Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Native American Boarding Schools

Where Are My Native American Ancestors Hiding?

("Haskell Babies" are still referred to in ancestral "ghost stories")

From Boarding School to University
In searching for American Indian ancestors, the universal questions of “Where did my ancestor go?” “How do people vanish in mid-air?” and “Why can’t I find this person for a 10-20 year span?” all apply. But have you checked the 125 year old Haskell Indian Nations University records or any of the small cemeteries located on the historical land of Native American boarding schools?

Haskell Indian Nations University (HINU), located in Lawrence Kansas, a school of American Indian and Alaskan Native people mirrors the USA indigenous people’s history. In 1884, the then United States Industrial Training School, a Federal boarding school established by a legislative act, opened its boarding school to 22 elementary students, some as young as four years old with the suspected goal of force assimilation to the “American culture” but operating under the auspices of “to fulfill numerous treaties that promised to educate Indians in exchange for their land.”[1] The industrial school offered trades for the boys- wagon making blacksmithing, farming, etc. and home-economic skills for the girls - cooking, sewing, etc.

Children as young as 4 years old were separated from their families for months at a time as they attended the school, which focused its training on domestic arts. In keeping with the thinking of the day, Indian culture and language were seen as the culprits that kept American Indians from becoming American citizens. Children were routinely punished for speaking their language or disobeying the military-style rules of the school. Punishment included incarceration in a jail on campus. The lock from the jail cell is on display today at the school’s cultural center.[2]

(Haskell Cemetery for the Haskell Babies)

This ominous beginning helps to explain the Haskell Cemetery, the burial place for 103 Native children, mostly around 10 years old, but as young as 6 months, who died between 1885 - 1913.[3] Although this cemetery can barely be seen on the campus map, it is significant to the history of the Native Americans who died in one of the many boarding schools established across America. Checking through these forgotten cemeteries may be a key to your genealogical search.

History Summary
In 1887 Congress renamed the school Haskell Institute in honor of US Representative (KS) Dudley Haskell. The enrollment of the Industrial School jumped to 400 students by its second semester,[4] and by 1894 approximately 600 students represented 36 states.

Around this time, 1895, the school became a “normal school” for teachers, accepting students beyond elementary and incorporating business skills (typing) classes. By 1927, Haskell began offering post high school vocational technical courses, but was best known for its athletics department. The American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame for athletes like Billy Mills, a member of the Lakota tribe and the Olympic Gold medal winner of the 10,000 meter run, is appropriately located on the campus of the University.

By 1970 it was granted junior college status, renamed as Haskell Indian Junior College, offing free room and board to American Indians, of any tribe, who could prove their one fourth “American Indian blood.[5] In 1993, the school evolved into Haskell Indian Nations University, a four year degree institution.[6]

Accurate, Accessible Answers

[1] Junior college evolving into 4-year university, Journal World, Nachison, Andrew E.; 17 Oct 1993; (online:,51181; accessed 9 March 2010
[2] Diverse Issues In Higher Education (online magazine); Pember, Mary Annette, 1 Jun 2009;; accessed 9 March 2010
[3] Haskell Cemetery: A symbol for Healing and Growth, Colmant, Stephen A., MA, LPC; (online:; accessed 9 March 2010
[4] [Haskell Indian Nation University, School History; (online:; accessed 9 March 2010
[5] JSTOR, Community Colleges Haskell Indian Junior College, May 1955, Vol 55, Martin, Donna; (online:; accessed 9 March 2010
[6] Diverse Issues In Higher Education (online magazine); Pember, Mary Annette, 1 Jun 2009;; accessed 9 March 2010


  1. Sad to see children as young as 4 whose time to enjoy and be kids were taken away from them and held under strick militray type institutions. Wonder what was the long term development impact on their lives? For sure it must have changed them forever

  2. Thank you for another excellent report on an important but often overlooked set of institutions. I had not seen the early history of Haskell even though I lived with 70 miles for fifteen years. ;-)

  3. Wow, I had no idea that there even was such a thing. This is an excellent post. I cannot imagine what that must have been like for the children. Thank you for sharing and I will definitely keep that in mind when researching my Native American roots. I SO enjoy reading your blog!

  4. Thanks for stopping by and commenting guys. I'm glad you liked this blog.

  5. Thanks for giving us the history behind these schools. I had heard about some of these schools but didn't realize that many children didn't survive them.

  6. You have really helped several of individuals like me, who have been searching internet from past quite a long time to find detailed information on this particular topic. Thanks a ton.College Consulting Dallas