The Abuse of Indian Children

The Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, PA was doomed from the very beginning in 1879.  Establishing a school in a former a military barrack is not a conducive educational environment.  The relocation of Indian children, often without the consent of their parents, to this militia inspired location was inappropriate.  This and many other actions had negative results in the lives of almost all the children relocated to Carlisle and affected generations of Indians to come.

Richard Henry Pratt was an officer of the 10th Cavalry, and while he may have had good intentions, the Carlisle Indian School did not lead to positive results.  The first day at the school was a failure.

“The group arrived at Carlisle in the middle of the night, October 6, 1879. They stepped off the platform to be greeted by hundreds of townspeople, welcoming them and accompanying them to the army post. But when Pratt, Miss Mather and the children arrived at the empty military post, tired and hungry, there were no provisions awaiting them. No bedding, no food, no clothing – none of the requested necessities. Once again, Pratt had been thwarted by the BIA. (Bureau of Indian Affairs) The children slept on the floor in their blankets.”  (

Pratt removed the Indian children from the care of their parents to teach them to be like white people.  In 1879 there were no laws to protect one’s religion, minorities or children.  This was Pratt’s school to “Kill the Indian, save the man” and this slogan had two meanings.  Force the Indians to act like white men and to accept Christianity as their faith.  This may have sounded like a just cause but the actions taken to enforce the white man’s laws were abusive.  It took centuries for the “white man” to admit the actions taken during the school existence from 1879 to 1918 were not necessarily in the best interest of the Indian population.

“When children came to the school, the teachers cut their long hair. The students also got different clothes. No one would let them talk their own language. Many children became very homesick. Their teachers showed them how to read and write in English. They also taught them trades like farming, sewing, and baking. The Indian children were sent to church and Sunday School. Their teachers wanted them to know how to live like white people when they left the school.”  (

The Indians did not adapt quickly to their new environment.  The emotional toll was extreme and physically, their bodies were not able to fight off the diseases the white men brought with them.

“Illness and death among the children were common. Many of the children suffered from separation anxiety, smallpox and tuberculosis. As most of the children were sent back to their reservations, many others passed away at the school, which made it necessary for a cemetery. A hundred and ninety children are buried in the cemetery, with the majority of those buried are from the Apache tribe.” (

While there were success stories of Indians who were sent to Carlisle, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission stated in 2003 on a permanent marker located on the school grounds at the cemetery, “Despite idealistic beginnings, the school left a mixed and lasting legacy, creating opportunity for some students and conflicted identities for others.  In this cemetery are 186 graves of student who died while at Carlisle.”  (This number conflicts with the number of graves noted previously.)  (

Regardless of 186 or 190 children, their deaths were senseless and were caused by the actions of Pratt and those who supported the assimilation of the American Indians.  The United States of America has acknowledged the inappropriateness of forcing the Indian children to change their heritage to suit the white men.  Now, in the 21st Century, the American Indians are encouraged to share their heritage, customs and religious beliefs with the foolish white men.

Geronimo stopped to visit Carlisle…did you know that?


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