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File:Lieut Richard Henry Pratt, Founder and Superintendent of Carlisle Indian School, in Military Uniform and With Sword 1879.jpg

Lieut Richard Henry Pratt, Founder and Superintendent of Carlisle Indian School, in Military Uniform and With Sword 1879.

Richard Henry Pratt (1840, Rushford, New York-April 23, 1924, San Francisco, California)[1] is best known as the founder and longtime superintendent of the influential Carlisle Indian Industrial School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Military career[]

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Pratt's father had moved the family to Logansport, Indiana, where he enlisted in the 9th Indiana Volunteer Infantry and later served with the 2nd Indiana Volunteer Cavalry and the 11th Indiana Volunteer Cavalry and was mustered out of the Volunteer Service in May 1865. He served the entire Civil War as a volunteer, from Private to brevet Major, fighting in the battles of Nashville and Chicamauga.

After being mustered out of the army, he returned to Logansport, Indiana, and married Anna Mason and ran a hardware store, but after two years in the hardware business, he reentered the Army in March 1867 as Second Lieutenant in the 10th United States Cavalry, taking charge of the African-American regiment composed of freedman and recently freed slaves famously known as the "Buffalo Soldiers" in Fort Sill in the Oklahoma Territory. Pratt's long and active military career in the western great plains was for over 8 years and included participation in some of the signal conflicts with Native American of the southern plains, including the Washita campaign of 1868-1869 and the Red River War of 1874-1875. He was promoted Captain in February 1883; Major in July 1898; Lieutenant Colonel in February 1901; and Colonel in January 1903. He retired from the Army in February 1903 and in April 1904 he was advanced to Brigadier General on the Retired List.

Fort Marion and Carlisle[]

After the Indian wars subsided he experimented in educating Native Americans, believing that they must be taught to reject tribal culture and adapt to white society. In the 1870s at Fort Marion, Florida, he introduced classes in the English language, Christianity, art, guard duty, and craftsmanship to several dozen prisoners who had been chosen from among those who had surrendered in the Indian Territory at the end of the Red River War.[2]

On November 1, 1879, he founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the first of many nonreservation boarding schools for Native Americans.

Pratt did not regard his innovations at Fort Marion as limited to Native Americans only. He developed the compulsory education paradigm that would be used for many different demographic minorities in the United States and its territories, including African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, Asian-Americans, and Mormons.[3] He took his pedagogical inspiration from the Puritans.[4]

Cultural assimilation of Native Americans[]

File:Assmilation of Native Americans.jpg

Portrait of Native Americans from the Cherokee, Cheyenne, Choctaw, Comanche, Iroquois, and Muscogee tribes in American attire. Photos dates from 1868 to 1924.

Pratt's practice of Americanization of Native Americans by forced cultural assimilation, which he effected both at Fort Marion and Carlisle, was later regarded by some as a form of cultural genocide.[5] He believed that to claim their rightful place as American citizens, Native Americans needed to renounce their tribal way of life, convert to Christianity, abandon their reservations, and seek education and employment among the "best classes" of Americans. In his writings he described his belief that the government must "kill the Indian to save the man". At Fort Marion and Carlisle, he sanctioned beatings to force Native Americans to stop speaking their own respective languages. Later schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Carlisle model were marked by kidnapping and imprisonment of children at the schools, disease, sexual abuse, and suicide. Nevertheless, Pratt's approach was forward-thinking for its time inasmuch as he regarded Native Americans as being worthy of respect and help, and capable of full participation in society, whereas most of his contemporaries regarded Native Americans as enemies to be fought and killed.

File:Tom Torlino Navajo before and after circa 1882.jpg

Tom Torlino, Navajo, before and after. Photograph from the Richard Henry Pratt Papers, Yale University. Circa 1882.

Pratt became an outspoken opponent of tribal segregation on reservations. He believed the system as administered and encouraged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs was hindering the education and civilization of Native Americans and creating helpless wards of the state. These views led to conflicts with the Indian Bureau and the government officials who supported the reservation system. In May, 1904 Pratt denounced the Indian Bureau and the reservation system as a hindrance to the civilization and assimilation of Native Americans. This controversy, coupled with earlier disputes with the government over civil service reform, led to Pratt's forced retirement as superintendent of the Carlisle School on June 30, 1904. This did not, however, end Pratt's support for Native American causes. A tireless speaker and letter writer, he continued his campaign for fair and humane treatment of the Native American.


From his home in Rochester, New York, during his retirement years, Pratt continued to lecture and argue his viewpoints, but without great success. He died on April 23, 1924, at the Letterman Army Hospital in the Presidio of San Francisco and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

In the 2005 miniseries, Into the West, produced by Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks, Pratt is played by Keith Carradine.

See also[]

  • Kill the Indian, Save the Man



  • Pratt, Richard Henry (2004). Battlefield and classroom : four decades with the American Indian, 1867-1904. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3603-0. 
  • Eastman, Alaine Goodale (1935). Pratt, the Red Man's Moses. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. LCCN 35021899. 
  • Haley, James L. (1976). The Buffalo War: The History of the Red River Indian Uprising of 1874. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-06149-8. 
  • Richard Henry Pratt Papers. Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

External links[]