A Story of Heroism & Pride
Within a Shameful Chapter of History

The following journal has been compiled from articles appearing in the Carlisle Indian School Newspapers and other publications throughout the lacrosse season of 1910. Many are likely written by white administrators of the Carlisle school or members of the eastern press, who will, at times, use language that would certainly be very bigoted today. Ironically, at the time the journal was written, these writers would have been among the liberal northeastern Americans wanting to help the native americans assimilate into society. The school itself was the first of its kind and very controversial.

The school is noted for its incredible sports records in Football and Lacrosse against the white colleges. Perhaps the greatest American athlete ever, Jim Thorpe, rose to mega-success from his humble beginnings at Carlisle. But the Carlisle school is mostly infamous for taking thousands of native children from their families "for their own good" and for the sociology experiment conducted there. The concept, even the true mantra of the school, conceived by U.S. Army Officer and founder Richard Henry Pratt, was "Kill the Indian. Save the man." This was an extremely liberal position to hold in the day. The country was generally racist toward Indians, African Americans and every group immigrating through Ellis Island. To give a time reference, George Custer was killed at Little Big Horn only 35 years earlier and Wounded Knee, the last huge massacre of Indians by the US Government occurred only 20 years before the journal and 8 years before the founding of the school.

Native Americans from all over the nation were sent to Carlisle and, as you will read, lacrosse was new to almost all of them. Nevertheless, they assembled a team, learned how to play and began to beat very good college teams from year one. The small lacrosse community was shocked by their success. The larger sports world came to know Carlisle as one of the dominant football teams of the era, as well. This success, reached by children under the most adverse conditions imaginable, is one of America's lost stories of heroism. The compiled journal is followed by an article from Central Pennsylvania Magazine, previewing the 2000 Native Reunion Powwow and explaining the history and controversy surrounding the Carlisle School. It is important to read this second part to get the full perspective of the true accomplishment of these American heroes.

This school will not be represented by a base ball team the coming season. In place of base ball, lacrosse will be taken up as a school sport, This change has been considered for several years, and has been decided upon only after most thoughtful consideration. It is thought that, because of the evils of summer or - professional base ball and the fact that many students have been lured away from school and into temptations and bad company by professional offers before they had finished scoool, it would be best not to develop, by encouraging base ball, an ambition in the students to become professional players, since so few have the strength of character or the ability to engage in such a calling successfully.

The base ball boys could not very well be prevented from engaging in professional base ball in the summer, because the students, instead of going home in the summer vacation, as college students do, are put to work under the Outing System, and boys who could earn from fifty to one hundred dollars a month during the summer playing base ball were naturally not contented to go out to the sea shore or on a farm for from $15 to $20 per month, even though it would pay them in the long run to do so. For this and other reasons it has been thought best not to develop base ball players to the point where they will be subjected to the tempting offers of the “Bush league” managers.

Lacrosse is an Indian game. There are many colleges playing it, and all who engage in the sport will start upon equal terms, since no one has experience before coming to Carlisle and there is no chance for professionalism to turn the heads of the players, since there are no professional lacrosse teams. Lacrosse is a very interesting game requiring speed, headwork, skill, endurance and team work, and while we cannot expect to have a very strong team the first season, it is expected that the Indian’s natural ability will enable the team to make a creditable showing this spring and show marked improvement from year to year.

January 14, 1910 - From the ARROW

Tom Torlino before and after Carlisle

Lacrosse practice started last Saturday and a great deal of interest and enthusiasm is being shown by the candidates. This game is bound to become a popular sport at Carlisle. James Garlow is acting captain.

January 28, 1910 - From the ARROW

John White, an Indian who is said to be the best lacrosse player in Canada, and probably in the world, has been engaged to [help] coach the lacrosse team. He will be here to start work March 1st.

February 4, 1910 - From the ARROW

The fine weather during the early part of the month gave both the track and the lacrosse candidates an opportunity to practice on the athletic field, instead of in the cage.

The first lacrosse game ever played in Carlisle was played on the Athletic Field by two scrub teams last Saturday. Most of the players had never played before, and of course the game was a very ragged one. It proved, however, that Carlisle has some good material and the indications are that a creditable team can be turned out.

Mr. John ‘White, the lacrosse coach, arrived last Tuesday and commenced with the candidates. The weather has permitted out door practice every day and the boys are improving with each day’s practice. The squad was cut to 40 men this week and will be reduced to 30 at the end of this month.

March 11, 1910 - From the ARROW

The first exhibition lacrosse game and the annual handicap track meet were held on Indian field Wednesday afternoon. A large number of “rooters” cheered the winners of the game and the track events. The teams matched in the lacrosse game were both made up of students reinforced on one side by Mr. John White, the coach. The side dubbed “Blacks” defeated their opponents, the “Reds”.

April 15, 1910 - From the ARROW

Swarthmore plays lacrosse here tomorrow at 3 p. m., and the Indians are determined to “Scalp ‘em. ” The lacrosse team was defeated by Stevens Institute at Hoboken last Saturday by the score of 6-4. It was a very close and exciting game and the Indians surprised every one by making such a good showing for a green team.

April 22, 1910 - From the ARROW

The Lacrosse team was defeated by Swarthmore upon our field last Saturday by a score of 5-3. The first half resulted in favor of the Indians, but Swarthmore put up a harder fight in the second half and won out by a determined effort, while the Indians seemed tolet up in their efforts toward the close. The lacrosse team is doing very well for their first season, but some of the players could do a great deal better if they had more of the “Do or die” spirit and did not give up so easily.

The small boys are proud of having two representatives in the varsity lacrosse team who helped to hold the experienced Lehigh team to a low score. The two babies in the team are Joseph Jocks and James Halftown.

April 29, 1910 - From the ARROW

The lacrosse team came to the front last Saturday and won an easy game from Baltimore City College through superior team work and allaround ability by the score of 15 to 0. It was a pretty game to watch from the Carlisle standpoint, and judging by the improvement the team is making from week to week under coach O’Neil’s excellent instruction, we ought to win the next two games.

May 6, 1910 - From the ARROW


Just as the white man, the Indian too has various forms of amusements. The ball game, as played by the Cherokees, is as important to them as football or any other popular game is to other people. The Eastern Band of Cherokees live on the Qualla Reservation in western North Carolina.

The neighorhood in which I live is divided into four main sections, namely Yellow Hill, Soco, Big Cove and Birdtown.

The Indians living in one of these sections will challenge those living in another to a game of ball. Say for instance the Indian men of Big Cove will challenge those living in Birdtown. They choose their players and agree upon the time and place for playing the game. It is generally played in an open field, far different from the well-graded field upon which the game of football is played.

The evening before the game the Indians, the women included, hold a dance in their respective sections of the country. These dances are held in the open air, usually near some small stream. The women do the singing while the men dance. In their songs they make all kinds of remarks about those of the opposing side. These dances continue all night long. From the time of the dances until after the game, the players are not allowed to eat any food. The following day, the people from the different sections gather at the appointed place to witness the game. They either sit or stand around the edge of the field.

The ball players each ‘have two sticks similar to those used in the game of lacrosse, only smaller. The ball is tossed up in the center of the field and the game begins. The object is to get it around two poles, placed at each end of the field, a certain number of times. They cannot pick up the ball in their hands. The players who succeed in getting the ball around the poles at their end of the field the greatest number of times, win the game.

May 6, 1910 - From the ARROW

The lacrosse team won a splendid victory over the Mt. Washington Club of-Baltimore last Saturday by the score of 3 to 1. The Baltimore boys scored one point in the first-half while the Indians scored all their goals in the last period of play. Captain Garlow’s men won many compli- ments from lacrosse experts at Baltimore for making such fine showing in their first season’s play, which reflects much credit upon Coach O’Neal.

The last game of lacrosse will be played with the Navy team at Annapolis next Saturday.

The boys who went to Baltimore to play lacrosse reported having a very nice time.

May 13, 1910 - From the ARROW

Mr. O’Neil, our lacrosse coach, will leave Wednesday for Boston, where he will visit relatives and friends, thence go to Montreal, Canada, where he will manage the Cornwall Club.

The lacrosse team closed the season by defeating the strong Navy team at Annapolis last Saturday by a score of 3 to2. It was a hard fought contest and the victory was a great credit to the team and to Coach O’Neil.

Carlisle is to be congratulated on turning out such a fine team in the first year the sport has been tried here, and that the team has been able to do so well has been the surprise of lacrosse experts all over the country. The credit is due to the spirit and hard practice of the players, the able leadership of Captain Garlow, and especially to the able coaching of Mr. O’Neil.

Next year a better schedule will be arranged and the Indians should have the best team in the country.

May 20, 1910 - From the ARROW

The braves from the Carlisle Indian School showed that they know something of their forefathers, when they defeated the young palefaces of the Naval Service by 3 to 2 today in the most exciting lacrosse game ever seen here. All the scoring was done in the first half, and the second period was so desperately contested that neither side was able to net the ball once. In the second half particularly the playing was so fast and determined that neither team had time for such side issues as little individual scraps. The Indians’ running and catching were remarkable. They played the ball on the ground largely and this proved confusing to the middies, who do most of their work above the heads of their opponents. On the whole, it was a splendid contest, with two types of players and playing opposed.

May 1910 - From an Annapolis, MD Paper

Lacrosse Game and Handicap Track Meet.

0n Wednesday afternoon, a very interesting game of lacrosse was played between student teams. It was the first time that a regular game of lacrosse was seen by many of the students, and most of the large number of spectators. The game of lacrosse is an Indian game, and has been substituted this year for baseball in order to overcome the professional tendency which attends an extensive baseball schedule.

May 1910 - From RED MAN Magazine

NOTE: The ARROW or INDIAN HELPER was printed every friday at the Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pa. "by Indian boys but EDITED by The man-on-the-band-stand who is NOT an Indian. It sold for a subscription price of ten cents for the year.

On Sacred Ground

Commemorating Survival and Loss at the Carlisle Indian School

by Stephanie Anderson (As published in CENTRAL PA magazine, May 2000)

In the middle of a bitter night in October 1879, a train puffed slowly across the last few feet of track and eased into Carlisle after a long journey from Dakota Territory. On board were 82 children from the Lakota people, whom most European Americans knew as the Sioux. Hungry and tired, they rose from their seats one by one, pulled their blankets tighter around them and stepped onto the small platform at the station. Their eyes, adjusting to the darkness, met a sea of strangers staring back at them. Just three years after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, hundreds of townspeople gathered with necks craned to glimpse the "exotic" Indian children from what was still regarded as the Wild West.

During the next 39 years, American Indian children became a familiar sight in Carlisle. While their arrival was little more than a curiosity to the townspeople, their departure from their homes, families and way of life marked momentous change in the lives of the children, their parents and their tribes.

From 1879 to 1918, approximately 12,000 Native-American children attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, on the grounds of Carlisle Barracks, to become educated in the ways of European-American culture. They came from all corners of the United States - some even from Puerto Rico and the Philippines - and from more than 140 tribes. Some came willingly; others did not. And while many survived, some did not.

The goal of the Carlisle school and its founder, a U.S. Army officer named Richard Henry Pratt, was total assimilation of Native Americans into white culture, at the deliberate cost of their Indianness. The legacy of Carlisle, and of the extensive system of boarding schools it spawned, continues to pervade the lives of Native Americans today. Mention the Carlisle Indian School in Central PA, and most residents think of Jim Thorpe, its most famous student. Proclaimed the world's greatest athlete, Thorpe became a source of pride for the school and the town. But to most Indians, the mention of Carlisle elicits a conflicting mixture of strong emotions - both positive and negative - involving the dignity of survival and the mourning of lost cultural identity.

Jim Thorpe

More than 80 years after the school closed, the Cumberland County 250th Anniversary Committee has invited each of the 554 federally recognized American Indian tribes, along with the nonnative community, to come together in Carlisle for the first-ever commemoration of the school and its contradictory legacy. Powwow 2000: Remembering Carlisle Indian School will take place on Memorial Day weekend on the site of the former school. The organizers hope "to provide awareness of Native-American Indian cultures and the Carlisle Indian School history, and to remember and honor the students who attended the school."

But there's also a deeper purpose to the singing and dancing, the ceremonies and talks. Pulitzer Prize-winning Native-American author N. Scott Momaday, the keynote speaker for the event, hopes "it is a healing process. We are doing real reverence to the children."

Captain Pratt's dream
"Convert him in all ways but color into a white man, and, in fact, the Indian would be exterminated, but humanely, and as beneficiary of the greatest gift at the command of the white man - his own civilization."

- Characterization of Carlisle Indian School founder R.H. Pratt's philosophy by historian Robert H. Utley, 1979
The history of the Carlisle Indian School is inextricably linked with its founder. R.H. Pratt, a US Army captain, had commanded a unit of African-American soldiers and Indian scouts in Dakota Territory for eight years following the Civil War. Subscribing to the ideas of the "Indian reformers" of the time - many of whom were Quakers and Christian missionaries - Pratt believed the solution to the so-called "Indian problem" was not separation, which was the function of the reservations, but assimilation.

Pratt believed the best way for Indians to be absorbed into mainstream American society was to provide them with an education. In 1875, Pratt was assigned to guard a group of Caddo, Southern Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa prisoners at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. He selected a group of these prisoners to test his hypothesis about Indian education and sent them to the Hampton Institute in Virginia, then a boarding school for black children. The 17 students adapted so completely to European-American ways that Pratt decided he wanted an all-Indian school of his own. In 1879, the Army gave Pratt permission to house his school on an old cavalry post in the small, rural town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He traveled west to recruit his first students from Rosebud and Pine Ridge, two Lakota reservations in what is now South Dakota. In the meantime, two of Pratt's former pupils from Hampton were recruiting Cheyenne and Kiowa children for Pratt in the Southwest.

Meeting with well-known and influential Lakota chiefs and elders - Spotted Tail at Rosebud and Red Cloud at Pine Ridge - Pratt argued that had their people been able to understand English, they might have prevented the loss of land and freedom that had occurred with the institution of the reservation system, or at least understood what was to come.

Though Red Cloud and Spotted Tail were skeptical of Pratt's intentions, they believed their land and resources inevitably would continue to be purloined by the white men. Each chief sent 36 children with Pratt, including five of Spotted Tail's own children and Red Cloud's grandson. According to Pratt's account, 10 more were added to the group as it made its way to the steamboat for the first leg of the journey.

Collective wail
"In our culture, the only time we cut hair is when we are in mourning or when someone has died in the immediate family. We do this to show we are mourning the loss of a loved one."

- Sterling Hollow Horn (Lakota), Pine Ridge, South Dakota, 2000
As the train carrying the first group of Lakota students made its way across the country, townspeople came to every train station to gawk at the children wearing their blankets and moccasins. To avoid this spectacle in Carlisle, Pratt routed the train to a tiny depot several blocks from the main station on High Street. His plan was foiled, and hundreds of cheering Carlisle residents were waiting on the platform. When the travelers arrived at the school, Pratt was enraged to find that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs had failed to send provisions, bedding or food. The children were forced to sleep, hungry, on the floor in their blankets.

Pratt immediately left to collect the Cheyenne and Kiowa children, and his wife and the teachers took charge of the first wave of assimilation. The process began with the outward signs of Indian appearance - clothing and hair. Confused and homesick, the Lakota children wept as their long hair was cut and fell to the ground. On one of the first nights after the Lakota children arrived, a collective wail rose up from their throats, its wrenching sound echoing across the campus. What they did not yet know was they were mourning the shearing of their cultural identities.

Tools of assimilation
"God helps those who help themselves."

- Slogan on the masthead of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School newspaper
Because Pratt wanted his charges to learn trades as well as academics, half of each day was devoted to reading, writing and arithmetic, and the other half to trades, such as blacksmithing and carpentry for the boys, sewing and laundry for the girls. The entire system was shaped by Pratt's military past. Boys dressed in uniforms, and girls wore Victorian-style dresses. The students practiced marching and drilling and were given military-style ranks.

One of the few original structures still standing on the grounds is a haunting reminder of the school's rigidity. Built in 1777 to store gunpowder, the guardhouse contained four cells in which children were locked up, sometimes for up to a week, for various indiscretions. Running away was a common offense.

In addition to their vocational and academic pursuits, the Indian children also studied the humanities. Pictures in the students' sketch books chart the progress of assimilation. When they first arrived, children drew things they remembered from home, such as buffalo hunts and warriors counting coup on horseback. In time, the drawings evolved into representations of their new lives - including images of farms and children with short hair wearing European-style clothing.

Mohican composer Brent Michael Davids, who is performing at Powwow 2000, has studied the use of music as a tool of assimilation. Though the children came from backgrounds rich in song, they had no concept of European approaches to music. "The students sang songs at mealtimes in a four-part harmony," Davids explains. "It was a completely different singing style. The hymns they were forced to sing were the Western style, espousing the values of being good Christians."

Nearly 120 members of Davids' Stockbridge Mohican clan attended Carlisle. He learned about them while composing music for a CD-ROM about the Indian School. "[Carlisle] was a missing link for me," Davids says. "I knew they tried to kill us, then herded us onto reservations, but I couldn't figure out how we cut our hair and started wearing shoes."

Theater also was used to indoctrinate the students in the customs of white America. Lynne Allen, an artist who lives in Furlong, Pennsylvania, remembers finding a photograph of her Lakota grandmother, Daphne Waggoner, performing in a Thanksgiving play at Carlisle. "Indians dressed as Pilgrims and Indians dressed as Indians," Allen says, laughing at the irony of Native Americans portraying stereotypes of themselves.

Language lost
"When you destroy a person's language, it destroys their world view. They're left with only fragments. I speak Spanish, and I speak English. When you think in Spanish, it's totally different. When they leave the school and go back to the reservation, they're still Indian, but not anymore."

- Jorge Estevez (Taino), participant coordinator, Museum of the American Indian, New York, 2000
The destruction of native languages was one of Pratt's main objectives. Children began English lessons as soon as they arrived at Carlisle. Students were punished, sometimes severely, if caught speaking their native languages, even in private. According to Tsianina Lomawaima, a professor at the University of Arizona and author of a book about the Chilocco Indian School in Oklahoma, Carlisle and other boarding schools modeled after it didn't instantly eliminate native languages. But because of their school experiences, many former students decided not to teach these languages to their children.

Sterling Hollow Horn, 38, who works at KILI, a Lakota-language radio station on the Pine Ridge Reservation, had several relatives who attended Carlisle and has witnessed this in his own community.

"They didn't let [the students] speak in the old language," says Hollow Horn, a member of revered leader Crazy Horse's band of the Lakota people. "They set a dangerous precedent. I'm fluent in the Sioux language. Most people my age don't speak the language. It's dying out. The whole spirituality and way of thinking is intertwined with the language. That's all being lost. Carlisle was the starting point for this."

In 1995, Ed Farnham, a major in the US Army, learned he was being transferred from his base in Germany to the Carlisle Barracks. Originally from upstate New York, Farnham was excited he would be living closer to his family. When he called his mother to tell her, she asked him, "Don't you know what that place is?" Only then did he realize he would be living in the same Carlisle that had been the subject of murmurings in his family.

Farnham's grandmother, Mamie Mt. Pleasant, attended the Indian School for nearly a decade. A Tuscarora Indian, she was 14 when she was sent to Carlisle. Mamie's older brother Frank had been one of the school's star athletes in football and track and field. When Mamie came to Carlisle in 1908, Frank was in London as a member of the US Olympic track-and-field team, but was unable to compete in the broad jump because of a torn knee ligament. Before she graduated from Carlisle in 1917, Mamie learned to sew and was rumored to have been courted by another Carlisle athlete - Jim Thorpe.

Though he grew up across the street from his grandmother on the Tuscarora reservation near Niagara Falls, New York, Farnham was never taught the Tuscarora language. After Mamie Mt. Pleasant returned to the reservation from Carlisle, the only time she spoke Tuscarora was at night, praying Christian prayers before bed.

'The man on the bandstand'
"Kill the Indian, save the man."

- R.H. Pratt, often-repeated catch phrase
Pratt wrote extensively and candidly about his reasons for founding the Carlisle school. He referred to relations between European and Native Americans in terms of the "Indian problem" and compared it to a similarly widespread attitude toward the "Negro problem." In 1890 he wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, "If millions of black savages can become so transformed and assimilated, and if, annually, hundreds of thousands of emigrants from all lands can also become Anglicized, Americanized, assimilated and absorbed through association, there is but one plain duty resting upon us with regard to the Indians, and that is to relieve them of their savagery and other alien qualities by the same methods used to relieve the others."

Pratt may be considered a bigot by today's standards, but his views of African Americans and Indians were considered progressive 100 years ago. He and most people who regarded themselves as advocates for Native Americans considered Carlisle a "noble experiment." He believed that education was the only way native people would survive - at a time when the survival of Indians was a goal that a significant number of white Americans did not support.

Pratt was often referred to as "the man on the bandstand." Located directly in the center of the school's campus, the circular bandstand provided a view of the entire grounds. But more than a pseudonym for Pratt, the constant reminder that "the man on the bandstand" was watching represented the all-encompassing, paternalistic way in which Pratt and the teachers, ministers and matrons viewed themselves as the "saviors" of the Indian children. The phrase was meant to make the children feel secure and cared for. It also reminded them that they were under constant surveillance.

Tsianina Lomawaima believes, in some ways, Pratt was unusual for his era. "His commitment to those students as individual human beings was unique," she says. "He really believed in them. He fought for those kids. The part of Pratt that wasn't unusual was that he didn't believe Indian culture would survive, or should."

"There were kids who were Lakota, and there were kids who were Wampanoag. At Carlisle, they became Indian."

- Barbara Landis, Carlisle Indian School biographer, 2000
The erosion of Native-American sovereignty was swift and unrelenting. Propelled by a hunger for land, gold, power and control, it swallowed up everything in its path, including communities, languages and religions. No matter the Nez Perce were distinct from the Navajo, the Seneca from the Seminole, the Coeur D'Alene from the Crow. They were one in their difference.

Repercussions of the Carlisle Indian School experience are still felt today, often in unsuspected ways. In March, National Public Radio reported that Native Americans were the most undercounted ethnic group in the US Census, in part because older members of the "boarding-school generation" remember that when they gave their names to government agents, they were "carted off involuntarily."

Most of the 2 million Native Americans living in this country have some sort of biological link to Carlisle or one of the boarding schools created in its wake. There is also a shared sense of inner conflict. It is difficult for many Indian people to fully condemn or condone Carlisle. But they agree the disintegration of Indian cultures and the arrogant racism toward native people is horrific.

Much of the inner turmoil Carlisle has spawned revolves around the question of what the lives of native peoples would have been like without Carlisle and similar boarding schools. Barbara Landis, who researches the Indian School for the Cumberland County Historical Society, points out that the children's lives were less than idyllic before they came to Carlisle.

"It was just about the end of the treaty-making era," Landis explains. All the major battles between Indians and the US military were over except for the massacre at Wounded Knee, which would take place in 1890. But the children would have had some memory of the wars, in which their parents and grandparents had participated. "The only place for Indians was in the agency [reservation]," Landis says.

"Emotionally, the structure of their world changed with the agencies, the rations, a whole new way of eating, not being able to hunt buffalo."

"Most people around here are proud their children and ancestors went there," Sterling Hollow Horn says of the Carlisle Indian School. "But four- and five-year-olds were being taken from their families. There was a lot of confusion from parents, but more so from the children. Carlisle was good, and it was bad. It depends how you want to look at it. I personally think it was good. It showed Indian kids were intelligent. But I know a lot of people would disagree with me."

Ed Farnham has only begun to wrestle with his feelings about Carlisle. "It's a touchy subject," he says. "On the one hand, you had all these Indians coming together to play football and being a dominating force. That was great, and that never would have happened [otherwise]. But losing or suppressing your cultural identity, that's not good.

"I know things would have been different if my relatives hadn't come here. My grandmother wouldn't have been a seamstress. My uncle wouldn't have gone to Europe and done all he did."

Though her grandmother described her time at Carlisle as pleasant, Lynne Allen feels boarding schools contributed to her own confusion about cultural identity. Though Allen is a descendant of Chief Sitting Bull, she is only one-sixteenth Lakota - not enough to be officially recognized by the tribe as a member. "Being part Indian and not belonging anywhere was something [my mother] carried with her her whole life," Allen explains. "It's something she passed on to me, this feeling of being marginalized.

"Part of me knows it helped a lot of people survive in the world. But there were people who stayed on the reservations and survived, too. It was the age, it was the era of missionaries and zealots trying to 'help the savages.' ... I don't know what would've happened if they wouldn't have done that."

A time for healing
"My lands are where my people lie buried."

- Crazy Horse, Oglala Sioux leader, 1877
When you are driving on Claremont Road in Carlisle, it's easy to miss the small, tidy cemetery along the side of the road. The long, slender limbs of a weeping-cherry tree in the nucleus of the plot reach down like fingers brushing along the arched tops of pristine, white tombstones surrounded by a short, iron fence. Row after neat row of graves dot the grass.

The Indian cemetery is one of few traces of the school left in Carlisle. More than 175 tombstones line the ground. Prayer cloths, strings of shells and beads and small bundles of sage and sweetgrass embrace the tree trunk.

The realization is harsh and unforgiving - there are children buried here. They died of the diseases that killed many children in those years, regardless of ethnicity. Climate change, separation anxiety and lack of immunity also contributed to the toll. Most were sent home for burial, but some had no relatives who could have made the arrangements, or their homes were simply too far away. Because of fear of infection, tuberculosis victims were buried immediately.

Most of the town of Carlisle's connection to the school revolves around its legendary football team and Jim Thorpe. In the All-American truck stop just outside of town, there's a wall covered with framed photographs and newspaper clippings of Thorpe. A memorial stone in the town's square pays tribute to him. Wardecker's, a men's clothing store on Hanover Street, which at one time extended a special line of credit to the Indian School's athletes, houses a shrine of photographs of Thorpe, Coach "Pop" Warner and the football team. Carlisle High School's mascot is a buffalo, and its nickname is the Thundering Herd.

But Native-American memories of the Carlisle Indian School run much deeper. Beverly Holland, who lives in Harrisburg, moved to Central Pennsylvania about 20 years ago from the Yankton Lakota reservation in South Dakota. Her grandfather attended Carlisle for nearly four years. But, like Ed Farnham, she didn't make the connection that she was living so close to the former school. "I didn't run right to the school after I found out," she says. "It was a long time before I could visit the cemetery. I think I visited there about four or five times before I could stop crying."

It was equally moving for Farnham. "I had no idea what happened there," he says. "I was ignorant." But when he visited the grounds for the first time as a soldier, he acknowledges a complete reversal of attitude. "It was almost a spiritual event for me, once I understood that's where my grandmother walked for so many years," he says. "She was Christian. I know she would've gone to the chapel. The foundation of the chapel was about 200 yards from where we were housed. Kneeling on the ground [in the cemetery], looking at the graves, you just have ... more of a reverential attitude."

Sacred ground

Powwow 2000 will doubtless be an emotional time, but the members of the organizing committee, comprised of about half native and half nonnative members, hope the event will help salve the unrelenting pain felt by so many.

Nadine West, a Chippewa Indian and member of the powwow committee, has made an annual pilgrimage from her home in Harrisburg to the Indian cemetery each Memorial Day for years. She claims the decision to schedule the powwow during a national holiday of remembrance was deliberate and symbolic. "Those children in that cemetery are our veterans," she says.

Originally from the Cheyenne River Lakota reservation in South Dakota, Carolyn Rittenhouse of Lancaster joined the powwow committee after realizing the impact of the school on Lakota children. They were the first students to attend the school, and more than 1,100 of them went to Carlisle throughout its tenure, including her great-uncle, Thomas Hawk Eagle. Four generations removed from Carlisle, Rittenhouse's daughter Danielle, 9, plans to dance the jingle-dress dance at the powwow.

Rittenhouse believes the powwow also will be a positive experience for non-Indians. "The nonnative community will be educated when they attend - seeing the dancing, eating the food, hearing the stories - so healing can begin for them, as well," she claims. "The event won't only impact native people, but the whole community."

Since the closing of the Carlisle Indian School, the descendants of its students and the descendants of the community into which they were to be assimilated have never come together to consciously honor he students' memory. It is significant that when they do so this month, the commemoration will take place on the ground where the tears of those first akota children fell 121 years ago.

"I hope that everybody there has a sense of the sacrifice that the children made," says keynote speaker N. Scott Momaday. "Sacrifice is related to the word 'sacred.' It is a sacred place because of the sacrifice made by the children."

March 1, 2004