Chiricahua Casualties and Heros at the Carlisle Indian School

Tragically, over one-third of the Apache students at Carlisle did not survive. They died of tuberculosis and other diseases.

“During the sixteen years of the School we have handled in all 2,969 students, of these 144 have died here…. (W)hile … Apaches formed only one-twenty-sixth of the whole, they have contributed nearly one-fourth of the whole number of deaths.”  (Captain Richard Henry Pratt, letter to Major George W. Davis of the Office of the Secretary of War, December 13, 1895.)

“Of the 106 Apaches brought to this school … in the winter and spring of 1886-87, twenty-seven have died and two others will die within two or three days. Others are drooping and will take their places soon. The school ought not to bear this affliction any longer.…  While climate may to some extent have an influence in aggravating and bringing a speedier termination, I think the deplorable and almost hopeless conditions surrounding them have a greater influence. They have no home, no country, no future, and life has become hardly worth living.”  (Captain Richard Henry Pratt on the situation at Carlisle, May 24, 1889.)

To lower Carlisle’s officially recorded fatalities, doctors sent children home on their deathbeds.

“The practice which prevails at the Carlisle School, of retaining students there until in an advanced stage of pulmonary disease, and then sending them back to their people is a bad one. If these cases could be returned to the open air life and dry atmosphere of the western country, in the first stage of this disease, many of them would recover. As it is, they return them when there is no hope of recovery, only to become sources of infection to their people. Some of them are kept so long that they may not reach the reservation alive. I have seen a boy from Carlisle, dying from … (tuberculosis), compelled to travel in a day car until unconscious, and then twenty-eight miles in a stage, in an effort to get on his reser­vation before death, which was accomplished by a few hours. This is bad in every way. If this school cannot be removed to a climate suitable and natural to the Indian, the students who become in­fected there should, at least, be given a chance for life by a prompt return to the western country.”  (Captain J. D. Glennan, Assistant Surgeon of the U.S. Army, November 1, 1895.)

Apache people despaired over the deaths of their children.

“Their grief over this compulsory separation (of children from their parents) has been genuine and unabating; and when death has claimed one of their absent children, the intense manifestation of sorrow has touched the hearts of all.”  (Dr. Walter Reed, Mount Vernon Barracks Post Surgeon, “Geronimo and his Warriors in Captivity,” The Illustrated American, August 16, 1890:231-235.)

“It would be a mistake to … (continue sending) the children of these Indians to the school at Carlisle, a place which, from whatever cause it may be, proves fatal to them. Many of the children die there, and those who return to their people seem particularly liable to contract consumption, the disease that has taken off so many of them since their removal to the east. The Apaches … live in terror lest their children be taken from them and sent to the distant school.”  (General George Crook, Letter to Redfield Proctor, Secretary of War. U. S. Senate Exec. Doc. 35 (51-1), pp. 32-33. Quoted in Stockel 1993:162.)

“So many of their children have died away at school that not only have those been grief stricken who have lost their absent ones but all are constantly fearful of the taking from them of others of their children to send to school to die.”  (First Lieutenant Guy Howard, Twelfth Infantry, report on Mt. Vernon to General J. M. Schofield, Adjutant General, December 23, 1889. Quoted in Skinner 1987:269.)

Despite Pratt and his teachers, virtually all Apache children who remained alive returned to their families as prisoners of war and proudly retained their Chiricahua identity.

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Chiricahua Children POWs Sent to Carlisle Indian School, PA