Two weeks ago I went on another one of my infamous little road trips to visit Carlisle and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. While I am sure the majority of you have heard of Gettysburg and its historical battle, I wonder how many of you are familiar with the history of Carlisle. I say this, not because I think people are generally clueless – but, because what occurred at Carlisle is one of those typically darker aspects of American History that the government would prefer just fade away into the realm of nothingness.
Up until a few years ago, I had never heard anything of Carlisle or the atrocities that went on there. It was through my interactions and guidance from Guipago, Big Tree and Quanah Parker that I was first acquainted with Carlisle. Thanks to them, over the past few years I have come to discover the rewriting, and what I call the non-writing of American Indian History has not only been blatant and deliberate – it has also been severely tainted.
To be perfectly candid, I can’t even really recall how Carlisle first revealed itself or came up. But, as with everything Guipago, Big Tree and Quanah Parker have previously lead me to, I knew instinctively they wanted me to go. I also knew in my heart – I had to go! Traveling to Carlisle physically and experiencing all of its essence, would enable me to grow closer to these incredible men I have become so fond of and dependent on for my current spiritual enlightenment.
What is Carlisle and why is it significant? Carlisle, Pennsylvania is the site of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. This military style boarding school ran from 1879 to 1918. The main goal of the school was to transform and mold American Indian children into their civilized white counterparts. In short, the schools mission was to Christianize and strip the child of anything Indian – take them away from themselves.
In the name of assimilation these children, sometimes forcibly taken from their homes, were forced to cut their hair, wear white-man’s clothes, take a new Christian name, and speak only in English. In short, these poor children were forced to give up their entire spirit of being – their very soul. Everything they had come to know throughout their lives as an Indian, everything they identified with, was now forbidden – and wrong!
As you can imagine, throughout this ghastly process and years at Carlisle, many of these children were severely abused and traumatized psychologically. They often suffered from not only separation anxiety and other things of the like, but also from white-man diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis. Illness and death among the Indian children was commonplace and many passed away at the school. In total, a hundred and ninety children are buried at the site of what used to be the Carlisle Industrial School.
Upon my arrival in Carlisle, I headed straight over to the Cumberland County Historical Society as I wanted to look at some photos from the school. One of the first set of photos I stumbled upon was one of a before and after type. There I sat silently with tears rolling down my face. I couldn’t believe my eyes – I didn’t want to believe my eyes!
The original old photos were of three Sioux boys, Richard (Wounded) Yellow Robe, Henry Standing Bear and Timber (Chauncey) Yellow Robe. One photo showed their arrival at the school in 1883 and one showed them after their, uh, lets just say after. It was absolutely gut wrenching to look at these photos. Even though I knew they were the same boys – I also knew they weren’t the same boys. It is impossible to even attempt to describe my thoughts or convey the depth of emotion I felt from these photos.
I sat there a while in silent contemplation just staring at the photos. I felt my jaw hanging open and my head shaking back and forth in horror and disbelief. I attempted to sort out my emotions from those of the three boys in the photos – but it was an impossible task. After several minutes went by, I finally managed to break away from my thoughts and went on to look at some other photographs.
It was truly amazing to look at these photos close up and personally. For me, when I look at these old photos I transport myself back in time and connect. I am often able to feel the emotions, moods, vibes and sometimes even smells and sounds of the period. In this particular case, the photos were a somber account of what was going on at the time. Can you imagine what it would be like to be stripped from everything you know and believe?
I continued looking through the photos and talking with the librarian. Just when I thought I was on emotional overload and couldn’t deal with seeing or hearing anything else – something miraculous happened! In the middle of all the photos of the school and students, guess whose photos just happened to be amongst the archives at the CCHS? You guessed it! One Mr. Big Tree and one Mr. Quanah Parker!
I quickly wrote down the photo numbers on a scratch piece of paper, then gave my request to the photo curator guy so he could get them for me. I was so excited! I was going to get to see real photographs of my spiritual gurus – new ones, pictures I had never seen before!
The photo curator handed me the original pictures and I set them down on the table. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and then voila, opened my eyes. There before me was a stunning picture of Big Tree and an amazing group photo with Quanah Parker front and center. Oh my gosh, I was in heaven! There amidst everything dismal and depressing, my guides had come to my aide once again.
I don’t know why there was even a picture of Big Tree at the CCHS as he was not listed as a chief who visited the school. In fact, he wasn’t even listed on the list of Kiowa Indians when I checked their computer data-base. He just sort of showed up if you know what I mean! Another one of those synchronistic things, showing me my journey was not in vain and a gentle reminder he was with me.
After looking at the photos of Big Tree and Quanah, I felt somewhat comforted and emotionally ready to make my way to the Army Base where the remaining buildings of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School still stand. My momentary burst of mental strength however, was to be rather short lived. As I drove towards the entrance of the base, the first thing I saw was the cemetery – a rather hard smack back to the dreadful reality of the situation.
I parked my car and walked around the old buildings on the base. In my hand I carried two maps. One, a current map of the base given to me at the gate, and another, given to me from the historical society showing the location of the original buildings. It was quite an exercise trying match up the buildings and figure out what was what. Perhaps I am just a bit too idealistic, but hey – how about putting some small placards on the buildings indicating which ones belonged to the school? Would that be asking too much?!
All types of thoughts and emotions permeated my mind and body as I continued walking around the site of the school buildings. I couldn’t get over the fact nothing was marked. Other than a few words carved in stone on the Art Building, and the actual buildings themselves – some of which were built by the students – I saw few remnants of the Indian children even ever being there.
I walked around speechless, lost in a daze as my thoughts went to what the children must have gone through. I thought about the lies and the manipulation that must have occurred when dealing with the parents. I thought about the tragedy of the taking of what is most important in ones life – not only their childhood, but their identity and belief system. I thought about the relevance of all of this is to our current world situation – believe me, I thought about it all!
Guipago, Big Tree and Quanah have guided me on some amazing adventures in helping to educate and help me reconnect to what I once knew. Up until now, I have always managed to take away something positive in their lessons and teachings. This particular part of my journey however, although necessary, has been painful and hard to swallow. Even in writing this, it is difficult to express what really needs and wants to be said. So, with that in mind, I will turn things over to you the reader, and allow you to fill in the blanks.
As stated in previous stories involving my guides, I am not here to give anyone a history lesson – or in this case, perhaps a lesson in morality. I couldn’t and wouldn’t even if I wanted to! What I am hoping, is those of you out there reading and following along with me on parts of my personal journey, will perhaps be compelled to not only learn more about the plight of the American Indians – but to continue forward on your own road to self-discovery and enlightenment.
In this current climate of colossal change and upheaval, the more of us who can discover and walk down our own individual paths – the more we can illuminate pathways for others. When we take an active role in healing ourselves, we ultimately help in the acceleration of the worldwide healing process. Heal yourself – and you heal others!
Thanks again for reading and riding along on my journey,
Tips for visiting the Carlisle Indian Industrial School
If you do plan to make a trip to Carlisle to see the site of what used to be the Carlisle Indian Industrial School there are a few things you should know. First off, they sure don’t make it easy for you! In the typical let’s try to sweep this under the carpet and hope it goes away fashion, your going to have to really make an effort in order to figure things out. None of the original buildings are marked and the map of the base you get when you enter the post is just that – a map of the base!
If you are not prior or current military, you will need to stop at the gate and tell them you are going to look at the Indian School buildings. Dont expect to be welcomed with open arms! When I expressed my desire to visit the buildings, the plump power has gone to my head rent-a-cop gave me a nice roll of the eyes and a heavy sigh as though he was totally put out. Sort of comical and quite fitting if you think about it!
Also, if you dont have a current military ID, be prepared to be searched – and I do mean searched! Short of giving both you and your automobile a complete cavity search, they will want to check everything imaginable! Did I say thorough? Good gosh man, it was so intimidating, I began feeling nervous as though I was actually doing something wrong!
The very best thing you can do when you get to Carlisle is to head straight over to the Cumberland County Historical Society. They are an incredible bunch of people and they have access to knowledge and historical data you can only dream of. Make sure you ask them for the map of the base with the original Indian Industrial School Buildings marked on it. Without this map, you will have an extremely difficult time trying to suss things out on the base. (They close early – make sure you find out their hours before you go!)