Address, Colonel Pratt, Superintendent Carlisle School

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I feel greatly honored by being allowed to speak after my chief. I shall not talk long. If I had prepared a paper to read here, as I had intended, after listening to what I have heard I would not read it.

I invite the attention of the older members of the conference to the fact that in the earliest days, when we had long discussions on land in severalty, I advocated the allotment of alternate sections to Indians and whites. I have never changed my mind about that. All said here tonight has been helpful to that view. The example, the association, the contact of the Indian with our white farmers, our industries, our life, produce the most rapid civilization. It breaks up prejudice and brings the two races into sympathy with each other. In the general arrangement, public schools where Indians and whites attend bring the children of the two races together, and soon the need for special Indian schools will pass away. I do not agree with my chief about the usefulness of reservation schools, nor that material uplift can be accomplished in the home on the reservation. All our experiences prove the folly of such hopes. Go to the reservations in this great Empire State, where they have had schools for eight years, and look at the conditions there. Knowing the situation almost everywhere, because dealing directly with almost all tribes through their children, I assure you the conditions among the Indians of this great State of New York are really worse than in many of our wild tribes.

Commissioner Jones. I want to interrupt Colonel Pratt. I am unwilling to give the impression that I said anything about homes on the reservation. I said homes. I do not believe in the homes on the reservation.

Colonel Pratt. As you know, I have an Indian school about as remote from the tribe as any we have. I went to Carlisle on purpose and for a purpose. General Sherman said I was wrong, and that he would give me Fort Riley, Kans., near the Indians, with 5,000 acres of the best land and almost new buildings. I said to him: “General, we must bring the Indians into contact with the white people. We have to educate the Indian, but we have also to educate the white people to the fact that the Indian can be educated, and we can’t do that out of sight and on theory. ‘ What I mean is: To bring the Indians to live in homes as we do, to be citizens as we are, they must come into actual contact with our homes and our citizenship. I understand that to be the burden of the Commissioner’s paper, of his contention, and that is all of mine. We do not differ.

It is cruel to put a man into a position where it is impossible for him to succeed. We give an Indian an allotment of 160 acres of land and expect him to be an independent farmer, when he has never struggled with the business before. We put our boys on a farm, and through prolonged daily contact with farm work they grow up farmers. In order to know how to run a farm a man must grow into it. That is the policy we should pursue not only about farming, but all industries, schools, citizenship, and everything else we want the Indians to engage in. I do not believe in reservation schools. All Indian schools should be remote from the tribes, and used only as a means of introducing the Indian to our civilization through putting him into contact with it, into participation in it, so that he will gradually get the courage of the language, the industry, the competition, and so grow into our civilization. That is the whole of it. I have not contended for less than this all these years. I do not think it cruel to place the Indian where he can learn quickest and best. It would not be harsh to do that by force, but force would not be necessary if the people in control on and off the reservations were of one mind about it and worked toward it.

Our experience at Carlisle entitles us to some compassion as against the allegations made by those who are against us. Within four days there has come to the Carlisle school from a reservation a party of boys brought because the agent could not keep them in the home school or near by schools. They were constantly running away. They were kept in the guardhouse while the party was being made up to prevent their running away. They send such to Carlisle and expect us to over-come habits cultivated and grown in the home schools to a point beyond their control. We undertake them and do the best we can, and when we fail take the blame. How much better for the youth and the Government if we could undertake the work without this false, bad preliminary training. We have in the Carlisle schools from Western schools criminals of the worst sort, male and female, and some badly diseased. In a party of eight received not long ago we had to send five back immediately. In another party of the same number received some time before four had to enter the hospital for treatment for the vilest of all diseases.

We are trying to bring these young people into our Christian civilization. The Commissioner says the Government is not to consider religious matters. I think it is. I believe that the Government school that is not a Christian school ought not to exist. I believe, with the chairman of this conference, that the changes to bring relief necessary can be made quickly and ought to be made.

Every school exclusively for Indians is helping to create Indianism. I have had hundreds of applications from people having a very small proportion of Indian blood to send their children to Carlisle, who lived off the reservation; and sometimes both parents and children were born away from the tribes, and where the children had the fullest advantages of excellent local public schools. They want relief from the responsibility of supporting and training their children. In every such case I insist that the public schools are better for them than Carlisle. The great need is to get the Indian and the white children together, so that there shall be no separate schools, and each may measure the other’s abilities and so come to have competing power. The Indians are just like white people in their desire to get rid of responsibilities. Thirty-six years after the war we have the sad spectacle in Pennsylvania of a system of soldiers’ orphan’s schools. These children are clothed, fed, and educated by the State without expense to their parents. The parents are made to believe that they have done some great service that entitles their children to that education; politicians have led them to believe that. Recently, within 25 miles of Carlisle, an institution of this kind has been built. The system tells these young people that the State owes them a living, and by that it does them the greatest possible harm. It takes away their manhood, their power as real, independent Americans. The system of Indian schools is doing exactly the same thing for the Indians. We are teaching them to believe that the Government at Washington will look after them and their children forever. We are too paternal in the matter, and I am in favor of doing away with Indian schools, with Carlisle itself as soon as possible; and I do not think it need be such a long time, either, if we go about it in the right way. The Indian children ought to be made competitively industrious, to learn English, to adopt cleanliness, to have common sense; and to do this right, only the very beginning work can be the real mission of the Indian school. As I said here at Mohonk very early, when Carlisle was young and this conference was young I would use Carlisle simply as a place to clean up the children, to give them a little industry, a little insight into our life, and then pass them out to struggle for the good things in that life, and the very struggle would make them useful men and women and worthy citizens. I know that an Indian boy properly started can go into our life and easily take care of himself, and do something in addition; and, in doing that, he will grow into useful American manhood, and can then help his father and mother most by staying from the reservation and being a man.

I blame the church in these matters. The church has never said “Come” to the Indian. It has always said, “Stay where you are and I will send some one out there to give you our religion.” We do not say that to the people of any other land. Our message to all others is, “Come and live with us.” Why not say “Come and live with us ” to the Indian, and give him the same chance to be of use we do the foreigner?

At the request of Dr. Lyman Abbott, Commissioner Jones was invited to speak five minutes at the conclusion of Colonel Pratt’ s address.

Commissioner Jones. I want to thank Dr. Abbott for this courtesy, and will detain you but for a moment.

I am sorry that Colonel Pratt understood me as he seems to have done in connection with the discussion of school matters. While the colonel and I agree in the main as to the education of Indians, I confess that sometimes we disagree as to its details. I did not intend to give my unqualified endorsement to a reservation school. I believe that they accomplish considerable good, but as long as we persist in educating the Indian in his community home it will be a long time before we see much progress. What I would like to see is the complete breaking up of reservations and the distribution of a white community among the Indians, so that the Indian could attend the schools with the whites. Establish country district schools, as we have in all the States, and give the Indians the same privileges, but no more, than the whites are receiving. The sooner we do away with Indian schools, distinctively as such, the better off we will be and the sooner the Indians will be absorbed by the body politic.

The chairman of the committee on Indian Affairs of the House states that, in spite of all my economic theories advanced here this evening, I will come before his committee this winter asking for three or four million dollars to educate the Indians. That is true, but I submit that I am not responsible for the policy that has brought about these conditions.

I would not, if I could, tumble down at once this edifice that has been built up for thirty years. It would be very unwise and impossible for me to do so. It will be necessary to continue these conditions at least for some time, but I am heartily in favor of the gradual diminution of appropriations for Indian schools; neither do I believe that it is feasible nor wise to do away entirely with the issuing of rations, but I do believe and insist that when an Indian is able to make his own living when given an opportunity to do so and refuses, the only thing the Government can do consistently is to let him starve. I am firmly of the opinion that the time is with us when at least three-fourths of the rations can be discontinued.

Mr. Sheeman. What will we do where there is a treaty?

Commissioner Jones. There is no question in my mind that when a treaty has been made with the Indians its terms ought to be carried out, but I do not know of a single treaty that provides absolutely for the permanent continuation of rations.

The tribe most interested in the issuing of rations, as he knows, is the Sioux, for whom by far the greatest and largest amount of appropriations is made. The language of the treaty is that the rations shall be continued “until the Indians become self-supporting.” This does not mean that the whole tribe shall become self-supporting before they are discontinued, but that the rations shall be withheld from every individual who has become or can be made self supporting.

I have received many letters from the Indians themselves who have come forward voluntarily stating that it is the proper thing to do, and that they were glad the rations were cut off. Humanity demands and the treaties provide for the maintenance of the old and decrepit, but there is a far more economic and humane way of taking care of this class than by indiscriminate issues of rations to their friends in their tepees and wigwams. I would be in favor of having some system of poorhouses similar to those used among the whites.

We have one or two instances of that kind; one I recall in particular at the Leech Lake Agency, inaugurated by Captain Mercer for the old and decrepit, where they are cared for in this way. They are far better and more economically handled than they would be if the rations were issued to them and permitted to take it into their camps, where the greater portion would be appropriated by the younger element of the tribe.

Again, very many of the agencies are ripe for their discontinuance, and the Indians under such agencies are in a position to take care of their own affairs. This is especially true of the Chippewa of Wisconsin, many in Minnesota, and also on the Pacific coast. I am firmly of the opinion that if we should withdraw our support and guardianship from the Indians of those States, they would be far better off than they are now. They may have property interests that would be necessary to be looked after for some time, but that could be done without any direct supervision of their individual affairs.

While I am called somewhat of an iconoclast in such matters, I do not want to break down the whole edifice at once; but I am heartily in favor of cutting down these appropriations, and will ask the chairman of the committee to aid me in such matters.

I will say this much in justice to Mr. Sherman, that he has always stood for the best in the administration of Indian affairs, and his course has always been intelligent and conservative. I will say that he has been liberal in all appropriations asked for, and there is not a member in Congress to whom I can go with more confidence that I will be treated fairly in matters pertaining to Indian affairs.

Miss Scoville was asked for a word on this subject.

Miss Scoville. When I was going over the reservation last summer I met a group of people; and one man, who had had some connection with the politics of the reservation, said that the 900 men who had lost their rations this year would have them back again at the end of the year. He said: “Your Indian Rights Society has tried this before, but they can’t do it; there’s too much money in it.” I came back and reported it as a “dare” sent from that reservation by cattlemen and men of that type. The cutting down of rations was a very interesting thing to watch, and it was a very good thing. There is no question that it will lessen suffering if there can be more for the people who really need it, but cattlemen and white men and returned students are capable of taking care of themselves, and their rations should be cut off. I am sorry to say that some of those who have a chance to get on without the rations made the strongest fight for them.

The Chair. There has been much misunderstanding about the Mission Indians of California. People can hardly understand how reports from good people can differ so much. Do not be alarmed when you see some one new to the situation who tells you that all the Mission Indians are going to die of starvation, when such careful observers as Mr. Smiley, special commissioner on different occasions to look into the conditions of these very Indians, tells us that their needs are very slight. And do not be carried off your feet by reports of people who do not know.

Adjourned at 10.50 p. m.



MLA Source Citation:

Board Of Indian Commissioners. Thirty-Third Annual Report Of The Board Of Indian Commissioners. Government Printing Office. 1901. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 27 November 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/address-colonel-pratt-superintendent-carlisle-school.htm - Last updated on Aug 9th, 2013


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