Della John and Ella Israel were the last two Carlisle girls to pass through Mrs. Jacobs’ House. There is no evidence as to why or what happened to cause her to give up this work. Maybe Mrs. Jacobs got old. Maybe she wanted her summers free, or no longer needed the help the Carlisle girls on outing might provide. She had been at it for more than a decade and a half. It would be an interesting research project indeed to compare Mrs. Jacobs’ work with Carlisle with that of other outing patrons. These patrons have not been studied at all, but they played a role of fundamental importance in the Carlisle students’ lives. They did a great deal of the teaching.
As we wrap up this brief discussion of those young women who passed through the home of Mrs. C. H. Jacobs of Oak Lane, Pennsylvania and Ocean City, New Jersey, it is worth noting that some of the girls who passed through lived lives that are difficult to reconstruct. Dora LaBelle, Francis Halftown, Agnes White, Theresa Brown, and Libby Skye left sparse records from their time at Carlisle. Others, like Helen Welch from Brothertown in Wisconsin, reported familiar themes.
She was doing well, she wrote to Superintendent Moses Friedman after her departure from the school, “but often wish I was back to dear Carlisle.” She left the school because she lacked “a sufficient degree of Indian blood.” She was living in Chicago in 1916, five years after her departure, still writing to the school. Times were tight, and she wondered if there was any money left in her Carlisle account from her outings, including the time she spent at Mrs. Jacobs’ house.
Della and Ella stayed at Mrs. Jacobs’ from the end of May until the beginning of September, 1915. Ella, a Cherokee, was 16 at the time. Della, who came to Carlisle from the Seneca Cattaraugus Reservation, was much older. An orphan, she was 26 years old. She hung around Carlisle after her graduation, continued to attend school during her outings, but did not have much to return home to. She suffered as well from ill health. She had a number of operations during her time at Carlisle, and was plagued by a “nervous disorder” that could be debilitating at times and for which she took medication.
Their time at Carlisle was not dissimilar to that of the other women I have written about in this series of essays. Both Della and Ella were active in the YWCA at Carlisle. Both were members of the Mercers, and both were active in debate. And both Ella and Della, after they left Carlisle, expressed their gratitude for the education they had received and their desire to remain in touch with events back at Carlisle.
I was grading papers as I worked through the final Carlisle files. I am reading drafts of term papers students are writing for my research methods course in Native American history. Two students, in their drafts, felt the need to say something about Carlisle. Both repeated what will be for many a familiar refrain about Carlisle. Students were taken to Carlisle against their will. Once there, they received humiliating haircuts and new names. They suffered from heartache and loneliness at an institution that imposed upon them a soul-crushing American-style education. They were prisoners.
But what the experience of the women who moved through Mrs. Jacobs’ house reveals is that these assumptions—accepted as gospel truth by many students of the Native American past—are not entirely true. Parents sent their children to Carlisle. They wanted for them the education they felt it would provide. The students we have visited with appreciated their time at Carlisle, missed it after they left, and tried to stay in touch with teachers, administrators, and fellow students. It is easy to imagine that the opportunity to learn a trade, to play a sport, to perform in an musical band, and to meet other young people from Native American communities across the country might have been attractive if not exhilarating. Della John’s best friend was a Creek young woman named Tookah McIntosh.
Carlisle opened in 1879. The first of the students I wrote about arrived twenty years later and arrived at Mrs. Jacobs’ house in 1901. Carlisle in its early years was different than in its later years. Record-keeping become more thorough. More and more of the students came from Christian families which had practiced agriculture on the American model. They were literate in English, and they had family names in which they took great pride.
We need to know more about Carlisle, and the boarding school experience in general. There are students who attended Carlisle about whom it is difficult to learn much at all. There are students who are difficult to trace once they left the school. There are so many unanswered questions. But we must be on our toes as historians. We must be willing to be surprised, to admit that our hypotheses are flawed, our accustomed and popular assumptions incorrect, and that what we have been told is wrong. This is an exciting time to be conducting research on boarding schools. The events of the recent past have underscored how fundamentally important and relevant this topic remains, and I am excited to see what happens.
Annie Dibo and Susie Porter came to Mrs. Jacobs’ house because she was dissatisfied with the two Rosebud Sioux women who preceded them. Helen Kimmel and Grace Burnett arrived at Mrs. Jacobs’ place in April of 1910, and stayed only until the middle of June. Helen was nineteen years old when she arrived, and Grace Burnett was eighteen. They stayed with her in Oak Lane but not long enough to make it out to the beach in New Jersey.
Mrs. Jacobs told the Carlisle agent who visited her that Grace was an “inexperienced worker,” and that she was “indifferent to her work” and “does not try.” Helen, Mrs. Jacobs reported, “has never been contented,” and “is restless and anxious to return home.” Helen, “who neglected her work,” because of “her restlessness to return home” felt that way because “her father has recently placed money at Carlisle to buy her a ticket for her return home.” Grace, as well, had received “a letter containing money from her father to return home.” By June of 1910, Grace was on her way home. Helen did not leave Carlisle until October.
In each instance, the school noted as the reason for the discharge of the girls that they failed to return from their leaves of absence in 1910. Carlisle’s staff expected them to return but they did not. At first glance it seems that neither of the girls wanted to be at Carlisle. They both seem to have been unhappy, and wanted to get home at the first opportunity. As always, it is more complicated than that.
Helen’s file is pretty slim. She responded to the school’s request for information from her in 1912. She was at Rosebud, keeping house, renovating her family’s home, and working on the ranch. The family had 160 acres, 20 horses, 10 head of cattle, and a cat. We know that in September 1913 she married Lancelot DeCory, a graduate of the Flandreau Indian School, and moved with him to Valentine, Nebraska. DeCory was “engaged in the automobile business in Valentine,” according to the Carlisle Arrow, “where he has many warm friends, all of whom join in extending hearty congratulations, and best wishes, for a long and happy wedded life.”
And they seem to have had one. Both Lancelot and Helen were active in their community. Lancelot died in1938, but they had kids, Claude and Lancelot, Jr., who fought in the Italian campaign during the second World War. Helen lived into the 1960s, a very long and fruitful life.
Grace said a bit more about her time at Carlisle. She returned home to her parents’ house at Rosebud, “one of the largest ranches around here.” She filled her time with baking, sewing, and beadwork “to earn my pin money.” She had experienced some great sadness. “I am motherless,” she said, “and my grandmother died a year ago in July of 1911.” She had no women relatives and now wanted to return to Carlisle to graduate. She did make it back for a short stay.
She had hoped to return to Carlisle in the fall of 1912, she wrote in a letter dated January of 1913, for “now I am only an ex-student, and it is all my fault.” It wasn’t, and Grace was surely too hard on herself. “I wanted very much to return to Carlisle this fall,” she wrote, “but I could not, as there was lots of work to be done on our ranch and ‘hired men’ are scarce just about that time, so I had to help.” She did not get free until mid-December, and by then it was too late. So she kept doing housework, and spent her spare time riding horses, sleighing, and ice-skating. She said that she “got lonesome for Carlisle every time I read The Arrow, but I can’t do without the little paper.”
The Carlisle applications are a standardized document. They include a set of “endorsements” listing “the laws relative to the transfer of Indian children from reservations and schools.” The United States Statutes-at-Large said that “no Indian child shall be taken from any school in any state or territory to a school in any other state against its will or without the written consent of its parents.” Children could not be sent to a boarding school without the consent of his or her family, “and it shall be unlawful for any Indian agent or other employee of the government to induce, or seek to induce, by withholding rations or by other improper means, the parents of next of kin of any Indian to consent to the removal of any Indian children beyond the limits of any reservation.”
It is not unreasonable to assume that laws like these existed for a reason, and that laws were intended to prohibit practices used to coerce Indian children to attend boarding schools. It does not take a deep dive into the records to see the heavy-handedness of federal policy makers. No doubt there was coercion employed at times and in places, and there were students whose experiences at Carlisle were horrific. Despite these cases, many students, and students’ families, saw much of value in a Carlisle education. These students, even when they felt lonely and ached to get home, missed the school greatly once they got home, and often they wished they could return.
This makes the story of Carlisle a difficult one that defies easy categorization. Different students had different experiences. We need to be careful how we talk about the boarding school experience. More news stories appear each week detailing horrifying tales of abuse and death. Just last week the New York Times ran a story about the Genoa Indian School under the headline of “Researchers Identify Dozens of Native Students who Died at Nebraska School.” Carlisle and the other boarding schools will give up their stories some day. We must prepare ourselves for stories that are complicated, full of heartbreak and cruelty to be sure, but also deeply ambivalent. Some Carlisle students loved what many of us wish they did not.
Margaret Pickett, from Crow Agency, Montana, was Julia Peña’s roommate at Mrs. Jacobs’ place. Maggie, as she was called, stayed with Mrs. Jacobs from June until late in August in 1913. Born two decades after the defeat of George Armstrong Custer’s force at the Battle of the Greasy Grass, or Little Bighorn, Margaret was eighteen years old when she arrived at Carlisle in March of 1912. She would remain a Carlisle student for just under three years.
There’s a lot going on in Maggie Pickett’s student file. While she was at school her mother, and her only surviving parent, died of a “paralytic stroke.” In April of 1914, her aunt, Mrs. Little Daylight, requested that Carlisle send Maggie home to the Crow Reservation. She needed help. “My husband died last month,” she wrote, “and I have not been well since then after all my hardships and sorrow.”
O.H. Lipps was Carlisle’s superintendent. He told Mrs. Little Daylight that Maggie “desires to do whatever she can to be of assistance to you.” Prior to sending Maggie home, however, Mrs. Little Daylight must obtain the permission of the reservation agent, a petty tyrant named Evan Estep. He reported to Lipps that “I am inclined to think there is a sinister purpose behind the scheme to get Maggie to come to them.” Estep thought Maggie had been doing well at school and he hated the idea “to have her come here and go back to the old Indian life.” Furthermore, Estep said, “She has no people here.” Her mother and father were dead, and her brothers had all left the reservation. For these reasons, Lipps decided to refuse Mrs. Little Daylight’s request.
That was April of 1914. One month later, Maggie began working at Todd Hospital in the City of Carlisle. She was learning to be a nurse. She would stick it out at Carlisle, but she wanted Estep to know that she would like to return home, and help her people, as soon as a position opened up on the reservation.
Lipps was impressed by what he heard about Maggie’s work, so he recommended her to Estep in January of 1915. “It is Margaret’s desire to do something for the people at her home in a capacity similar to that of a Field Matron.” She was young for so important a job, Lipps admitted, but her nurse’s training worked in her favor and “She is competent, energetic, and willing.”
Perhaps Maggie asked Lipps to enquire once again about opportunities at home because conditions at Todd Hospital had become unbearable for her. Mrs. Wile, the “Chairman of the Board of Managers” at the hospital, reported that Maggie “had not been doing as well as they knew she could do.” Maggie, Mrs. Wile reported, “was not on good terms with the head nurse, Miss Kruger,” and one other nurse on the hospital staff. They accused her of writing a threatening letter to that nurse, and said that Maggie “received boys from the school as visitors.”
Maggie defended herself. She told Lipps that she did not threaten anyone. She was going to report the nurse for some type of misconduct. She said that, yes, boys from the school visited her, “but it was only as any lady would receive calls.” These letters were exchanged during the third week of February in 1915. Things moved quickly. My the 28th of February, Maggie was at last on her way home to Crow Agency.
Whatever the reason for her departure, Maggie’s supporters at Carlisle had high hopes for her success. She seems quickly to have disappointed them. Within a month of her arrival in Montana, Maggie married Thomas Tobacco. Estep sent word of the ceremony for inclusion in the Carlisle Arrow. In a separate note addressed to Lipps, Estep shared his thoughts more freely. “There is certainly ample room,” Estep wrote, for Maggie “to do some ‘up-lift’ work on her husband, who is a long-haired worthless piece of humanity.” Thomas had been in and out of jail, and Maggie had made a mistake in marrying him. “I believe she hit bottom the quickest of any returned student I ever knew,” Estep wrote, “but if she was to hit it at all I suppose she had just as well go the limit and have it over.”
Estep is an unlikable bigot. He was determined to control the Crows on the reservation even after it was clear he lacked the power to do so. His disdain for the people whose lives he supervised is transparent. Lipps, however, valued his insight. He passed Estep’s note along to have read to the Carlisle girls during the evening prayer meeting. “There was not a more promising girl at Carlisle last year than Margaret,” Lipps wrote. “She frequently assured me of her ambition to be an example of worthy imitation and a force for the up-lift of her people.” He had expected her to return to Carlisle in the fall, continue her studies, and work at Todd Hospital. “I am grieved and disappointed by the way she has turned out.” Maggie, he had hoped, would “prove that the Crow Indians, who are proverbally [sic] a bad lot, were not all bad or worthless.” That Maggie “has yielded to he first temptation,” he concluded, “should be an example to the other girls.”
I am not certain that Maggie knew how much she disappointed Lipps. Three weeks after her marriage, she wrote “to inform you that I have started in to do four ourselves.” Her husband was the son of Tillie Eagle, an ex-Carlisle student. She asked that Lipps send her the money in her school bank account. She was not coming back to Carlisle.
Lipps set her the money, but he could not help but mention the marriage. “When you left here you seemed to be sincere in your desire to continue the same ideals that made you one of the most promising girls Carlisle has had enrolled.” Her marriage to Tom Tobacco while wearing Indian dress “was so prompt a dropping of your ideals that I cannot understand at all.”
No more letters appear in Maggie’s file until February of 1917, almost two years later. “I am getting along nicely and hope every body their [sic] at Carlisle are the same.” She mentioned the cold weather, and the Crow delegation in Washington, fighting attempts to allot the reservation (You can read about those efforts in Chapter 8 of Native America. Maggie said she had some bad news. “Our home was filled with grief over the death of our dear little baby girl the 20th of January.” She was less than a month old when she died from pneumonia. “Mr. Lipps,” she wrote, “I think that days was the saddest days of my life.” She signed her letter “Mrs. Thomas Tobacco.”
Maggie Pickett was training at Todd Hospital to become a nurse. She had wanted to return even before she began working at the hospital. Conflict developed with the other nurses. She went home, married, had a child. She does not show up much after 1917. Her husband Thomas still got in trouble on occasion, but he also was a leading member of the Peyote religion at Crow. She was criticized by Lipps, most harshly behind her back. She worked at making a living on the reservation. She buried a child. But still she took the time to write to Carlisle to wish her fellow students well.
Julia Peña was part of the ensemble cast of The Captain of Plymouth. Like Ethel Daniels, she played one of the “squaws” in the 1909 Carlisle Graduation pageant.
Julia, a “Mission Indian” from Southern California, had a lot of experience with boarding schools. At the age of 8, she began attending the St. Boniface Indian School in Banning. She was there from 1900 until 1907. She spent one year at the day school in Pala, California, before traveling across North America to begin attending Carlisle in 1909. It was a family affair. Julia’s older brother Nicholas had attended Carlisle from 1895 until 1905. Years later, in 1913, he was known as the “best Indian farmer in Pala.”
Julia’s story is similar to that of the other young women who attended Carlisle, and who passed through Mrs. Jacobs’ house. She was active in student organization at Carlisle, playing a leading role in the Girls Holy Names Society. She performed in school plays, and attended sporting events from her outing placements when she had the time. The year before she arrived at Mrs. Jacobs’ house, Julia wrote to one of her teachers, Miss Georgenson, to announce “that she has a very pleasant home near the Susquehanna,” and that “everything is so pleasant that a person just can’t help enjoying life.”
Some of her patrons were satisfied with Julia, and others were disappointed. She stayed with the Engles family in Moorestown, New Jersey, from September 1909 until the end of August in 1910. To Mrs. Engles, Julia was “not satisfactory.” At times she did good work, but “at other times, careless, rude and impertinent, not honest.” Julia had apparently stolen some things from the Engles. Because she apologized, the patron would keep her through August but no longer. Another patron, one year later, though that Julia “is willing and tries.” She was a good worker, but her vision was so poor that she needed glasses badly. Once fitted, she wore her glasses all the time and performed much better work. We don’t know what Mrs. Jacobs thought of her.
Julia, like most of Mrs. Jacobs’ girls, missed Carlisle once she left. On her way home she sent postcards from the places she passed through to her former classmates and teachers. When she moved from Pala to San Diego, she continued to send postcards to her friends in Pennsylvania. She sent to Carlisle a dollar so that she could join the Carlisle Alumni Association. In April of 1915, now married and back in Pala, she wrote that “I am getting along very well at my new home. I used to live in San Diego, but I like it better here, as I am living on a farm. I am always glad to hear about the progress Carlisle is making, and I hope it will continue. I will close with best wishes for success to the Alumni Association, not forgetting all my classmates.”
Another student who left Carlisle, stayed in touch, and continued to support the school’s programs. Carlisle, as it did for Ethel Daniels and Esther Reed, made a huge difference in Julia Peña’s life.
Ethel Daniels was Esther Reed‘s roommate at Mrs. Jacobs’ house between April and August of 1908. Ethel, a Ute from White Rock, had arrived at Carlisle in 1904 when she was twelve years old. She graduated in 1909 and immediately returned home. Mrs. Jacobs’ house was her last outing placement.
Ethel started sending postcards to friends at Carlisle on her way home. She missed the school as soon as she left it. As soon as she got home she reported that she “is enjoying western life” and that her brother Albert “is now a proud father of a cute little boy.”
Why share these details of her personal life? Ethel wrote to the school’s superintendent, Moses Friedman, and he would place excerpts of her letters in the Carlisle Arrow, the school’s weekly student newspaper. The Arrow was filled with small pieces of news like this from her and from many other students. At one level these updates served as propaganda–Carlisle graduates were succeeding when they returned home–but it seems to me that this is an explanation that is incomplete and ultimately unsatisfying. Students who returned home wrote back to Carlisle in numbers that at first surprised me, letting people back in Pennsylvania know what they had been up to. Ethel quite clearly loved her time at Carlisle. She said it time and again. So did so many other former students. She was proud, she wrote Friedman, to think that she had been the first president at Carlisle of the “Mercers Literary Society.” In that capacity she practiced her oratory. She was a student in the school’s art department, and was skilled enough as an artist that an Albany businessman purchased a rug that she made. She participated in a musical pageant, “The Captain of Plymouth,” in which she played one of a number of unnamed “Squaws.” Carlisle was an important part of her life.
By August of 1910, Ethel was engaged, living on a ranch with her mother, with “forty acres of land, one team, two riding ponies,” and “eleven head of cattle.” She asked that the staff at Carlisle continue to send her copies of The Arrow. She updated students at Carlisle on her family life. She married Donald Cobbs, and soon gave birth to sons named Loyde and Manferd. In 1914, she was living at Fort Duschesne in Utah, and let Superintendent Friedman know that she and the family were well, and that she was “always anxious for the dear Arrow to read the news of dear Old Carlisle.”
She reported in a letter to Friedman that she, Daniel, and the boys were preparing to move to a new allotment. “We have taken another allotment up away from the River bottom,” she wrote. They had bought a new team, after the old team died. “We felt lost with out a team but we just kept courage up, and now we have another team I am glad to say.” Her kids were cute, and she lived near her brother and his family, too. Ranching was hard work but she seemed happy. She reminded Friedman once again to send the Arrow. “It has so many news of how dear old Carlisle is improving.”
Files like Ethel Daniels’ are not uncommon. They do not square easily with the horror stories unearthed at Canadian residential schools, and they do not square easily with the accounts given today of American boarding schools. There is ample evidence of cruelty, neglect, illness and sadness at Carlisle, and we shall get to those stories in the coming segments. But there were also many Indigenous peoples for whom Carlisle provided exciting opportunities, a community of friends, a chance to learn a trade, to perform, to play sports, to make art. Carlisle changed lives, to be sure. Sometimes it devastated, and sometimes it transformed, but it always left a powerful impression on the lives of those who attended.
Esther Reed came to Carlisle in 1903 from the Siletz community in Oregon. The Carlisle agents who enrolled her wrote down that her blood was “1/4.” She stayed at Mrs. Jacobs’ house in the Philadelphia suburbs from April until the end of August in 1908. Then she graduated, left Carlisle on the 8th of September, 1908 and headed west. She enrolled at the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon, now potentially the subject of an federal investigation.
Esther stayed at Chemawa for a only short time, from April until the end of July in 1909. She left likely because she married Joseph A. Dick in 1909 and, she reported to the administrators at Carlisle, things were looking up. “My present home,” she wrote in a questionnaire, “is situated near a large lake called Devil’s Lake and our home is about a mile from the Pacific Ocean.” She and Joseph owned thirty-four acres. They raised horses and cattle, “and we raise all our own grain and vegetables.” She was very happy, she said. Her husband treated her well and, she added, “we have a nice little baby girl about eleven months old and we are very proud of her.”
Esther was a Carlisle booster. Indeed, she wrote to the superintendent asking him to send a Carlisle pennant for her wall. She subscribed to the Carlisle Arrow. She asked for copies of the Carlisle Catalog. She had handed out all her other copies and still had friends who wanted to learn about the school. She wrote to the school’s superintendent in 1916, O. H. Lipps, asking for some blank applications. She hoped her young brother might attend, “as I know it is a fine school.”
Esther never had a chance to visit Carlisle after she left, but she really wanted to go. She had thought about returning to Carlisle in 1912 to attend the school’s commencement ceremonies. But someone had to stay and take care of the farm and the animals. Could not get away from them. And, besides, she wrote, he have had very bad luck.” She told Lipps that the baby girl she was so proud of “took sick and died, which is a very great loss to us.” The girl’s name was Ernestine. After the loss of her child, she continued to work to persuade parents she knew to send their children to Carlisle. The school, and her time there, mattered to her a great deal. Esther loved Carlisle.
I am not sure how much came of her efforts. She may have been the last Siletz to attend Carlisle. She lived in Otis, which was not far from the Siletz community. The idea of Indigenous peoples on the Oregon coast poring through publications from an Indian school two thousand miles away is an arresting one.
I did not follow Esther for the rest of her life. Her brother did not attend Carlisle. I know she liked to sing. She shows up in a quick newspaper search singing at small social gatherings–a friend’s twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, for instance. She was active in civic groups like the Red Cross, and she contributed to war bond drives. She and her husband seem to have done well. They can be seen in the newspapers buying and selling land in western Oregon. I wish I had the time to learn more.
This small picture of Esther Reed, yet another of the girls who stayed with Mrs. Jacobs, once again ought to complicate our image of the Carlisle School. For some, the Carlisle School was undoubtedly a lonely and traumatizing place. For others, like Esther, it was an institution they were proud to have attended, for which they felt great affection, and which they hoped their friends and family might attend. In one of the letters in her small student file, she wrote that she had an opportunity to meet the school’s founder, Col. Richard Henry Pratt. She was delighted that she saw him, “shook hands with him and had quite a talk with him. ” Esther thought “often of Carlisle and my school mates,” she wrote, ” was glad I had the privilege to attend school there.”
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.
A Discussion Forum for Teaching and Writing Native American History