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The boy is filled with sorrow, to think he can no longer enjoy the freedom of his home, and live with those he loves. He must soon be placed in the care of the pale-face, whom he can not fully trust. He can no longer listen to his father’s stories and legends of the past. The feathers and paint, with which he loves to ornament himself, must be renounced.

Source: Phoenix Indian School

I live within walking distance from Steele Indian School Park; I take my dogs there to chase balls. I drive along Indian School Road several times a week, 99% of the time not thinking of the name. Recently, I took my camera to the park to capture some late afternoon shadows, but I found something quite unexpected.

Initially I was drawn to this light on the side of a building. Then I noticed the names on the bricks and immediately thought, “Oh great, more tagging! Why can’t they leave it alone?”

I wandered around the buildings, trying to get an artsy image of a door, window, or the sunset. Much later, I found more bricks.

Clara Lopez caught my eye. 1945. Hm… she might have been a student here. I knew a little about the school. I also knew the horror stories of my white race perpetrating unspeakable punishments on these children if they clung to their traditions and their native language. I wondered if Clara had been mistreated and abused. I wondered why she has an Hispanic name. I wondered what her native name might have been.

Prescilla Sine. Interesting adaptation of the name “Priscilla”… Again, 1945. Was she friends with Clara?

Nez … a name I recognize. 1949. I have taught quite a few students with this last name. Relatives?

Was this student very young? Just learning to write her name? What are the other symbols?

EDIT: I just read this:  That some pupils chose to mark items with dates or a simple line rather than an American name reflects the Indian belief that a name is personal and secret and not to be told. In 1928 teacher Katie Pierson noted in her journal that pupils should be asked “How you are called?” rather than “What is your name?”

I wonder if this explains the marks rather than a name.

I saw the later dates on these bricks and thought that maybe they might have been benefactors…people who had given money to preserve this property?

When I got home, I googled Phoenix Indian School I learned that the school closed in 1990, thus the later dates on the bricks. I had moved to the Phoenix area in 1987 and now vaguely remember the closing of the school.

I found two primary source documents from the late 19th century, both newspaper articles, that speak in praising prose of the wonders that the Indian School is doing in educating and taming the “savages.” Yes, the word savages is actually used.

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.

I’ve decided to copy the annotation of the article rather than attempt to summarize or paraphrase it:


“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,http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9E07EFD71730E033A25756C0A9619C94679ED7CF (accessed July 1, 2009).

If you are interested in learning more, read Archaeology of the Phoenix Indian School