The Regional Review

Volume V - No. 6

December, 1940

The Founding of Carlisle Was Dreamed in St. Augustine


The chronicle of ancient Castillo de San Marcos at Saint Augustine, once a proud New World outpost of Spain's Golden Age and now known to thousands of American travelers as Fort Marion National Monument, contains so many diverting chapters that, should it ever become complete, it will be well worth the long telling. Not the least interesting of these stories within the story concerns the time 65 years ago when the fort witnessed one of the first practical demonstrations of the ability of the Federal government to elevate and civilize the western Indians, and one of the earliest advances in a rational method of making citizens of the remnants of our aboriginal population.

In April 1865 a group of Comanches, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes were condemned to exile at Fort Marion by the United States government for the high crimes of murder and rebellion. Among them were "Medicine Water", a ringleader; "White Man", "Rising Bull", "Hailstone", "Sharp Bully", and other accomplices in the murder of the Germain family and in the terrible fate of the two Germain girls, later recaptured from the Cheyennes. Other prisoners were "Come See", accused of the murder of the Short surveying party; "Soaring Eagle", supposed to have killed the hunter Brown; "Big Moccasin" and "Making Medicine", horse thieves and raiders; "Packer", the murderer of Williams, and "Mochi", the squaw identified by the Germain girls as having chopped off the head of their mother with an ax.1

Indian prisoners
A group of Indian prisoners in native dress at Fort Marion. note squaw and child

Besides these, who constituted most of the criminals, was a large number against whom no particular accusation had been lodged but who were confined apparently on the principle that prevention is better than cure.2

The convicted Indians were marched in chains from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to the railroad 165 miles away. En route to Florida a Cheyenne chief called Gray Beard tried to commit suicide by hanging, but was cut down only to be shot while attempting to escape. Another Cheyenne, Lean Bear, repeatedly stabbed himself with a pen knife on the journey, yet recovered sufficiently to go on a hunger strike and to meet death by starvation and pneumonia. But at last, worn and oppressed in body and spirit, the Indians reached St. Augustine. Many Indians had languished long before in the ancient fort of coquina, and thousands of others had died while engaged in its construction. The ragged, unkempt group of morose convicts, herded into a kind of pen about 100 feet square, knew an equal despair. Hopelessly they lay down on the cold dirt floors of their cells, and began unresistingly to sicken and die.3

It was not long, however, before the Indians began to perceive in the rugged countenance of the commanding officer the aspect and features of a friend. Lieutenant Richard H. Pratt ordered the hated shackles removed and allowed the prisoners to roam the terreplein for exercise and air. Later, as they were found more trustworthy, they were even permitted to camp for two weeks at a time upon nearby Anastasia Island.

Within the first six months at Fort Marion, the radical step was taken of dismissing the highly unpopular soldier guard. Lieutenant Pratt pledged his commission for the good behavior of the captives, and for the remainder of their three years of imprisonment the men guarded themselves without material mishap. Clothed in Army uniforms, and subjected to army discipline and routine, the Indians soon began to have the privileges and consideration of the ordinary soldier.4 As the gay winter season of St. Augustine advanced, company drills at the fort began to elicit favorable comment from a host of visitors from all parts of the country. The neat and soldierly appearance, willing industry, and general good spirit of the Indians won the friendly and admiring response that Lieutenant Pratt had confidently anticipated.

Native American on horseback

Native American on horseback
Water colors made by Indian prisoner at Fort Marion during the period 1875-78

As part of Pratt's plan of education of the Indians he cast about for means of vocational training which would make them self-supporting. A limited amount of work was found for them in the orange groves, packing houses, sawmills, and farms of the area, and the Indians proved industrious workers. The making of souvenirs was encouraged and the Indian canes, bows, arrows, and other trifles had a ready sale. In a few months about 16,000 sea beams were polished and sold to visitors, netting the prisoners $1,600 which they sent home to their families or used to buy extra comforts for themselves.5 Many of the students showed great aptitude for drawing and painting. Sidney Lanier wrote:

"They seem excessively fond of trying their skill in drawing, and are delighted with a gift of pencil and paper. Already, however, the atmosphere of trade has reached into their souls, and I am told that they now begin to sell what they were ready to give away when I saw them a few weeks ago!"6

An English noblewoman, in commenting upon the artistic proclivities of the wards of Lieutenant Pratt, said:

"They have left their sign-manual upon the walls---specimens of Indian art in the shape of sprawly sketches of men and beast. For, it is well known, Indians are fond of drawing and will draw on anything and with any kind of material that will make a mark. They will even exchange a surplus squaw for a few pencils or paint brushes. Crude and out of all proportions as their productions are, they illustrate the minds and proclivities of the people. An Indian never represents himself as standing, dancing, or walking; he is always fighting against fabulous numbers, and always a conqueror, riding victorious over a score of prostrate forces."7

Indian prisoners
Uniformed Indian prisoners organized into a military company at Fort Marion in the 70's. The photograph is from a sterograph

A school for the Indians had been started in Fort Marion at an early date. Several teachers, among them the Sisters of St. Joseph, volunteered their services and from that point to the close of the three years of confinement there were from four to six classes constantly under instruction and English soon became the common tongue the captives. In the spring of 1878, the War Department released all the prisoners the Indian Bureau. Twenty-two of the younger men asked to remain and these young braves went to form the nucleus of the pioneer Indian school at Hampton. Lieutenant Pratt later suggested to Carl Schurz, Secretary of the Interior, that the Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania, then occupied, be used exclusively as an Indian school. A bill to that effect was introduced in Congress and in August 1887 Pratt, now a Captain, wrote: "Carlisle is ours and fairly won!"8

The Carlisle barracks were transferred from the War Department to the Department of the Interior and Pratt entered upon his arduous duties of founding a school with little money or outside aid. The expenses for the first year were paid from the "Civilization Fund." This fund was several hundred thousand dollars, accumulated from the sale of Osage Indian lands in Kansas, for fostering general Indian civilization.9

By the close of the first year, Carlisle had assembled nearly 200 students from 15 different tribes. Only about half had had any previous training and hardly 10 per cent any admixture of white blood. The former Fort Marion prisoners, after 18 months at Hampton, were returned to Pratt's supervision, and gave valuable help in handling new recruits. After three years Congress appropriated funds to maintain the school and by 1900 the institute had a yearly attendance of more than 1,000 from some 80 tribes. Twenty-four other nonreservation schools for Indians branched from Carlisle.10

The famous institute was discontinued in 1917 because of the First World War. It is said that the Carlisle students volunteered to a man. As noncitizens they could not be conscripted yet they chose to be among the first to fight the nation's battles.11 Although Carlisle Institute is no more, the lives of its students and their descendants stand as a monument to the vision of "The Red Man's Moses", General Richard Henry Pratt--a vision which was first conceived in the shadowy casemates of the old Spanish fortress, Castillo de San Marcos, now known as Fort Marion National Monument.

Indian prisoners
Indian prisoner-students at Fort Marion

1Sidney Lanier, Florida: Its Scenery, Climate and History, St. Augustine, 1876.

2Gray Beard and Geronimo apparently came in this last category. There has been a great difference of opinion concerning the location of the prison in which Geronimo was confined. Mr. Braddock, a St. Augustine visitor, asserted that he had seen Geronimo at Fort Marion but that the chief was removed to Fort Pickens, Pensacola, after a few days of imprisonment at St. Augustine, Dr. A. Oscar Brown, now an Army chaplain at Tea Pot Dome, Wyoming, said that he knew Geronimo well when the Indian was a prisoner at Fort Marion, and eventually converted the captive to the Christian faith.

3E. C. Pratt Eastman, The Red man's Moses. University of Oklahoma Press, 1935.

4W. W. Dewhurst, The History of St. Augustine, Florida. Putnam and Sons, New York, 1885.

5R. B. Pratt, "Indians at Fort Marion", The Mentor, September 1924.

6op. cit.

7Lady Duffers Hardy, Down South, Chapman and Hall, Ltd., London, 1883

8Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Government Printing Office, 1887.


10Pratt, op. cit.

11The story has been told of how an American unit at the front, upon being frustrated repeatedly because enemy listeners overheard telephone messages relating to planned movements, overcame the difficulty by using Indian soldiers to convey information in tribal tongues. The eaves droppers were nonplussed.

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Date: 04-Jul-2002