor. All the buckskin clothes had to go, and we had to put on the clothes of the White man.” 

Reservations

Schools for Indian children had mixed results. Many Indians like my Cherokee ancestors disavowed their Indian roots and totally assimilated into the white world. [Family members had   waist-length braids of my Great Grandmother, Mary Jane Dancer, air-brushed out of her portrait.] Reservation life reduced Indians to dependency on government which had devastating effects on reservation Indians then and now.

Today, 2.5 million Indians in 567 recognized tribes own 56,200,000 acres. In 2012 , one million Indians live on reservations. Reservation life is unhealthy e.g., substance abuse and rape.

[1] Mabie, Hamilton W., Footprints of Four Centuries, Philadelphia, Int’l Pub Co, 1894, 271-2.

[2] Alford, T. Wildcat, The Civilization of the American Indian, U of OK Press, 1936, Ch. XIV.