Primary Source

The Phoenix Indian School, 1896 [Newspaper Article]


"Phoenix Indian School; Largest in the Southwest and Second Largest in the Country: Need of Military Garrisons in Arizona Grow Less as this School increases Its Influence Among the Nation's Wards -- Over One Hundred and Fifty Boys and Girls," read the headline of the New York Times article written by a journalist after a visit to the school on July 5, 1896. The Phoenix Indian School was one of some 150 institutions for Indian wards of the U.S. Government founded as the Indian wars concluded. The schools' mission was to "civilize" and assimilate the Indians to American society through a process of education that sought to obliterate their native cultures. The model of organization and discipline was military. Student life was highly regimented, with little free time, uniforms and marching drills. Boys and girls were subject to whipping and jailing, the latter a punishment for runaways. Students at the schools performed school maintenance, cleaning, cooking, laundering, caring for farm animals and crops, and selling their handmade crafts. Students were also put out to work locally as domestics and farm laborers for further acculturation and to provide work experience. School officials did not envision preparing Native-American students for higher education. The article expresses the attitudes and expectations of the journalist. It also reflects the ways in which the reporter's views were both validated and revised. The article that appeared in a major newspaper reinforced stereotypes about native American children, affirmed the success of the school's "civilizing mission," and testified to the correctness of the assumption that environment could re-shape the children's identity and override their upbringing.


New York Times, "Phoenix Indian School; Largest in the Southwest and Second Largest in the Country," July 5, 1896, (accessed July 1, 2009).

Primary Source Text

Phoenix, Arizona, July 4 – The largest Indian school in the Southwest and the second largest in the Union is that in the Salt River Valley, near this place. It is unique in several respects. It is patronized by the Apaches, the Pimas, and the Maricopahs, who have until the past two years been the most lawless, intractable, and savage tribes Uncle Sam has had to deal with.

The fifty-seven Pima and Apache girls in the school under the supervision of the matron, learn to cook, wash, sew, and perform all other household duties, in addition to their study of the English language. The superintendent of the school finds the Indian girls less tractable to book learning than the boys, but they have a zeal for neatness in sewing and knitting that is astonishing. Very few of the girls have any taste for arithmetic and the forms of language, but they love to execute brightly colored maps and to draw. They are always much more reserved and diffident than their red-skinned brothers. The boys are handsome fellows, from fourteen to twenty-one years of age, and during certain hours of the day they are compelled to attend to the duties of the farm. They do not do this reluctantly, as one might suppose, but with good will and an apparent anxiety to learn. They are dressed in uniform, their hair kept closely trimmed, and they show their appreciation of the change from almost absolute nudity by keeping their shoes polished and their clothes nicely brushed. In the classroom they excel in arithmetic and spelling, and any exercise that brings the blackboards into use wins their attention. Strange as it may appear, they have not the least liking for exercising in the gymnasium, but in out-of-door sports, such as running races, leaping, and vaulting, they are very proficient.

A recent visit to the Indian school was a revelation in some respects. The writer has known the Pima Indians on their reservation as a fierce, sullen, obstinate, and cruel lot of savages, with a record second to not even the Apaches for horrible butcheries of white settlers and unspeakable barbarities upon their enemies in warfare. It was therefore a surprise to see over 150 of the boys and girls of these desert savages come marching into the chapel with military precision, dressed in handsome, neat-fitting garments, wearing linen shirts, and with their hair brushed with as much nicety as that of a city dude.

The surprise did not end there. When the opening hymn was announced one of Apache girls that five months before was running wild on the desert south of the Gila readily turned to the number, and, handing the writer the book, asked in good English if he would not take part with them.

Some of them sing splendidly, and Prof. Rich, the Superintendent of the school, says that they are natural musicians. Several of the younger ones have learned to play the organ, and with the French harp they will make an average city gamin ashamed of himself. Hugh Patten, one of the monitors, plays the piano very well, having picked the accomplishment up without any instruction, only being aided by his natural aptitude for music. This Indian is a peculiarity in Indian life. Some years ago he learned the English language, and acted as an interpreter from that time till the opening of the school, which he entered, where he has since remained. He discarded his Indian name and assumed an English one, and in the three years he has acquired a good English education. He is of medium size, rather dark, but with the prepossessing appearance of a student. He has done much to induce his people to adopt civilization, and is , of course, a warm friend of the school.

How to Cite This Source

"The Phoenix Indian School, 1896 [Newspaper Article]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #295, (accessed December 7, 2021). Annotated by Susan Douglass