It’s interesting to me to read the different viewpoints on old Indian boarding schools and orphanages—and even hospitals—that were in operation to accommodate Indians, and assimilate them into white society. Living here in Oklahoma, we have a few of the now-defunct facilities scattered around our state—one, Concho Indian School, not more than about an hour’s drive from my house. Let’s take a look at the beginnings of these schools and how they came into existence.



Richard Henry Pratt was the man who came up with the idea of boarding schools for Indian children. These schools would remove children from the reservations when they were very young, send them to a place run by whites, and immerse them in white culture. This would obliterate their “Indian-ness” and encourage them to cope with and join into the world as it had become—white.



Mr. Pratt founded Carlisle Indian Industrial School in1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and compared to genocide—which was a much-discussed option—seemed to be the only “reasonable” alternative in those days to annihilation of the Indians that remained after the Indian wars were over.



The above is a picture of General Pratt with one of his young students.

Some Indian parents willingly sent their children, but many (I would venture to say most) were threatened with imprisonment and loss of their food rations. Eventually, they understood there was no choice, and said tearful goodbyes to their children as they were shipped off. The boarding schools at that time were hundreds of miles away—Carlisle being the flagship school, located in Pennsylvania. One of Oklahoma’s most celebrated Indian athletes, Olympian Jim Thorpe of the Sac and Fox Nation, was sent there.


Once the children arrived, everything was taken from them. Their clothing was burned, in many cases, and they were provided uniforms. Their hair was cut short. Even their names were changed. And, they were forbidden to speak their native tongue—for most of them, the only language they knew.


In many boarding schools, everything was done by bells. No talking was allowed among the children—even among brothers and sisters. Punishment for doing so was beating or confinement.

By 1902, twenty-five federally funded boarding schools in fifteen states and territories had been built, with more being planned. Over 6,000 students were enrolled in these institutions. But only seven years later the system was coming under fire. Though graduates had been trained for factory or farm work, neither could be found on the reservations they returned to. No jobs for these young adults waited once their schooling was finished, and so returning to the reservations meant dependence on the U.S. Indian Agency rather than taking jobs that allowed them to provide for themselves.

Boarding schools were there to stay, though, and remained open for over 100 years, into the 1980’s.

The Concho Indian School I mentioned earlier, opened in Darlington, Indian Territory, in 1887. It was replaced in 1932, and again in 1969, until its doors were closed for good in 1981due to budget cuts and defunding.


According to many, it was a horrible place—and it wasn’t the only one. Stories of abuse of all kinds—physical, sexual, and emotional—run rampant. In fact, there is a psychological condition called CSDT or Constructionist Self Development Theory that has been identified for survivors of these schools, wherein they develop their own theories as to why this kind of upbringing was “good” for them—it made them stronger; it made them a “fighter”, and so on.

Survivors’ descendants tell of some of the horrifying experiences their relatives endured, and the abandoned Concho Indian School building is said to be haunted by the spirits of some of the young victims, hoping for justice after all these years.

One woman writes: “I’m an Indian and my grandmother told me bad stories of this place…many children from my tribe were taken and some were never heard from again. I hate the thought of this place.”

This post barely scratches the surface, and I will continue next month with more about orphanages and hospitals “for Indians only.”

In my novel, GABRIEL’S LAW, Brandon Gabriel and Allison Taylor first meet in an orphanage run by a ruthless headmaster. Though it was not a place strictly for Indians, the unhappy circumstances Brandon and Allie are faced with here forges the beginnings of trust, with love to come in the future.

PRPGabriels Law Web

I will be giving away a signed print copy of GABRIEL’S LAW today to one lucky commenter!

Here’s the blurb!

When Brandon Gabriel is hired by the citizens of Spring Branch to hunt down the notorious Clayton Gang, he doesn’t suspect a double-cross. When Allison Taylor rides into town for supplies, she doesn’t expect to be sickened by the sight of a man being beaten to death by a mob. When Spring Branch’s upstanding citizens gather round to see a murder, nobody expects to hear the click of a gun in the hands of an angel bent on justice. Life is full of surprises. Brandon and Allie reconnect instantly, though it’s been ten years since their last encounter. She’s protected him before. As Brandon recovers at Allie’s ranch, the memories flood back, and his heart is lost to her. He also knows staying with her will ruin everything. She’s made a life for herself and her son. She’s respectable. She has plans * plans that don’t include him. But could they? Trouble is never far away, and someone else wants Allison Taylor and her ranch. Danger looms large when a fire is set and a friend is abducted. Allie and Brandon discover they are battling someone they never suspected; someone who will stop at nothing to destroy anyone who stands in his way. As Brandon faces down the man who threatens to steal everything from him, he realizes he is desperately in love with Allie and this new life they are making for themselves. Has Brandon finally found everything he’s ever wanted only to lose it all? Can Brandon and Allie confront the past, face down their demons, and forge their dreams into a future?


If you just can’t wait to see if you won, here’s the Amazon link!



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A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work:
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48 thoughts on “FOR INDIANS ONLY–INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOLS by Cheryl Pierson”

  1. I’ve never heard of these schools. How can anyone treat innocent children this way? Monsters!

    I was interested in Allie and Brandon’s past history.Now I’m curious to know how they’re going to survive and capture the villain. Powerful stuff!

    • Hi Laurie,

      Yes, and some of these schools are still in existence today! If you have never read The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter, you should give it a try. At one point, Little Tree has to go to one of these schools, but thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. HBO made it into a movie, and it was SO good. I always love the books better than movies, but both were good in this case.

      I hope you’ll give Gabriel’s Law a read–if ever two people deserved a happy ending, it’s those two!


  2. There is truth to the saying “You learn something new every day”. I had no idea those boarding schools existed. That is so sad what happened.

    Your book sounds very interesting, Cheryl! And thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Faith,

      Yes, and some are still in existence today. Many Indian parents sent their children there over the years because they could not afford to feed and clothe them at home. But there are so many sad stories about what fate awaited these kids. As a parent I would have to have been totally desperate to send my child here.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Janine, I had an elderly Choctaw woman in one of the writing classes I taught who was sent to an Indian orphanage and then to a TB sanitarium for Indians–which I will talk about in future posts. The stories she told were of such cruelty. She’s writing her life story and I sure hope she finishes it and gets it out there.

  3. Oh how awful. I cannot imagine the atrocities that were committed! It’s sad what we as a nation did (and still do). All in the name of ignorance. Thank you for an insightful post!

    • It’s very sad, Susan–and I imagine that there were actually some of the people who were involved that truly believed they were helping and “doing the right thing” for these kids.

    • Sherri, yes, I imagine a lot of them actually did think that. A very sad situation for everyone involved. Can’t imagine losing my kids to a “government institution” like that.

  4. Cheryl, what an interesting post! I knew some of this but didn’t realize they had these schools in Oklahoma. So very sad for them to lose their family and heritage all in one fell swoop. I can’t image how frightened and angry they were.

    This book I’m writing now (Book Three of my Bachelors of Battle Creek series) is about a Native American who was left on the orphanage steps as a baby and was raised with the whites. He knows nothing about his heritage or what it is to be Indian. He’s fascinated when an old Comanche stumbles onto his land. He’s thrilled to finally get some answers to his questions. It’s been a fun journey.

    Wishing you much success with your books!

    • Linda, there were several of these schools here–the two that instantly spring to mind are Concho and Chilocco, but I know there are more.

      Your book sounds VERY interesting! Can’t wait to get my hands on it. I bet you’re having a ball writing it.

      Hugs, dear friend!

  5. Yet another sad chapter in history. What a cruel way to treat children — insisting they renounce their birthright, their language and customs and belief systems, in order to become “good Americans.” People fear what they don’t understand, and far too often a lack of understanding leads to attempts to eradicate what is not understood.

    Okie, your posts about the American Indian experience are always fascinating. Please don’t ever stop educating! 🙂

    • Kathleen,

      I think the saddest thing I read while researching this was how they weren’t allowed to talk to each other. That just made me want to cry. Children need friends and to be in that situation so far from home, frightened, everything strange and new, and to not even be able to speak to one another about it…that just broke my heart.

      Thanks for your kind words, Tex. I love to talk about Indians and what their history has been, because so much of it has been swept under the rug.


    • Colleen, I agree — there is no understanding it–the only thing I can think in this case is that it was a misguided attempt by Gen. Pratt to offer some kind of alternative to wiping the Indians out completely.

      One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus is a great book that addresses this in a different way–it’s one of those “what would have happened if…” books about Indians trading horses for white women, and marrying them, having children and assimilating them into the white world in that way.


  6. Very interesting! There is a sign for an Indian school not far from where I live here in Nebraska and as I go by I often think that I need to stop. You have made made know that not only will I stop but I will make a trip to see it.
    Thank you.

    • Connie, here at Concho now, the school is abandoned and there are “rumors” of it being haunted. I personally believe in the paranormal–and there are too many accounts of it to (in my mind, at least) be anything BUT haunted by these children who were mistreated and who died in these places, so far away from family, friends, and all that was familiar to them. Is the school near you still open? Concho school is abandoned, as I say, and there is all types of graffiti on the walls and damage (of course) to the structure.


      • No the school is no longer open, it is now a museum, I think. I do hope to visit it soon and am not sure why I never knew about it when I was younger.

  7. Thanks for another fascinating post, Cheryl. Sad that the children that left the schools ended up, in many cases, not fitting into neither the white nor the Indian world.

    • Alisa,

      Yes, they didn’t fit in to either culture, and many times “backslid” into the culture they were raised in when they returned to the reservation. With no jobs and no where else to go to be part of the world, many of them fell into depression and alcoholism.


  8. An interesting fact, many Indian children are STILL sent to boarding schools. I work on an Indian Reservation and the children, as young as 1st grade, get on busses at the beginning of the school year and head for whatever school they’re attending. Flandreau is most common in our area.

    Then they don’t come home until….I can’t remember. Do they come home for Thanksgiving? I honestly don’t think so. Christmas instead….first time they see their parents.
    Then after the holiday off they go again.
    I met the man who runs one. It is all voluntary now and he said the parents who choose to send their children love the schools…and in fact there is a waiting list. Now they are very sensitive to culture and they teach the mostly lost native language.
    One of the questions I asked him was, “Do children who go to these do any better than the ones who stay home.”

    His answer wasn’t useful. Vague. I made me wonder why they bothered if they couldn’t prove results.

    • Mary, that’s great that they now teach native culture/language and so on. The purpose is 180 out now, it seems, from those first beginnings. I see where there are many of these schools in Montana and Minnesota, and you can donate money to them to keep them going–they’re not government-funded anymore.

      It’s a shame that the results aren’t more positive.

  9. What it often comes down to is places like this attract the wrong people.
    People put in positions of power over vulnerable children with no parents to protect them…this brings in people with bad intent. And when there is no check on their intent it snowballs and more of the wrong people come in.

    It boils down to, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    It may also apply to politicians.

    • Oh, that is so true. So true. And there’s no one to call them on it when they’re cruel to little children. They can pretty much do whatever they want with no repercussions.

  10. This is such a disgusting and sad part of America’s history. These poor children, and their families being forced to send them. Then the children being stripped of everything that made them who they were.

    I’m glad you’re continuing with the hospitals and orphanages. I know there is a horrific tale of a American Indian hospital in South Dakota.

    • Oh, Kirsten, evidently those stories about the Indian hospitals would curdle your blood no matter where they were located. Reminds me of the experimentation done by the Nazis! Unbelievable that some of this stuff happened in our own country.

  11. Hi Cheryl, what a disheartening post. I am ever sickened by America’s treatment of the native peoples. How huge a tragedy that there were no jobs or careers for the students after all the abuse and confinement. Thanks for sharing.

    And best wishes for much success with your wonderful book! I have taught for ruthless headmasters LOL…they stink. xox

    • Tanya, I thought the same thing — taking them away from their families and culture, training them to do jobs that were non-existent…that’s just terribly sad to me. So what were they to do? There truly was nothing for them in the world they were thrown back into.

      That must have been really hard on you to teach for headmasters like that who were so tough on the kids–I know you have a huge heart.


  12. I have been aware of the schools for a number of years, but never delved any deeper than a rudimentary understanding. Thank you for taking the time to enlighten and educate. I for one appreciate it. Doris

    PS But you do know my passions for almost all things history.

  13. You’re very welcome, Doris. Yes, I know your passion for all things history! LOL I’m so glad you found this interesting. I know it’s hard to stomach when reading about the things they did to children, but hopefully, it will never be forgotten.


  14. Great post, Cheryl! I grew up close to the Santee Sioux in Nebraska and saw many good intentions and/or plans gone awry, or twisted by wrong-minded folks. Such a durned shame!

    • Hey Rich, thanks so much for popping in. Yes, these boarding schools have always been a recipe for disaster, though with the way they’ve come full circle according to what Mary commented, now it seems things have changed for the better, but I believe it’s because there is no governmental agenda since most of the funding has disappeared and the schools depend more on private funding.

  15. Thank you for posting this. This is something we never learned in our history classes (although we should have). I believe most of these schools are gone, and for a good reason. But one bears mentioning. Haskell University, in Lawrence, Kansas (not far from where I live) is a tribal university for members of federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States. It was founded in 1884 as a residential boarding school for American Indian children and eventually became an accredited university. They have about a thousand students from all over. There’s nothing to make up for the harm that was done, but it’s nice to see a more positive transition.

    • E.E., you are so right–but we will NEVER learn it in our history classes for so many reasons–one being that it’s so shameful. Living right here in Oklahoma, I didn’t know it until I had graduated from high school, many years later.

      I’m glad to know that Haskell University has become such a good place. You’re right–we can’t erase the bad, and this is good to see such a turnaround for one of these places.

  16. Great post! I have never heard of these schools very interesting post. Your book sounds fantastic and I can’t wait to read it.

    • Quilt Lady, many people did not know of their existence–for one thing, as I say, being born and raised right here in Oklahoma, we were not taught about them in our schools! Any more, so many things that are taught in school are taught not for enlightenment and the enjoyment of learning, but because it’s all tied to testing that gives funding or not to the school depending on how the scores are.

  17. How very sad! Thank you for sharing this informative post, Cheryl. Gabriel’s Law sounds wonderful! Thank you for the chance to win.

  18. WOW! I learned a number of things from this post; things that I wished were not part of our history. I enjoy reading the background to fictional works but sometimes, like this time, I wonder what could have been done differently and what have we learned from this. I am grateful for well researched fiction because I learn so much real history through reading. Thanks for doing your homework, Cheryl.

    • Rosie, I absolutely love doing research–even when it’s not so pleasant a subject to learn about. This is something we must never forget–and believe me, this post is just the “tip of the iceberg”–some of the pictures I came across are just soooo sad–their little faces just haunt me.

  19. Cheryl, A very worthwhile topic. Few people know much about the indian schools. Their aim was to destroy indian culture and in doing so set these children adrift with no heritage to guide them. From what I have read, many committed suicide either at the school or after they returned to the reservation. They belonged in neither place.
    A very good book that describes Native American life before and during life at Carlisle and gives good insight into native beliefs and customs is THE LEDGERBOOK OF THOMAS BLUE EAGLE. It is a children’s book with illustrations by Jewel H. Grutman and Gay Matthaei.
    Our attempts to “help” people often have many unintended consequences. What disturbed me, was the indian schools were one of several options considered. One of the others seriously considered was genocide.

    GABRIEL’S LAW is a book I will enjoy. Will be adding it to my Southwest room library of books on the West and Native americans.

    • Yes, Patricia, many of them did commit suicide and many of them died of abuse and neglect while in the “care” of the schools. Thanks for letting us know about The Ledgerbook of Thomas Blue Eagle. My daughter illustrated a book for the elderly Choctaw woman I mentioned earlier — a children’s book–about the way she made herself happy when she was a young girl by learning to play the flute.

      Thanks for picking up a copy of Gabriel’s Law for your library.


  20. Cheryl,
    Thank you for writing about these schools. Sadly, it’s a piece of history not many know of. The topic came to my attention only a few years ago as I was researching some things on English Language Learners and to say that it saddened and sickened me would be an understatement. Again, I appreciate you bringing this to light.
    Gabriel’s Law sounds like a great book! I’m looking forward to reading it.

  21. I have always wondered how one group thought they were better than another. We are also from Oklahoma fortunately my husbands family have CDIB cards… which means…free medical health care. All because a family member came across on the Trail of Tears and signed the role. I’ve been told that many would not sign, as being an Indian was lower than any other class. How terrible that this system was thought of.

    And I would love to read your story!

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