School’s Closing Not Inevitable

Conventional wisdom has it that Carlisle Indian School declined after the 1914 congressional investigation until it died a natural death in 1918. I came across some items that raise doubt about that conclusion. The May 24, 1918 issue of The Carlisle Arrow and Red Man listed the schedule for the upcoming football season. The 9-games scheduled included such powerhouses as Pitt and Army but didn’t include many of the powers the Indians faced during their glory days. It seems unlikely that this schedule would have been arranged if the school was expected to close before the start of the next school year.

Newspaper coverage of the school’s commencement activities held on June 6 did not even hint that the school was about to close. Mid-June newspapers announced that the government was considering the lengthening of Carlisle’s enrollment by two years to allow students to complete a college preparatory program. In addition to the educational advantages, the school would be able to attract star athletes. It wasn’t reported if this bill was ever decided upon, probably because it was overtaken by events.

In mid-July the government announced that the school was to be closed and the army was taking Carlisle Barracks back to be used as a hospital to treat soldiers that were wounded in WWI. The transition took place in less than six weeks, so it is fair to assume that it was not as orderly as it would have been had it been planned for some period of time.

Enrollment was down to about 680 students at the time of closing, due in significant part to students and potential students enlisting in the armed forces. Carlisle and the Indian community at large were overrepresented in the military although non-citizen Indians were not subject to the draft. Some even went to Canada to join their forces before the U. S. entered the war. After the U. S. entered the fray, Carlisle school newspapers were filled with items about Carlisle alums who had joined up. Those who were commissioned officers, such as Gus Welch, Frank Mt. Pleasant and William Gardner, received extra coverage.

It would have been interesting to see what might have happened if the army had delayed its decision until November 11, 1918. It will also be interesting to read what Gen. Pratt had to say about the school’s closing.

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