While researching the lives of Carlisle Indian School football players, I noticed that, for many of them, at least one parent had died and that several were orphans. This means that, to a significant extent, Carlisle served as an orphanage for Indian children. Currently, I am researching the life of Wilson Charles, Oneida from Wisconsin, whose parents both died when he and his slightly younger siblings, Elias and Josephine, were small children. Wilson apparently lived for a time with his elderly maternal grandmother, Huldah Doxtator Wheelock Charles, who was also the grandmother of the famous bandmasters, Dennison and James Wheelock as she outlived two husbands.
Gus Welch, the Hauser brothers, William Baine and William Newashe were orphans whose names come quickly to mind. Jim Thorpe became an orphan while at Carlisle when his father died; his mother had gone earlier. But it was Emma Newashe, William’s sister and fellow Carlisle student, who shed some light on what it meant to be an orphan at that time. Letters from school administrators and debtors in Gus Welch’s files illustrate the financial hardships landless orphans suffered, but Emma’s memoir tells of other, more limiting things.
Emma was Sac and Fox from Oklahoma like Thorpe, but was orphaned at a much younger age. She was a bright girl although she denied it and, apparently, a pleasure to be around. A Quaker couple befriended her and wanted to adopt her, but that was not allowed. It seems that she owned land that might pass with her to the white family. There may have also been other concerns. Regardless, she remained an orphan and was sent, along with her brother, to Carlisle Indian School where she flourished.
How representative Emma’s experience was cannot be determined because few others wrote memoirs as she did. However, it did provide her with a family of sorts when she had none and placed her with families with whom she bonded on her outing periods. And that is something.