There was a story that appeared in Indian Country Today a while back authored by Louellyn White, an Akwesasne scholar who teaches at Concordia University in Canada. White is descended from former Carlisle school students, and she is at work in an enterprise to recover information about “more than forty children and young adults who died on outings from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.” White asks her readers to “help us find their families.”
One of the names on that list was Nora Printup, a seventeen-year-old Tonawanda Seneca girl. I have put a fair amount of time into investigating the histories of those Onondaga young people who attended Carlisle and other boarding schools. I have written about some of them on this blog (here and here). Printup’s appearance on that list sparked my curiosity, so I decided to look into her story.
According to White, Nora was buried at Seaside Cemetery in Ocean City, New Jersey. Nora died during her outing placement in Ocean City in 1905. The “outing system” was fundamental to the educational program at Carlisle. Carlisle placed students in the households and “under the influence of good, moral, economical, painstaking, and consecrated white people.” Indigenous young people who attended Carlisle thus interacted frequently with non-natives, and learned much about the mores and values of the American middle class. They knew much more about white people than white people knew about them. Effectively isolated from their classmates, the students lived and worked in white households where they could apply the lessons learned in school and, Carlisle’s promoter hoped, absorb as their own the values of the white middle class. While outing, according to Carlisle’s promoters, aided the students, the patrons who hosted gained the benefit of the help the student might provide that family. And the school did not have to pay to feed students who were not staying at Carlisle.
A student’s file from Carlisle contains the places where they did outings, and the name of their patrons. Sometimes, a student’s file contains write-ups describing the outing placement—a description of the household, the student’s quarters, and a brief description of the patron. Carlisle sent out agents to visit the outing locations, though they do not appear in the files for each student or for each outing placement.
At the time of her death, Nora stayed in the home of Mrs. C. H. Jacobs, of Ocean City. Nora was nineteen at the time, not seventeen. Mrs. Jacobs had an abundance of experience serving as a host for Carlisle students. Between April of 1901 and September of 1915, she housed twenty-one young women from the school. She often had more than one student at a time. Dora LaBelle from the Rosebud Sioux Reservation was in her home in 1901 with Eunice Baird, an Oneida, and Francis Halftown, a Seneca from Cattaraugus. Esther Reed, from Siletz, and Ester Daniels, a Ute, were together at Mrs. Jacobs’ place in 1908; Annie Dibo from Akwesasne, and Susie Porter from White Earth were there in 1909; Grace Burnett and Helen Kimmel, both from Rosebud, lived at Mrs. Jacobs’ house together in 1910; Julia Peña, a Mission Indian from Agua Caliente in California and Margaret Pickett, a Crow from Montana, were there in 1913; and Della John, a Seneca, and Ella Israel, a Cherokee, stayed there in 1915. Carlisle closed a couple of years later, and Mrs. Jacobs did not house any Carlisle kids after 1915.
We do know that both Nora and her sister Lily attended the state’s Thomas Indian School for a year beginning in 1891. Nora is not entirely visible in the record, but Lilly made the Buffalo News. The paper ran a story about the violent abuse and excessive punishments meted out by the Thomas School’s superintendent John Van Valkenburg, who was put on trial for impregnating a student, physically abusing others, and mismanaging state finances. The Reverend M. F. Trippe of Salamanca, in his testimony, said that “it was in the fall of 1882,” he thought, “that I noticed a girl by the name of Lily Printup, whose ears and necks were black and blue.” Lily told Rev. Trippe that she had been punished by Mr. and Mrs. Van Valkenburg on a Tuesday. On the following Sunday, Trippe said, the girl’s injuries still looked fresh.
Lily did not go to Carlisle, but Nora did. She arrived at Carlisle in 1897. She spent much of the period from November of 1899 to September of 1902 at outing placements in Gettysburg. She learned laundering and sewing and was well behaved. She arrived at Mrs. Jacob’s place in June of 1905. She went to the beach one day, a couple of weeks after she arrived. It would not have been far from where she lived to the water’s edge. The Carlisle school superintendent sent a letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. “It is my sad duty to report the drowning at Ocean City, NJ, of Nora Printup, an Indian girl from the Seneca tribe,” he wrote. Details were sketchy, but it seemed “that she remained in the water until she became exhausted, got out beyond her depth, and was drowned before she could be rescued.” He reported that “persistent efforts were made to resuscitate her but without success,” and that her father, John Printup, had been notified.
The Indian Country Today story said that Nora was buried at Seaside Cemetery, but that does not appear to have been the case. Nora’s student file states that her body was sent home to the Tonawanda Reservation. The superintendent of Carlisle sought reimbursement from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for $26.00, the cost of sending Nora’s body home to Alabama, NY. That business proved more complicated and costly than the officials at Carlisle anticipated. “As to the express charges,” he wrote, “I wish to state that the railroad company not only refused to give the Indian school rate for transportation of the remains on a ticket, but also declined to transport the same unless accompanied by some representative of the school.” Under these difficult circumstances, he wrote, “it was deemed best to have the remains shipped by express.”
Professor White, in the Indian Country Today story said that Nora was buried in the Seaside Cemetery in Ocean City. That conflicts with the information in her file. A phone call to the cemetery last week confirmed, after a thorough check of the records, that no one named Nora Printup was every buried there. The existing evidence says that Nora’s body was returned to Tonawanda.
I can only imagine how hard it must have been for John Printup to lose a child, especially one who died far from home. Whatever its effects on him, however, Nora’s death seems not to have soured John on Carlisle. He sent three more of his children to Carlisle after Nora’s death. Bessie Printup attended from 1908 until 1909. Mary, who arrived in 1903, stayed until 1907, even after her sister’s death. And young Cody Printup arrived in 1906. He was eleven. His father, according to the school’s superintendent, expressed in a letter that he had some “anxiety …on account of the boy’s welfare.” Mr. Printup specifically did not want Cody placed in an outing assignment. He wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Francis Leupp. “I do not approve of such a little boy working out,” he wrote. “Will you kindly authorize me to bring him home if [the superintendent] does not take him back to school.” The Superintendent wrote to John to assuage his fears. “Cody asked to go out, and there is nothing we can do for the pupils better than to have them spend the summer in a good family.” These kids, he continued, “get excellent food, like the change from the routine work here and are very anxious to be out.” Cody was working as an errand boy, “in-doors and out,” and was “doing no hard work and is getting good care.” Cody remained at Carlisle.
John Printup did not object to his children staying at Carlisle. His concern was whether his son could handle the work he might be assigned while out on assignment. He would have preferred for his son to be at Carlisle rather than out on placement. If one looks through the files of the other women who lodged with Mrs. Jacobs, you see a similar refrain. Several years after she returned home, Esther Reed wrote for copies of the school newspaper, The Arrow, and hoped to have her younger brother attend Carlisle “because it is a fine school.” Esther Daniels also asked for copies of the newspaper. Grace Burnett left Carlisle because her mother died. In 1911, the year after her departure, she wrote that her grandmother had died, too. She was now without female relatives, and that despite doing well on her farm, she wished to return to Carlisle to complete her schooling. Julia Peña said of Carlisle that “I miss it very much.” Ella Israel, who attended Carlisle because she was “too far advanced to continue to attend rural district school and there is no high school near,” upon her return home began recruiting children from her community to attend Carlisle.
The story of Nora Printup, her sister, and the young women who stayed in the home of Mrs. Jacobs, highlights the ambivalent history of Carlisle. The school’s stated intent was to eradicate the indigenous culture of the students who attended. In its early years, Carlisle’s leaders boasted of their ability to “civilize” “savages,” to “kill the Indian and save the man.” That was always a lie. The students who came to Carlisle overwhelmingly were fluent in English. Many of them wrote the language with grace and style. Many of them were members of Christian congregations, and came from families where they farmed much like the white people in neighboring communities. Carlisle was funded and fueled by propaganda that boasted of the school’s achievements.
The Carlisle experience was an important part of these young people’s lives. While there was undoubtedly suffering solitude, sickness and, as in Nora’s case, an occasional death, many former students looked back fondly on their time at Carlisle. They, and their parents, valued the institution and what it did for them. The stories of Nora Printup and her contemporaries gets at the complexities of Carlisle. Occasionally children at the school died. They succumbed to illness. Some of them were buried on the school grounds, or in municipal and churchyard cemeteries near their outing placements. And some were sent home, which appears to have been the case with Nora Printup. The young women who attended Carlisle, and made it home afterwards, were so much more powerful, as individuals and as members of Indigenous nations, than the forces that aimed at their destruction.