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Title: Captain Pratt's dream
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From: USA
Registered: 11/21/2008

(Date Posted:02/09/2009 21:37 PM)
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Captain Pratt's dream

"Convert him in all ways but color into a white man, and, in fact, the Indian would be exterminated, but humanely, and as beneficiary of the greatest gift at the command of the white man - his own civilization."
- Characterization of Carlisle Indian School founder R.H. Pratt's
philosophy by historian Robert H. Utley, 1979

The history of the Carlisle Indian School is inextricably linked with its founder. R.H. Pratt, a US Army captain, had commanded a unit of African-American soldiers and Indian scouts in Dakota Territory for eight years following the Civil War. Subscribing to the ideas of the "Indian reformers" of the time - many of whom were Quakers and Christian missionaries - Pratt believed the solution to the so-called "Indian problem" was not separation, which was the function of the reservations, but assimilation.

Pratt believed the best way for Indians to be absorbed into mainstream American society was to provide them with an education. In 1875, Pratt was assigned to guard a group of Caddo, Southern Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa prisoners at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. He selected a group of these prisoners to test his hypothesis about Indian education and sent them to the Hampton Institute in Virginia, then a boarding school for black children. The 17 students adapted so completely to European-American ways that Pratt decided he wanted an all-Indian school of his own.

In 1879, the Army gave Pratt permission to house his school on an old cavalry post in the small, rural town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He traveled west to recruit his first students from Rosebud and Pine Ridge, two Lakota reservations in what is now South Dakota. In the meantime, two of Pratt's former pupils from Hampton were recruiting Cheyenne and Kiowa children for Pratt in the Southwest.

Meeting with well-known and influential Lakota chiefs and elders - Spotted Tail at Rosebud and Red Cloud at Pine Ridge - Pratt argued that had their people been able to understand English, they might have prevented the loss of land and freedom that had occurred with the institution of the reservation system, or at least understood what was to come.

Though Red Cloud and Spotted Tail were skeptical of Pratt's intentions, they believed their land and resources inevitably would continue to be purloined by the white men. Each chief sent 36 children with Pratt, including five of Spotted Tail's own children and Red Cloud's grandson. According to Pratt's account, 10 more were added to the group as it made its way to the steamboat for the first leg of the journey.
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