Native Americans were forced into off-reservation schools

In the late 1870s, the U.S. government changed its policy regarding Native Americans from one of separation to one that focused on assimilation into mainstream American society. The Secretary of the Interior authorized two federal, off-reservation boarding schools. The Carlisle Indian School opened in Pennsylvania in 1879, and the Forest Grove Indian Industrial and Training School opened on the grounds of Oregon’s Pacific University in 1880. The first superintendent at the Forest Grove School was Civil War veteran Lt. Melville C. Wilkinson.
On June 4, 1880, the Weekly Ledger reported Chief Citrell of the Puyallup Tribe and large groups of his people were in town protesting the taking of six little girls to the Forest Grove School against their parent’s wishes. Apparently, Wilkinson and a teacher named George F. Boynton sent well-known Indian Peter Stanip to the Puyallup reservation to try and induce the parents to send their little girls to the school. Stanip painted a glowing picture, saying in 25 years the students trained at Forest Grove would be the teachers. The Puyallups didn’t buy it and, when Wilkinson himself showed up, none of the girls were ready to go.
From 1872 to 1875, Gen. Robert H Milroy had been the superintendent of Indian Affairs in Washington Territory and, for the following 10 years, an Indian agent. Wilkinson went to Olympia to see if the general would use his influence on the Puyallups, Wilkinson’s feeling being the white agent knew best and Indian parents were not capable of understanding what was most beneficial for their children.
These Indian boarding schools were promoted as a solution to what was called the “Indian problem.” At the Forest Grove School, the students earned money that was used to purchase acreage for the institution. They helped construct some of the buildings. All students were made to participate in a daily routine grounded in forced discipline and strict regimentation. Boys had their long hair cut short, and military uniforms replaced their traditional clothing. Girls wore dresses. Students were forbidden to speak their native language and practice their traditional religion. The Forest Grove School was purposefully sited at a great distance from the reservations, making it difficult for parents to visit and for students to run away.
At the Puyallup Reservation, six Indian police were sent to bring in the little girls and notify the parents as to what was happening. Some of the children hid or were hidden in the woods, but the police picked up 12. After a medical inspection, a doctor said six were healthy enough to be sent to Forest Grove. If parents didn’t cooperate, they were threatened with arrest and jail time. One grandmother who snatched and hid two girls was arrested and held overnight. In the end, four girls were taken to the railroad depot in Tacoma and sent south
When the Puyallup Reservation church next held services, a woman named Mrs. Swan stood and asked who had ordered the arrest and imprisonment of women trying to hide their children. No one answered. Mrs. Swan also spoke of the efforts the Reverend Mr. Mann was making to improve the conditions under which the Puyallups were living. Apparently there was a plan to remove him from his position. A Dr. McCoy was in the congregation and tried to reply, but Mrs. Swan told him he could make his response after church and outside. The feeling was that Reverend Mann’s removal would result in nothing less than insubordination among tribal members, and probable consequences.
Not long after, the paper reported one Indian father had gone to the Forest Grove School and brought his daughter back. She was lucky. Student mortality rates there were high. Of the 321 students enrolled during its five-year existence,43 – most of them girls – died while at the school, often from communicable diseases such as tuberculosis.
A year after the kidnapping, Reverend Myron Eels, a missionary at Skokomish, Wash., wrote an article for the Ledger regarding the Puyallup Reservation. He said that “in 1867, although the treaty had been in operation twelve years, it wasn’t a success. In 1871 there were only children and in 1872 the Indian agent couldn’t find one who could read or write.”
Over the next two years, the Indian agent, on a budget of $750, tried to make improvements. Finally in 1873, a $4,000 appropriation was made to build a good school house. The following year there were 12 boarding students and 16 day students. Then the treaty expired and the school closed. Appropriations in 1876, 1877 and 1878 allowed the school to be opened for six months, two months and eight months, respectively, and 50 students attended. Then more money became available and an industrial school was built. From 43 to 74 students attended. In 1880, the year of the kidnapping, between 20 and 25 Puyallup Indian children had been sent to the Forest Grove School.
In 1882, Reverend Edwin Eels was put in charge of the Puyallup Consolidated Agency, which included 10 reservations and 10 boarding schools. In 1884, Eels punished some Indian boys twith nine months hard labor in balls and chains for setting fire to the Puyallup Reservation School. Finally, in 1887, Indians were made citizens of the United States rather than wards of the government. Though their problems were far from over.