Rebirth of Chilocco Indian School

While conducting research on Lone Star Dietz in Kansas and Oklahoma, we drove past the long-closed Chilocco Indian School. Seeing that the gate was unlocked, we drove in the lane past cultivated fields, the school’s lake, and eventually into the center of the school’s campus. A caretaker noticed us wandering about and inquired about our presence there. She was puzzled because the gate was supposed to be locked as the grounds were not open to the public. She graciously allowed us to continue looking around.

The school closed its doors and, other than part of it being used by a drug rehabilitation program for some years, it has been fallow since 1980. Ivy has grown over some of the beautiful stone buildings. Decay would make renovating the campus an expensive undertaking, but well worth the investment. After bemoaning the sad state of this beautiful campus for some years, I came across something on the web that caught my eye.

Chilocco, “The Light On The Prairie,” has been deeded over to Council of Confederated Chilocco Tribes (CCCT) which consists of representatives from Kaw Nation, Otoe-Missouri Tribe, Pawnee Nation, Ponca Nation, and Tonkawa Tribe. The outer portions of the campus, consisting of large agricultural fields have been divided up among the five tribes for development . The 165 acres which comprise the central campus are held jointly. The Alumni Association, with a grant from Conoco-Phillips 66 Oil Company, is restoring the cemetery. The CCCT is raising money to be used to restore the buildings and create a museum. The Chilocco campus has been on the National Register of Historic Places for some time and is under consideration for nomination as a National Historic Landmark.

Some Carlisle students, such as Iva Miller (Jim Thorpe’s first wife), faculty and administrators also spent parts of their careers at Chilocco. I first became aware of Iva and Chilocco at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. That story is told in Keep A-goin’: the life of Lone Star Dietz.

Chilocco Indian School campus

Chilocco Indian School campus

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28 Responses to “Rebirth of Chilocco Indian School”

  1. Matt Bearden Says:

    Hope is not lost. I visited the campus just today with my wife and a few artists and organizers as you stated who are in the process of raising money to have the campus refurbished for a cultural center.
    My mother graduated from Chilocco in 1948 and her father just so happened to be the first cousin of Charlotte Vieux, mother of Jim Thorpe.

    • tombenjey Says:

      Thanks for getting in touch, Matt. We visited the campus several years ago and saw that it could be a beautiful place. I hope they are successful.

    • Susan Campbell Says:

      Jim Thorpe’s mother Charlotte was a grand-daughter of Louis Vieux (her father was Jacob, Louis’ son). I descend from Louis through his daughter Rachel. I’d love to get in touch and share genealogy notes. We visited Chilocco a number of years ago (my grandmother went there) and were allowed to wander on campus and take photos as long as we didn’t take any with people in them!

  2. Suzanne Says:

    My mother was the daughter of two of the teachers at Chilocco and she talks fondly of her days at Chilocco. When I was in college I drove by the entrance but was unable to get to the school proper. I did take pictures of the drive heading up to the school. I look forward to the day it is a National Landmark.

    • Suzanne Grant Griffith Says:

      I am so very happy to see positive news about Chilocco! I had read and seen pictures of neglect and disrepair that were devastating to me. I was born in Arkansas City and brought home to the Chilocco campus by my parents, Owen and Carrie Grant, who were both teachers at Chilocco. My earliest memories are of life at Chilocco. It was such a beautiful safe place to grow up in. I remember the school musical performances with Miss Dyer. I also remember going to annual picnics in the picnic grove. My mother taught home economics and I loved going to her classroom after cooking class because everything smelled so good. Mrs Wapp with her weaving were a wonderment to me also. My dad and Mr Hathcoat taught in the academic building. They liked to visit when classes were over. They would stand in the doorways of their classrooms and talk. My dad taught history and I loved seeing all of the maps and drawing on the blackboard. My goal in life as a 6 year old was to have a blue cloth covered, 3 ring notebook like the high school students did.
      I also began nursery school there with Miss Ross as the teacher. I began first grade in the two-room school that was on-campus for employees’ children. The first, second, third and fourth grade were in one room with Mrs Tipton as the teacher. Some of my classmates were Laura Ruth & Billy Reid Thorne, Esther Scroggins, Mary Hair, and Jackie Otepobe. Other schoolmates were Eddie and Barbara Wapp, Brownie Pipestone, Susie Cook, George & Jerry Bearskin. The fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades were in the other room. I have forgotten the name of that teacher. We moved from Chilocco to Shiprock, New Mexico when I was in the third grade.
      I have so many other memories that were triggered by the pictures. I also have most of the yearbooks. I look forward to contributing more when the time comes. I also have a lot of pictures etc from those years. My mother began teaching in the 1930s and my father came the next year.

  3. tombenjey Says:

    The gate was inexplicably unlocked when we dropped by several years ago, so we were able to see the campus. It will be beautiful when restored but will take LOTS of money. Photos and postcards of the school can be found on the internet with a little searching.

  4. B.Z. Smith Says:

    I believe that my grandfather, Kenneth D. Walker, attended Chilocco. He would have been there in the late 1800’s. He was Wyandotte. Later he went on to graduate from Oklahoma A&M.

  5. Merna Holloway Says:

    My grandfather, Milton Holloway, taught dairying from about 1914 – 1919 at Chilocco. My mother and aunt were born there. My sisters, mother and I have often stopped by to visit during cross country trips. I have lots of memorabilia from that time period: year books, photos, etc. I am looking forward to donating these items when the cultural center is nearing completion.

  6. justintylermoore Says:

    Thank you for posting this! After reading about Chilocco here, it sparked my interest and have done extensive research over the past couple of months. I visited the campus, visited the Oklahoma History Archives and viewed several artifacts, and decided to make a post with all I have found. Come take a look!

  7. Stephen Walden Says:

    I took my aunt to the reunion this year in Oklahoma City and we drove up to the school . She and i were so sad to see the way things have gone into disaray. This school can still be saved for future generations to see what this once was,but will require all indain nationas that went to school there to help .

    I do not understand why the CCCT has let it get into this shape. All the indian tribes that went to school there have Casinos and make a lot of profits from them , why do they not take a little of that from each tribe and restore this great school.

    If each tribe would help it would not be that much from each tribe to restore it then.

    Each tribe should be proud of this old school and not ashamed of what it has done for each tribe . I know that my aunt learned a lot and how to do a lot of things to survive and today at 89 years of age still makes quilts which is something she was tuaght not only at home but at this school.She talked of how they were taught to grow food – prepare food and the basic of home life ,and its to sad that today schools do not take the time to teach these things anymore .

  8. bunnie mccosar Says:

    I’ve worked on Chilocco pictures for many years now and starting to put them into my facebook site. The pictures are from 1953 to 1956 classes and also the Navajo program students. Will share pictures to you email site, if so desired.


    My grandma was trying to find out if her dad went to this school she doesn`t know to much about her life.
    she thinks he went t this school but dont really know how can we find like a name roster to find out if he went there? can any one tell me.

    • tombenjey Says:

      The Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City may have a roster of students who attended Chilocco. If not, the National Archives in Fort Worth might. What was your great grandfather’s name? A person about whom I want to know more may have been a Johnsom. He went by Joe Little Twig.

      Thanks for writing,


    • The AbandonedOK Team Says:

      Tom is correct. I have been up to OHS and sorted through the entire Chilocco archives. There is an amazing amount of material, including records of all students.

      • Doris Casey Says:

        we are trying to find information on Edith Etsitty– we have found a picture of her in a year book,in 1953– we know Eddie,,and we need a Birth certificate for her ,,if anyone out there could help, would be appreciated.- my e-mail is –

  10. Nicole Black Says:

    My great grandmother went to school there at chilocco. Her name was Theresa Ann Garan (Black). I think she graduated in 1933 and I know she died in 1986 right before I was born. If anyone has info regarding her please contact me.

  11. Donna Jones, Flood, class Says:

    After 20 years of writing stories on Chilocco to see the fruition of my efforts to be enjoyed by the Alumni reunion of 2012 was altogether the most pleasant of expriences. Read about it here:

  12. Comanche Thomas Says:

    My mother attended school at Chilocco and graduated in 1952. I have Aunts and Uncles who attended and graduated also at Chilocco. I would love the opportunity to visit the campus and walk on the same grounds as my ancestors, just making sure that I stay on the sidewalks and off the lawn. From the stories I can remember my mother told me, it was a place of both sorrow and joy. I often if the overall experience was a benefit to my mother or if it caused long term damage. Comanche Thomas

  13. Tina Eley Says:

    my Grandpa, two of his brothers and two cousins attended school there from 1900 to at least 1905. Anybody out there with info regarding this time period at the school.

  14. Shelli Bangert Says:

    Is it closed to the public now?

    • tombenjey Says:

      I don’t know, Shelli. It was closed to the public when I visited several years ago but a gate was inexplicably left open so I wandered in. It just might be open now but I don’t know who you’d contact to find out.


  15. Karen Wendt Says:

    Would like to know the progress of the restoration of this school. Ada Tanner Moon, who helped raise me, was a student there. She was like a grandmother to me, so her history is of great interest to me.

  16. Wilma Titus Says:

    Im trying to find out if gates are open was planning on taking a trip to see the campus grounds its been over 20 yrs. I’ll be going to Tulsa and driving to Chilocco .

    • tombenjey Says:

      It’s been a long time since I was there and the campus wasn’t officially open then. I had the good fortune that someone had left the gate wide open. Apparently, the alumni association has permission to visit there during reunions. Here is a link to their site:
      Good luck. I hope you’re able to get in.

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