Carlisle Indian School Disinterment

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Students outside after classes, circa 1895. Image credit: Dickinson College.

Earlier this week U.S. Army personnel began excavating the remains of three Northern Arahapo boys who were students at the Carlisle Indian School in the 1880s. Little Chief, Horse, and Little Plume all arrived at the school on March 11, 1881 from the Dakota Rosebud reservation. Unfortunately, all three died within the next few years and were buried in the school’s cemetery.

The Carlisle Indian School was founded as a government-run boarding school in 1879 with the goal of assimilating thousands of Native American children into mainstream “American” culture. Students came from reservations and tribes all across North America. According to the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center : “the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (CIS) served as the model for off-reservation boarding schools across the U.S. and Canada. Operating from 1879-1918, CIS enrolled over 10,000 students from across the United States. Rather than continue the costly “Indian wars,” the founder of Carlisle, Capt. Henry Richard Pratt convinced Congress that schools such as Carlisle should be established to assimilate and “civilize” Indian children.”

Check out their website to view thousands of digitized photos and documents, as well as links to teaching resources and other publications about the school and its impact on Native Americans and the United States as a whole. There is a lot of really interesting and important material here.

To make sure that no remains or artifacts are accidentally destroyed or lost in the disinterment process this week, the graves are being dug up by hand and the soil sifted through screens. Delicate but important work for sure. After the remains are disinterred, they will be buried at the Winder River Reservation in Wyoming where the tribe currently lives.

Rose White Thunder
Rose White Thunder attended the school in the 1880s.Image credit: Dickinson College.

When I worked at the National Anthropological Archives in Washington D.C., we occasionally had different tribal groups travel to the museum to repatriate (is that the right term?) the remains of their ancestors that had been collected by Smithsonian scientists in the 19th and early 20th century for research purposes. If you want to learn more about the repatriation process see this link.

The best resource for learning more about the school is Dickinson College’s Digital Resource Center (linked above). The PA State Archives also has a small collection of photos and publications, as well as a microfilm collection of school records that are also useful for learning more.

 

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This photograph of the entire student body was taken in 1884. Image credit: Dickinson College.
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Author: Tyler Stump

Historian and archivist who likes writings about history kinds of things.

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