Primary Source

Carlisle Indian School Students

Photograph of schoolchildren all gathered together


The photograph shows buildings and students of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School around 1900. Attended by over 12,000 Native American children from more than 140 tribes between 1879 and 1918, the school was the model for nearly 150 Indian schools. Its founder was U.S. Army officer Richard Henry Pratt, who commanded a unit of African American "Buffalo Soldiers" and Indian scouts in Oklahoma and witnessed the Bureau of Indian Affair’s irresponsible policies on reservations. In 1875, the Army placed Platt in charge of 72 Indian warriors imprisoned in Florida. Platt imposed military discipline on the prisoners, but also arranged to teach them to read.

Based on this experience, he developed a scheme to assimilate Indians by removing them from tribal influences and transforming them through education. In 1879, Pratt secured permission to use a deserted military base in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, as the site of his school. Platt expressed his educational philosophy, highlighted in the accompanying quotation, in a paper read at an 1892 convention. Today, one of the few remaining landmarks of the Carlisle Indian School is the cemetery for students who died at the school and whose remains could not be returned to their families.


"A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man…It is a great mistake to think that the Indian is born an inevitable savage. He is born a blank, like all the rest of us. Left in the surroundings of savagery, he grows to possess a savage language, superstition, and life. . . As we have taken into our national family seven millions of Negroes, and as we receive foreigners at the rate of more than five hundred thousand a year, and assimilate them, it would seem that the time may have arrived when we can very properly make at least the attempt to assimilate our two hundred and fifty thousand Indians…The school at Carlisle is an attempt on the part of the government to do this. Carlisle has always planted treason to the tribe and loyalty to the nation at large. It has preached against colonizing Indians, and in favor of individualizing them..."


"Carlisle Indian Industrial School History," Text: "'Kill the Indian, and Save the Man:' Capt. Richard H. Pratt on the Education of Native Americans," (accessed August 1, 2009).

How to Cite This Source

"Carlisle Indian School Students," in World History Commons, [accessed August 10, 2022]