Oklahoma Indian Tribal Schools

The Cherokee Nation has made more progress in education, has educated a greater proportion of its members, male and female, than any other Indian tribe, not excepting the tribes whose educational institutions, have, from their beginning, been controlled and managed by the Federal Government. As early as 1819, while they were still in possession of their Georgian homes, the Cherokees, influenced and encouraged, doubtless, by the devoted missionaries who had located among them, began to make provision for the education of their children, by creating a permanent school fund out of a portion of the proceeds of their lands, which they were induced to sell. This fund was increased from time to time, by the provisions of the various treaties, the Federal Government retaining the principal in trust for the tribe, until the interest on the invested fund was sufficient to maintain their two seminaries and 124 day schools. In 1841, shortly after their emigration to Indian Territory, their tribal council established eleven day schools, and in 1846 their council made appropriations for building two seminaries, one for their boys, the other for their girls. The male seminary was located on a pretty knoll, two miles west of Tahlequah, and the female seminary at Park Hill, three miles south of Tahlequah, near the home of the old chief, John Ross. At that time, there was no railroad in the Indian Territory and the assembling of building material of the desired quality and dimensions was a slow and difficult task. The two seminaries were designed upon the same plan, being somewhat of the Greek Doric style of architecture, resembling the historic Parthenon. The buildings were not completed until the Spring of 1850 and were dedicated on the same day, May 7 of that year. The two schools were supplied with faithful, competent instructors and for the next ten years they accomplished excellent educational results. Many intelligent old Cherokee men and women still living are fond of recalling the pleasant incidents of their early training in the old seminaries. Both schools were well patronized and well maintained until 1861, when the bitter strife and enmity engendered by the Civil war, divided the Cherokee people into two hostile factions and all of their schools were compelled to close. During the war the buildings were, at various times, occupied by the soldiers, first by the Confederates, then by the Northern soldiers, and, of course, were somewhat mutilated and damaged. Some time after the war had closed, largely through the influence of William P. Ross, who had succeeded his famous uncle, John Ross, as chief of the Cherokees, the seminaries were repaired and reopened to Cherokee students. For the next twenty years the schools made rapid strides in educational work and progress, during all of which period the Park Hill Seminary was under the supervision of Miss Florence Wilson, whose faithful, patient services gave her the well-earned title of “Mother” to the hundreds of Cherokee girls. Their educational progress was again suddenly interrupted on the 10th day of April, 1887, when the beloved Park Hill Seminary was totally destroyed by fire. The loss of this building caused many heartaches for it had been an institution of which the Cherokee people were justly proud, and around it were clustered the pleasant memories of many years.

The courage of the Cherokee people, as well as their intense interest in the educational welfare of their daughters, was manifested by the practically unanimous desire to rebuild the seminary at once. Within a few short months a special session of the council was convened and $60,000 appropriated for building a new female seminary, and before the end of the year the plans had been prepared, the contract awarded and work on the new structure begun. The location of the new building was changed, however, from the old Park Hill neighborhood to the northern suburbs of Tahlequah, where, on the 18th day of April, 1889, was completed the largest school building in Indian Territory, on the prettiest site in the state.

The cornerstone of this splendid building was laid, with appropriate ceremonies on the 3d day of November, 1887, upon which occasion ex-Chief William P. Ross delivered an able-address to his people on the subject of education. The male seminary was enlarged several years after it was established, by the addition of a three-story brick building, which enabled it to care for about two hundred students. The enrollment in the female seminary was somewhat larger, the average number of girls boarded and educated being about two hundred and fifty.

The Cherokees provided a separate boarding school for their orphan children, which was first located at Tahlequah, but later their council bought a farm and erected a three-story brick building, near the Grand River, adjoining the present site of the town of Salina, which they designated as the Cherokee Orphan Asylum. This school continued to care for about one hundred fifty orphan boys and girls until destroyed by fire on the 17th day of November, 1903, during the noon hour. Some of the orphans were thereafter sent to the Whitaker Orphan Home at Pryor and others were cared for at Tahlequah.

The Cherokees also built and maintained a small boarding school, about four miles north of Tahlequah for the children of their former slaves, which was called their Colored High School.
During the Summer of 1909, as the time was approaching for winding up all tribal affairs, the female seminary and its beautiful grounds were sold to the state and is now known as the Northeastern State Normal School. The male seminary, after an existence of more than half a century, was finally destroyed by fire and its site sold for farming purposes. During almost the entire life of the two seminaries, they maintained first class high school courses, and their graduates rank with the most intelligent people of the state.

Creek Schools

The tribal school system of the Creek Nation consisted of seven boarding schools for Indian children, three boarding schools for the descendants of their freedmen and sixty-five day schools. Nearly all of their boarding schools were established by the missionaries, but as the appropriations made by the Creek Council for their support slightly increased from year to year, the Creek authorities gradually began to assume control, until finally the missionary boards found it advisable to withdraw their support, leaving the control of the schools entirely with the Creek authorities. Until quite recently, however, the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions supplied and paid the salaries of the employes of the Nuyaka Boarding School. The more intelligent class of Creeks claim that their schools were more efficiently managed by the missionary boards than by the tribal council.

Tullahassee Mission School

The Tullahassee Manual Labor Boarding School has been one of the most important schools of the Creek Nation ever since its organization. It was first opened in 1842 under the auspices of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, the Creeks agreeing to contribute $50 per annum toward the expense of boarding, Clothing and educating each Indian child. Rev. R. M. Lough-ridge was the first principal of the school. He was assisted by Rev. W. S. Robertson, who, in later years was placed in charge of the school. The school flourished for several years and many of its students gained prominence in the affairs of the Creek Nation. At the beginning of the Civil war it met the same fate which befell nearly all of the tribal schools, the employes of the school being compelled to flee the country.

In July, 1861, the Confederate Creeks notified the employes of the school that they must leave within twenty-four hours. Reverend Loughridge went with the Confederates to Texas. Miss Mills, Miss Vance, Miss Shepard and Miss Turner, employes of the school, went down the Arkansas River to Memphis and from there found their way to their northern homes. Reverend Robertson, with his family, went to Fort Gibson and there joined the Indian refugees on their way to Kansas.

During the war the buildings were converted into hospitals, barracks and stables, and were rendered almost unfit for any further use for school purposes. By 1868, however, the buildings had been overhauled and slightly repaired, and Reverend Robertson was placed in charge, with Leonard Worcester, Miss Nancy Thompson and Miss Mary E. Wilson as teachers. About this time, -Mrs. Robertson, assisted by Mr. Perryman, a Creek missionary who had attended this school prior to the breaking out of the rebellion, translated a portion of the New Testament into the Creek language. A few years later, Mr. and Mrs. Robertson were ably assisted in their missionary work by their two well-educated daughters, Augusta R. (now Mrs. Moore) and Alice -M. Robertson, who but recently attained the proud distinction of being the only female member of the present Congress.

Nuyaka Mission

The Nuyaka Boarding School, located out in the country, twelve miles west of Okmulgee, has been regarded from its beginning as a Presbyterian school. It was established and for many years maintained by the Board of Home Missions, and after the Creek Council assumed control of their schools the Presbyterian Board was still permitted to manage Nuyaka.

Eufaula High School

The Creek Boarding School located on the hill overlooking the City of Eufaula was the most pretentious of all the Creek schools. They called it their high school although its course of study was limited to the common school grades. For many years it was attended by both sexes, but later was made a school for boys only. About fifteen years ago it was converted into a school for Creek girls and is still maintained as a female boarding school.

Euchee Mission

A good many years ago the Creeks established a boarding school in the eastern suburbs of Sapulpa, especially for the Euchee branch of their tribe. For a number of years none but Euchees were permitted to attend this school, but as they seemed somewhat indifferent about sending their children away from home, the school was not always filled to its capacity and Creek children began to be admitted. As a result it ceased to be regarded as a school for Euchees only, and thereafter all Creeks were admitted, regardless of clan distinctions.

Other Boarding Schools

The other boarding schools of the Creek Nation were the Wealaka Mission, the Coweta Mission, the Wetumka Mission, and the Orphan Home at Okmulgee. Each of these schools provided for from 50 to 75 pupils. For their freedmen, the Creeks maintained the Pecan Mission, seven miles west of Muskogee, the Colored Orphan Home, and about thirty years ago, the buildings at Tullahassee were converted into a school for freedmen All of these tribal schools have been abolished except the high school at Eufaula, and the Nuyaka and Euchee Boarding schools.

In addition to these boarding schools the Creeks maintained sixty-five day schools. The Indian children are now presumed to have access to the public schools, with the whites, but many of them are not enrolled, and others are very irregular in their school attendance.

Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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