Carlisle Indian Industrial School

Spring 2022

“Carlisle indian industrial School”

Hithaisri Janga

The United States Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, generally known as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, was the flagship Indian boarding school in the United States from 1879 through 1918. It took over the historic Carlisle Barracks, which was transferred to the Department of Interior from the War Department. After the United States entry into World War I, the school was closed and this property was transferred back to the Department of Defense. All the property is now part of the U.S. Army War College. 

Students at Carlisle and the roughly 150 other such schools that the government opened were susceptible to deadly infections like tuberculosis and the flu. During Carlisle’s operation between 1879 and 1918, nearly 200 other children were buried in the cemetery. 

As part of this federal push for assimilation, boarding schools forbid Native American children from using their own languages and names, as well as from practicing their religion andculture. They were given new Anglo-American names, clothes, and haircuts, and told they must abandon their way of life because it was inferior to white people’s. 

At the Carlisle school, as on the reservations, the health of many Indian people was in peril particularly after European contact. Some students were stricken with tuberculosis or small pox. Others could not cope with the severe stress of separation from family and tribe. Most of the children who became ill were sent back home to their families, but some did pass away at the school and are buried there. 

Little Chief, the eldest son of Chief Sharp Nose, arrived at the school on March 11, 1881, accompanied by two friends, Horse, age 11, and Little Plume, 9. After more than a year of hearings, studies, and planning, the Army has set an Aug. 8 date to begin turning over the remains of Indian children to their families and tribes. A Northern Arapaho delegation will travel to Carlisle to formally accept the first three. 

The complex history of Carlisle is both tragic and uplifting. While Pratt and his supporters believed they were helping the students, the boarding school experience stripped them of their customs, culture, and heritage. Disease and harsh conditions took their toll, and hundreds of children died. Many were returned to their families, but 186 children are still buried on the site today. 

But along with that trauma and tragedy, Carlisle gave students an opportunity to explore the world outside of the reservations they called home. The school fielded many highly regarded athletic teams, including baseball and football teams with sports icon Jim Thorpe. The internationally acclaimed Carlisle band performed at the inauguration of President Theodore Roosevelt and every other inauguration held during its 39 years of operation. From the ranks of Carlisle alumni rose many noted activists and advocates who championed the cause of cultural preservation. 

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