Carlisle Indian Industrial School : Kill The Indian to Save Him

Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt, founder and superintendent of Carlisle Indian School, in military uniform, 1879
Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt, founder and superintendent of Carlisle Indian School, in military uniform, 1879

In this Hub we're going to take a slight detour from our discussion on the integration pursuits of the black race ... and look at the plight of American Indians, who are, similar to the black race at the beginning of the 20th century, also demonstrating a resistance to "living the way of the white man." However, to be completely fair and accurate, it must be stressed that unlike the black race, the American Indians, collectively, never did express the slightest desire to assimilate with the white man (i.e. the Americans).


Carlisle Indian Industrial School

In the 1870s, it was hardly an uncommon belief among Americans that the American Indians simply could not fit into the “white man’s” world, and the best solution, as absurd as it may sound today, was to exterminate them. General Sheridan probably summed up what most Americans' attitude was toward the Indian when he said, "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead." In 1879, an American by the name of Capt. Richard H. Pratt, envisioned what he believed was the answer to America's Indian dilemma : he was going to teach them to become civilized.1

"Kill the Indian in them and save the man"

“When we cease to teach the Indian that he is less than a man; when we recognize fully that he is capable in all respects as we are, and that he only needs the opportunities and privileges which we possess to enable him to assert his humanity and manhood; when we act consistently towards him in accordance with that recognition; when we cease to fetter him to conditions which keep him in bondage, surrounded by retrogressive influences; when we allow him the freedom of association and the developing influences of social contact—then the Indian will quickly demonstrate that he can be truly civilized, and he himself will solve the question of what to do with the Indian.”

Capt. Richard H. Pratt (1892)


In 1879, Capt. Pratt visited all of the Indian tribes that were then currently assigned to reservations on the Great Plains. His desire was to try to convince tribal elders to allow him to take the children from each respective tribe (yes, you're reading right --all the Indian children) and put them in a privately run - by white people - boarding school, which was located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Naturally, this was one mighty tough sell. However, Pratt was a very persuasive man, as well as a determined one. He simply laid it out for the tribal elders, telling them that their way of life was over and it was time to embrace a new way of life and be prepared for the future (that is, the future as Pratt saw it, which was the way of the white man - not the red man). He told them basically that it was their way of life that was responsible for their current predicament - which was certainly true. They had no knowledge of medicine, history or culture. They had no ability to read or write, which meant they couldn’t understand written treaties. They had no knowledge of how to cultivate land, which forced them (prior to their reservation assignments) to subsist almost exclusively on buffalo meat. The American Plains Indians were truly as backward and primitive as humans could possibly get. Whether or not tribal elders realized their backwardness and substandard existence to that of the American, is debatable. However, in the end, Pratt’s argument won them over and they decided to send their children to his boarding school.

Obviously, this was promising to be quite a bold experiment. What Capt. Pratt was actually attempting to do was provide the children of these Indian tribes with all the necessary educational tools that, when they reached adulthood, would allow them to create living arrangements similar to that of the Americans. Or, putting it another way, Capt. Pratt believed education was the source to make any people, even the American Indians, become "civilized."

At the time of Capt. Pratt, no one could say this wasn't sound reasoning. Time would tell.

(If anyone wishes to read about the Carlisle School, there are lots of articles on the web. Simply punch into your search engine “Carlisle School”, or “Capt. Pratt”.)

The short of the story here as to whether the Carlisle School for Indians was a success, if one looks at the graduation rate at less than 8% of the Indian children, then the school must be judged a failure. In 1918, the Carlisle school did close. However, one must give Capt. Pratt, as well all the extremely qualified, determined and genuinely spirited Carlisle instructors an “A” for effort. The methods they used to teach were the same used at the best American schools. The Indians were not cheated in any way in terms of the means, measure or quality of the education they receive. Theoretically, the Carlisle program should have worked. Another disappointment, indeed, the major one for those Americans who gave so much time, money and effort to this almost 40 year project, was the fact that no Indian reservation established an Occupational Ranking system. Not one. The plain truth, whether people at that time were actually cable of comprehending it, was that the Indian was inside the Indian, and Capt. Pratt and his school could not simply “kill" it.
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1. To those of European descent, particularly Western European, “civilized” meant living the way in which they lived ( i.e. stratifying their male group by Occupational Ranking). Even today, civilization, and being or acting civilized, connotes behaving or living like those of Western European descent. And the further removed a people (a male group) get from an Occupational Ranking system, the more un-civilized they become in the eyes of the European.

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thevoice 6 years ago from carthage ill

smart fantastic hub read thanks


Ghost32 6 years ago

Well stated, ESPECIALLY your closing sentence.

My wife, Pam, is a powerful example of the Indian being "inside the Indian"--even if the PC term today is Native American. She's half Jewish, yes, but she's also 1/4 Choctaw. With NO physical contact with that side of her family whatsoever, she constantly exhibits traits one would normally associate with the "Red Man".

For one thing, her connection with animals--wild and domesticated alike--is awesome. We can be tooling down a freeway, she'll see a herd of cattle some distance from a roadside fence, call out to them (calls them her "Cow Puppies")...and even if they're busy grazing, their heads will come up and they'll start running to be with her.

I've watched a two point buck (mule deer) walk up to eat grass from her hand in a Utah canyon. Seen her train our cats not to claw the curtains by EXPLAINING things to them. Driven through certain Reservation areas and sworn never to go that way again--because she was suffering right along with warriors, women, and children who had died or been seriously injured in attacks by the Long Knives in the 1800s.

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