Lies About Carlisle Indian School

I generally don’t bother to refute misinformation promulgated about Carlisle Indian School but, with reports on what happened at First Nations schools in Canada operated by the Catholic Church often being conflated with American schools, I now find it necessary to comment on a Facebook post (included below) that was forwarded to me for comment. Mr. Edwards appears to have visited Carlisle Barracks but is unfamiliar with its history. Some errors are so off they require no research on my part.

His sentence that includes the phrase “til ’51 or 2” is worded awkwardly but appears to mean that Mr. Edwards’ relatives played on the grounds at Carlisle Barracks in the early 1950s. If they had done that, they likely had some affiliation with the Army because Carlisle Indian School closed permanently in 1918.

Edwards’ comment about seeing fingerprints in the mortar on the Indian Field grandstand are incorrect unless the Army brought Indian masons back to Carlisle to build the new, concrete grandstand years later. Students learning the building trades likely built the original wooden grandstand around 1906, but they were long gone by the time the masonry grandstand was erected. However, they did build a masonry building: the Native Arts building which still stands. The school newspaper lauded the students for the quality of their work on the building in which the famous Winnebago artist, Angel DeCora, taught. It is diagonally across the street from the house in which Pop Warner lived. That house was also built by students. The funding for both these structures came from the Athletic Department.

A quick look at newspapers from August 1927, when the graves were moved, gives the total at 187. Perhaps Mr. Edwards was confused by hearing that over 1,000 students were enrolled in the school at its peak and mistook that for being the number of graves. Superintendent Pratt has been criticized for sending sick children home to die. He likely did that to keep diseases from spreading to other students and there was little he could do for many of them. The state-of-the-art of medicine had not advanced very far at the time the school was in operation. Lifespans were short. People, white and Indian alike, died at early ages. Tuberculous was rampant and took many lives. Pratt sent bodies of dead children home to those parents who wanted their remains whenever he could because a large graveyard filled with dead students wouldn’t have been good advertising for his school.

The graves were not moved to make room for a road. Officer housing was built on that site.

I had heard that the moving of the graves had been done in a haphazard manner but the newspaper articles suggest otherwise. Sixteen men were assigned to do the job. While errors were likely made, it appears that remains were paired with the headstones as both were relocated from the old cemetery to the new one. Some records were surely lost when the Indian School was closed with little advance notice. So, it would not be surprising to learn that some graves were mismarked. Something that argues for the overall data to be accurate is that the headstones were created shortly after the students died and would have been mostly correct, although some details could have been wrong. This was a government project after all so some screw ups were inevitable.

Neil Edwards

From where I’m standing a few yards to my right, a few yards to my left and back to that building almost where the stop sign is behind them vehicles is the old graveyard at Carlisle. There’s children under there…. but you won’t hear about that you’ll only hear about the graveyard out front. If I remember correctly, without looking it up, there was about 1,200 students back there and during the early 30s they ripped the graves out deep enough to make the road and piled them at random out front in 190 holes 192 I think or whatever……strange things happen here that’ll make yer neck hairs stand up…… this isn’t far from the “good ice” …their winter ice rink. In back and to my left is the field where Jim Thorpe, my family George Thomas todadaho, my great uncle, til ’51 or 2 I believe and his sister Edith Thomas, my GG, used to play. You can see the students fingerprints in the mortar between the Rocks when they built the grandstand there’s even fingerprints where they ended each pass in the morter.

If you don’t start learning about boarding schools here at Carlisle it’s like starting a book in the middle of it. You don’t know anything until you start here.

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