Assessment of blame for deaths of Indian boarding school students

Editor’s Note, This report reveals information about illness and death in federal Indian boarding schools that some readers may find triggering or disturbing. Vulnerable groups are advised to exercise discretion.

On June 16, 1913, Pauline Pizzoni, a 13-year-old Maideau girl from the Sierra Nevada, Northern California, lost her battle with the “white plague,” tuberculosis.

He spent seven months at the Mont Alto Sanatorium in Pennsylvania. A former U.S. Forestry Service camp, it was now a cluster of cottages, bathhouses, and a hospital in the middle of a mountain-top forest—a place where Pennsylvania sent TB patients to recover or die.

Mont Alto Sanatorium for Tuberculosis, Pennsylvania: View of the Cottage, ca. 1920-1940. Image 582201i Courtesy Welcome Collection.

Industrialization and the resulting increase in immigrant populations in the late 19th century created waves of epidemics – cholera, typhoid, diphtheria – but no American was more frightened than tuberculosis (TB), which can attack the lungs, lymph glands, or stomach. Was. Sometimes called phthisis or consumption, it was a leading cause of death in America until the development of antibiotics in the 1940s.

"Two views of a nurse hunting to prevent white plague victims from spreading to others." December 27, 1913.  Ogden Standard (Ogden City, UT).

“Two views of a nurse hunting white plague victims to prevent infection from spreading to others.” December 27, 1913. Ogden Standard (Ogden City, UT).

Science had long known that infectious diseases thrive in dark, damp, dusty and airless conditions. In 1865, the New York City Council of Hygiene and Public Health surveyed housing conditions and concluded that improving sanitation could reduce mortality by 30%.

By the early 1900s, the Red Cross and the newly formed American Lung Association launched aggressive public health campaigns about cleanliness and hygiene; By 1910, there were at least 65 open-air schools operating across the United States.

Undated photo of an open-air classroom in New York City, part of an effort to combat the spread of tuberculosis.

Undated photo of an open-air classroom in New York City, part of an effort to combat the spread of tuberculosis.

‘Hungry hungry’

On May 7, 1880, Montana’s Benton Weekly Record reported that the Blackfeet, Blood, and Pygan tribes were starving amid dire living conditions at Fort Assiniboine.

“The barrels that swirled around the quarters of soldiers and officers were surrounded by hordes of hungry people day and night,” wrote the correspondent, “and the carcasses of animals that died of disease were stripped of every speck of flesh to relieve them.” Is. Deep pangs of hunger. ,

In their annual report to the Commissioner for Indian Affairs, most bureau agents and physicians underestimated the shoddy conditions on reservations. But some were more true.

The newly appointed agent for the Blackfeet Agency in Montana, R.A. Allen, reported in 1884 that “little children

Shoshon Indians on Ft.  Washkie, Wyoming Indian Reservation.  Chief Washaki (L) extending his right hand, 1892.

Shoshon Indians on Ft. Washkie, Wyoming Indian Reservation. Chief Washaki (L) extending his right hand, 1892.

Infectious diseases flourished on the reservation. By 1898, Blackfeet physician ZT Daniels reported that “almost all Indian children” were infected with TB.

Many blamed the Indians themselves, citing lifestyle, cultural traditions, degree of Indian blood or genetic weakness.

Yankton Agency (S. Dakota) RJ Taylor wrote, “Civilized people in no good climate die at such a rate.”

But Washington Matthews, a US Army surgeon who had spent decades working with tribes, scoffed at the claim. In his 1886 report for the American Clinical and Climatological Association transaction, “Consumption among Indians,” he used statistics to demonstrate that TB deaths were higher among Indians who were “civilized”. who were “forced to accustom themselves”. Food and Habits of an Alien… Race. ,

Congress in session at the US Capitol after 1890.

Congress in session at the US Capitol after 1890.

in hostel

In 1891, Congress authorized the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to make it mandatory for Indian children to attend boarding schools and to authorize reservation agents to withhold rations and other benefits refusing to comply with any parent. authorized for

“No student should be transferred who is not in sound and vigorous health,” read the Bureau of India’s new “Rules for Indian Schools”.

A doctor examines a student at Carlisle Indian School Hospital.  Undated, Courtesy: Cumberland County Historical Society.

A doctor examines a student at Carlisle Indian School Hospital. Undated, Courtesy: Cumberland County Historical Society.

“Students would have to be examined by reservation doctors, who would certify them to be physically fit,” said Dartmouth College historian Preston McBride, who documented at least 1,000 deaths in four boarding schools from 1879 to 1934 and Spoke with VOA in June. “And then once again, upon arrival, by the school’s physicians.”

But these exams were rarely comprehensive and often only lasted a minute or two, “long enough to record a student’s height, weight and pulse,” McBride said.

Doctor's Certification of Good Health for Carlisle Indian School student David Cabe (Chippewa Nation).

Doctor’s Certification of Good Health for Carlisle Indian School student David Cabe (Chippewa Nation).

The Bureau of Indian Affairs “rules” acknowledged that “weak, unwell and positively diseased” students had slipped through the cracks in schools.

“School officials don’t always separate them from other students,” McBride said. “There is evidence that in some cases, tubercular students will have to share a bed with healthy students.”

‘Huts and Shake-houses’

The 1886 report to the commissioner contained several serious reports about the condition of the boarding school.

“No sewerage system was ever made,” wrote George W. Scott, superintendent of Fort Stevenson Industrial School in North Dakota. “Got a few sticks (about 3 meters) from the kitchen in a hole down the slopes from the kitchen.

He said that both students and teachers are getting sick by drinking contaminated water.

Meanwhile, Horace Chase, superintendent of the Genoa Industrial School in Nebraska, had similar complaints: “All water for any purpose is brought into the building by bucket or tub, and must be carried out in the same manner. Adequate means are not available for this and cannot be done.”

Temporary Building at Chemawa School, 1885, WP Anderson, Oregon Historical Society, 0335p151

Temporary Building at Chemawa School, 1885, WP Anderson, Oregon Historical Society, 0335p151

and Forest Grove Indian Training School – the second federal off-reservation boarding school – was transitioning from its original location in Forest Grove, Oregon, to the nearby town of Chemawa, where residents crowd together in temporary “kutcha huts and shake-houses”. Was. ”, which he himself created.

According to the new school superintendent, the student’s health was “as good as could be expected.”

“There were 510 cases treated by a doctor, but of this number, only 6 died in school and 2 after returning home,” he wrote, a practice found in many schools of sending sick children home to die. It reflects.

Tuberculosis Sanatorium Building, Phoenix Indian School ca.1890-1910.

Tuberculosis Sanatorium Building, Phoenix Indian School ca.1890-1910.

As David H. DeJong wrote in a 2007 article for the American Indian Quarterly, “Until they live,” the commissioner for Indian affairs, William Jones, ordered a survey of Indian health in 1903 and asked students from schools. Called for intensifying the screening and improvement efforts. construction status.

But the agencies were slow to implement the change. Carlisle school records suggest that Pauline Pizzoni had already lost her mother and sister to TB and suggest that she may have been infected upon arrival at school. In 1907, a “weak and fragile” girl was put on an “outing” with a white family in Bucks County, 200 kilometers from the school.

The report of the Carlisle school physician for Pauline Pizzoni indicates an advanced stage of tuberculosis upon returning to school after a five-year excursion.

The report of the Carlisle school physician for Pauline Pizzoni indicates an advanced stage of tuberculosis upon returning to school after a five-year excursion.

When she returned to Carlisle in June 1912, her illness had progressed. She was hospitalized in Carlisle for four months, then transferred to Mont Alto to live out her final days.

As the VOA reported in June, surveys of boarding schools in 1922 and 1928 showed that the condition of boarding schools had, in some cases, only worsened.

further work

In May, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation in British Columbia announced that using ground-penetrating radar (GPR), they had found the remains of more than 200 students at Kamloops Indian Residential School – news that shocked the public , but was not a surprise to First Nations, Native Americans and Alaska Natives, who have spoken out for decades about the disappearances and deaths of students in boarding schools.

FILE - In this April 23, 2021, file photo, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks during a news briefing at the White House in Washington.

FILE – In this April 23, 2021, file photo, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks during a news briefing at the White House in Washington.

This prompted Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to launch a national inquiry into the fate of boarding school students in the US. Findings are to be released in April 2022.

But will we have a full account?

Frank Vitale, a historian who consults with Dickenson College’s Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, pointed out that the prospects for VOA may be slim.

“Boarding schools in the United States were run by many different groups, including the federal government and various religious organizations,” he said. “And they were run in different places and in different periods of history, in different ways until the 1960s.”

Record-keeping was spotty, so accounting for individuals would be challenging and would involve looking over not only student information files but also financial records, annual reports from schools, and administrative correspondence.

Carlisle Indian School Cemetery in the 1930s, when the graves were removed from their original location.  Courtesy, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Carlisle Indian School Cemetery in the 1930s, when the graves were removed from their original location. Courtesy, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

“For example, we looked at the daily attendance books in Carlisle and saw that a student was dropped for an unknown reason that was not recorded,” Vitale said. “So, we excavated and finally found a financial record that showed a coffin was bought around the same time.”

Vitale believes keeping track of these students is important work, but focusing too closely on placing blame leaves big questions:

“What do statistics tell us about the experience of Native Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries?” He asked. “And how does his suffering and death from tuberculosis connect to the larger system of American imperialism?”

pay attention: In part four of this series, VOA will examine the impact of boarding schools on students, their families, their Aboriginal communities and descendants.

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