Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Over the course of nearly thirty years, from 1879 to 1918, more than ten thousand Native American children attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Cumberland County. The brainchild of Richard Henry Pratt (1846-1924), the school’s purpose was to immerse Indian children in mainstream culture.

Pratt, a former 10th Cavalry officer – ­who commanded a unit of African American “Buffalo Soldiers” in Oklahoma from 1867 to 1875 – had been successful working with Native Americans at Fort Marion Prison in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1875. His approach was to “civilize” the prisoners by cutting their hair and issuing them military-style uniforms. Local women offered to teach the prisoners, and the Indians were encouraged to draw and make crafts.

His success with the newly “enlight­ened” Indians encouraged Pratt to pursue the establishment of a school to civilize Native American children through “improving” their appearance, education, and discipline – an approach based on his experiences at Fort Marion. With the backing of Quakers, missionaries, and wealthy supporters, Pratt obtained permission from Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz and Secretary of War George R. McCrary to utilize a deserted military post. He found support for his school in Carlisle and won approval for use of the Carlisle Barracks for his endeavor.

The first students arrived by train in October 1879 to find a warm welcome from residents – but empty buildings at the former military post. No provisions had yet arrived so the children were forced to sleep on the floor in their blankets. Despite this rocky beginning, not much time elapsed until the school was in full swing.

The first step in the transformation of the students was to cut their hair, and issue them new clothing – uniforms for boys, and Victorian era-style dresses for the girls. Shoes were required, but no moccasins were allowed. No one was allowed to speak his or her native tongue.

Students attended academic and trades classes calculated to prepare them for assimilation into white society. Children were often placed with non-Indian families during the summer and worked for farmers, businessmen, and craftsmen. The students also published their own newspaper, engaged in musical performances, helped build several buildings, and participated in sports.

From its modest beginnings with eighty students, the school grew to a yearly enrollment of about one thousand students. Over the years the school welcomed Cheyenne, Kiowa, Lakota, Chippewa, Blackfoot, Ute, Comanche, Apache, and many other Native American children.


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