our culture, the only time we cut hair is when we are in mourning or
when someone has died in the immediate family. We do this to show we
are mourning the loss of a loved one."
- Sterling Hollow Horn (Lakota), Pine Ridge, South Dakota, 2000
the train carrying the first group of Lakota students made its way
across the country, townspeople came to every train station to gawk at
the children wearing their blankets and moccasins. To avoid this
spectacle in Carlisle, Pratt routed the train to a tiny depot several
blocks from the main station on High Street. His plan was foiled, and
hundreds of cheering Carlisle residents were waiting on the platform.
When the travelers arrived at the school, Pratt was enraged to find
that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs had failed to send
provisions, bedding or food. The children were forced to sleep, hungry,
on the floor in their blankets.
Pratt immediately left to
collect the Cheyenne and Kiowa children, and his wife and the teachers
took charge of the first wave of assimilation. The process began with
the outward signs of Indian appearance - clothing and hair. Confused
and homesick, the Lakota children wept as their long hair was cut and
fell to the ground. On one of the first nights after the Lakota
children arrived, a collective wail rose up from their throats, its
wrenching sound echoing across the campus. What they did not yet know
was they were mourning the shearing of their cultural identities.