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Photos: Before and After Carlisle

Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 06:00 PM

Carlisle Indian School's 1903 football team Carlisle Indian School's 1903 football team (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

The Cumberland County Historical Society in Carlisle, PA has boxes upon boxes of jaw-dropping photos and archives from the Carlisle Indian School -- including the "Before and After" student portraits we mention in our Carlisle story (go listen to our American Football episode!).

Just to quickly set these images up... a little bit of backstory. The Carlisle Indian School was founded in 1879 by Colonel RH Pratt, a complicated figure with a troubling legacy. While he championed racial equality (something he set out to showcase at the school), his idea of equality was a peculiarly 19th Century one. He aimed to prove that American Indians were the equals of whites by making them as white as possible. His slogan at Carlisle was "kill the Indian, save the man." Students were forbidden from speaking their own languages. Their hair was cut, they were dressed in suits and ties and corseted dresses. They didn't go home for years at a time. And they were taught trades, like baking and blacksmithing, which were meant to give them a foothold in the white world after graduation. Yet many students had good experiences, and remembered Pratt as a good man... the "father of Indian education," as one student describes him in our story.

Since Pratt's mission was to show that American Indians still had a place in a world that was destroying their homes and cultures, he was eager to hold up examples of students succeeding on his terms. Pratt commissioned these "Before and After" photos to demonstrate the transformations happening at Carlisle.

Let's start with the Tom Torlino -- his portraits are two of the most striking (and best-known) "Before and After" images. Taken by photographer John Choate in his Carlisle studio in 1882, this "before" photo was taken when Tom arrived at school, just a few years after it opened in 1879:

Here he is three years later, in 1885. Notice how much lighter Tom's skin appears in this photo. Barbara Landis and Richard Tritt from the Cumberland County Historical Society believe Choate manipulated the lighting to help make a point: with the proper education, Carlisle students could literally blend in with white society.

Here's another early shot, also from 1882, of twelve Navajo Students -- including Tom Torlino, sitting in the front row, bottom left. And that's RH Pratt looking on from the bandstand:

Then we have "Navajo Group who entered Carlisle October 21, 1882 after some time at the school."  Once again, there's Tom Torlino -- sitting in the center row, third from left. 

Navajo Group who entered Carlisle October 21, 1882 after some time at the school.

Here's another studio shot, this time of three Sioux boys. Richard Tritt, the CCHS photo archivist, explained that during these studio photo shoots, Choate had props and costumes on hand. It's not clear how much Choate controlled what the students wore, but it's worth bearing in mind... even though the caption on this photo describes "Three Sioux students as they arrived at the Carlisle Indian School in 1883:"  

Three Sioux students as they arrived at the Carlisle Indian School in 1883.

Here are the same three boys after three years at Carlisle, wearing cadet uniforms:

Three Sioux students after three years at the Carlisle Indian School.

This photo of four Pueblo children is one of the few studio portraits that combines girls and boys. It was taken in 1880, just a year after the school opened:

And now with hair cuts and uniforms:

I find this photo so haunting -- it's a group of Chiricahua Apaches after arriving from a prison camp in Fort Marion, Florida (Pratt ran that prison before starting Carlisle). Barbara Landis explained that these were Geronimo's people, who were not allowed to return home. Conditions were terrible at Fort Marion, and as a result, the Apaches who came to Carlisle from Florida were some of the most unhealthy students at Carlisle, and many didn't survive. The school cemetery has a large number of Apache students buried there. 

Chiracahua Apaches as they arrived at Carlisle from Fort Marion, Florida, November 4, 1886.

A few months later, from March, 1887: "Chiracahua Apaches four months after their arrival at Carlisle:"

Chiracahua Apaches four months after their arrival at Carlisle, March 1887.

And finally, White Buffalo. White Buffalo was a student at Carlisle from 1881 to 1884. This photo was taken in 1881, when White Buffalo was 18 -- he had prematurely gray hair:

White Buffalo was at Carlisle from 1881 to 1884.  He had prematurely gray hair -- he is 18 here, in 1881.

Here he is some time later, hair cropped and parted, with a jacket and tie:

White Buffalo was a student at Carlisle from 1881 to 1884.  He had prematurely gray hair.



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Comments [46]

Frances from Scotland

Thanks for the historical info I'm sad for
This generation of young people man has been hostile down through the ages they have God to answer to

Jun. 02 2016 03:09 AM
Gino bath England from England

It brakes my heart it's unimaginable

May. 13 2016 03:16 PM
Peter from Manchester UK

While deploring the historic treatment of the native peoples in America, it is obvious that their way of life and culture could simply not survive as it was into the modern era. Imagine if it all had survived to this day, what would be their position? They would have no inkling of how to paticipate in or negotiate the modern world. The very same things, although on a smaller scale happened to minority groups just the same in Britain, also I am sure elswhere in the world.
No excuse can be made for the way they were treated, and that should be fully explained for historical accuracy and young people especially made aware of it. But history rolls on, and maybe even the mighty USA might one day fade into obscurity, who can say?

May. 13 2016 05:01 AM
Henri from uk

Ashamed to be a white fly.

Jan. 20 2016 02:24 PM

It's sad to see these photos and that they are not placed in proper context. Our own parents were of the boarding school generation and suffered horrible abuses, some to the point of death. As recent as last year, some of our tribal leaders went to Carlisle to say prayers for those children who died at the hands of their abusers at the school. Our people, those that survived the boarding school era of kill the Indian save the man, still talk of their experiences of being subjected to attempted genocide. I find it horrifying to listen to the podcast associated with these photos that attempt to justify this genocide by pointing out what is an attempt at looking at the "positive" of genocide. Look at how these Indians played football seems to the the attempt at justifying the boarding school era. It's disrespectful to Indigenous Peoples who have suffered and continue to suffer the genocidal policy of the united states government to not adequately research and provide the truth. Consider if you did that for Jews who survived the holocaust - showed before and after pictures of their children and then talked about how the children who were forcibly removed learned how to run fast.

Dec. 27 2015 10:05 AM
Mike from Carlisle, PA

I've lived in Carlisle for about 12 years now, and reading about the Carlisle Indian School reminds me of how in depth we went into this subject in grade school. The thing about living here is that, as kids, we didn't exactly grasp the idea of the "Carlisle Indian School", I think we were just too young. We know the area now as the Army War College which seems to be one of three reasons people not from the area know about Carlisle (the other two reasons being the Carlisle Indian School and Car Shows). Even now it's difficult to fully comprehend the history of this place, but I'm glad you guys did a story on this. Great job!

Nov. 28 2015 09:46 AM
Ms. Lee Stone from Seymour, WI

I am so incredibly sad after viewing the photos of such beautiful, dignified and unique looking young people who were stripped of their identity at such a critical time in their lives. Some of the younger children look angry or defiant in their "after" photos as would be expexcted of any young person in such circumstances then or now. The experience these young people endured would most likely cause what we call PTSD. I just can't get over how beautiful the young people are in the "before" photos. They have my enduring respect.

Nov. 17 2015 10:10 AM
Meg from Denver

I am rather horrified by the comments left here, regarding this cultural genocide. What pure racism to consider these children 'unkempt' in before pictures and 'better educated' in the after pictures.
My husband is Oglala Lakota (oh how I hate the term "Sioux")and by standards back then, and standards today, this is a heartbreaking episode of American history and no one I have met who is Oglala considers this generous. Generous compared to what, murder? These children weren't abandoned! They were taken, some by persuasion, some by force, some by necessity (being starved out)and a large number of them went on to live sad, lost lives, being not 'white enough' and not fitting in with their own families when finally returned. It's still present on Reservations today, the horrible effect this mistake made on so many people. There is NO WAY to justify or sugar coat this story. Nothing good came of it.

Nov. 12 2015 05:41 PM
gail from lock haven Pa

My Great Grandmother was one of the little girls in that horrible school , my Uncle told how she said about the abuse she went through ..

Sep. 19 2015 03:58 PM
Ron from harrisburg, PA

I find it curious that when we see what many view as disfunction in our minority communities and their family life today, the most common remedy identifed is a young person's involvment in an educational system that enculcates values that show them an avenue that negates many values from the cultures in which they were born and initially reared.

Sep. 08 2015 03:27 PM
NMariano from New York

Whether you agree with what they did or not, the pictures are absolutely fascinating!!

Sep. 07 2015 08:41 PM
Boxcar Willie from Bend, OR

Interesting photos from troubling times ...

I first became aware of Indian Schools while living in Arizona over a decade ago.

The impulse to force others to "bow" to American culture and imagery lives on in our modern religious "wars" here in the United States.

Our States might be "united" geographically, but they are certainly not united in terms of culture or values.

With apologies to Charles Dickens ...

It remains "the best of times and the worst of times" all at the same time.

Sep. 06 2015 04:50 PM
Michelle Kosek from Gettysburg PA

I live about 30 miles south of Carlisle, in Gettysburg. My husband and I were traveling on the east side of Carlisle antiquing. We briefly stopped at a stoplight near an old cemetery. I looked at the stones, and realized that they were Native American. I had heard about the Carlisle Indian School, but did not know that parts of it still existed, such as the cemetery. I noticed some "unknown". This bothered me, as why should a school have interments of people that they do not have name for? There are nearly 200 graves, with many unknown. This is shameful. You can see more here.

Sep. 05 2015 01:15 PM
Gary from Los Angeles, CA

Jad - "I am willing to wager that [at] the end they will care more." You sure lost that one. I am one of those Americans who dislikes and is disinterested in football. A little personal background - I am of European/American pioneer and Osage ancestry. Prior to listening to this story I had no idea how intertwined the history of football is with the genocide of my indigenous ancestors. A genocide which is ongoing, not simply historical. Now I have reason to despise the "sport". I do appreciate the education. But you sure missed the real implications of your story.

Sep. 03 2015 02:18 AM

To those saying we cannot judge these photos negatively because times have changed, please consider that the harshest critics of this and other schools are Native Americans. They know far better than we non-Natives how devastating the schools were both for individual youth and for their tribes. The schools continued until relatively recently too, so there are plenty of survivors still around who remember being beaten for speaking their own language or doing anything seen as "Indian" and therefore bad.

Canada has been taking an official look at the horrors of their own "civilizing" boarding schools. It's time we in the U.S. do the same.

Jul. 16 2015 12:37 AM
Deborah Last from Mountain View, CA

Very few people of any circumstances smiled in photographs taken during this time period - it was a very serious event that for most occurred only twice in their lives (at birth, and marriage).

A lot of comments are using today's standards to unfairly judge a generous and unusual attempt to help Indian people. To fairly judge by today's standards, you would have to at least consider that the young men in the "after" pictures look much cleaner and more educated. Most people would be a lot more ready to trust and to hire the young men in the "after" images.

The comments about the foundations of our nation - characterizing them as exclusively violent and horrible - are also one-sided, almost to the point of ignorance. Yes, there were and are terrible things about our country. But also, it was the place people came to who were starving in their own poor countries or in danger of being killed from the many European wars, and our open doors literally saved their lives, and for many provided a way to a life far better.

Jun. 19 2015 05:20 AM
Jeff Hoelscher from Minneapolis, MN

To Joy, I agree with everything you said except for your last sentence. It doesn't go against the foundation of this country. The foundation of this country is the genocide of the people who lived here before the arrival of Europeans. It's the enslavement and the dismemberment of the families of people brought here against their will. It's the right to vote and hold office given only to land owning males of European descent. Equality and justice for all is a dream towards which we are slowly crawling, but it certainly isn't the foundation of this country.

May. 20 2015 06:39 PM

I had never heard of the Carlisle School before listening to this story. While listening to this story, I looked for images of the students. I almost cried when I found these photos. Sad to say, people always think they know what's best for others. And sadly, people don't mind infringing upon the natural rights of others to pursue what's best for self. Men and women tend to dominate others to their injury. It's a recurring observation throughout mankind's history and also this country's history. It's just the simple fact that people do not have the wisdom to rule over others properly. So I lost interest in the football story, but I will look for additional info about the school and how the students faired after entering the real world.

May. 20 2015 01:23 PM
the Crow from Hopewell, NJ

Children have to be taught to lie and so until that threshold arrives you have to believe that they represent the truth. Not one of these before or after pictures comes with a smile on any one face. One has to believe that they were traumatized when they arrived and brainwashed when they left. If this forced assimilation was a good idea, then it would have lasted to present. All this can only represent the colonial culture which existed with the Europeans of the time. Thank goodness that is a fading practice. Thank goodness the native Americans are still with us. It's time we learned from their knowledge as ours is causing death and pollution all over the world.

May. 16 2015 03:45 PM
Steve from San Francisco

These pictures made me so sad, although I haven't heard the accompanying story. The students look so beautiful in their native garb. It's sad for me to see them without it.

May. 13 2015 01:24 AM
Chris from la monde entier

Some of the tribes/kids seem to have benefitted from being pushed into the white world--while other tribes/kids seem poorer for the experience. The thing that binds all these faces is a kind of stoicism, an inscrutable way that only Native Americans seem to possess.

Apr. 11 2015 01:14 AM
carrie from santee, ca

I disagree Jon. It's not the same metaphore. If we equate the Indian tribes as being the Chinese, we should adapt to their culture, since we are the vistors.

We should not have tried to erase their culture and way of life - but lived around their way and made peace pacts.

We have a history of enforcing modernazation and stripping of cultures and languages - its not right. A melting pot allows preservation with integration in a personal freedom of self.

Easton Pennslvanian native who just moved to Southern California.

Mar. 28 2015 05:08 PM
Lara from United States

I have seen similar photos of Maori people in New Zealand and Chinese children in the 19th century who had to live in Europe as part of a modernization program. Yes, they look at home in their original clothing at first, and fairly miserable in the second photos - but bear in mind that even today, even among people who voluntarily go abroad to live, at the fourth month of their sojourn (the point when these photos were taken) people immersed in a foreign culture are in acute culture shock. I can only hope that these children looked a little less lost in later times. Certainly you have to admit that the Apache children look much less starved.

Not that this is an excuse for appropriation of children from indigenous people and forcibly acculturating them to the dominant culture. But perhaps those "after" photos were taken at a low point in these children's acculturation process. We can only hope so.

Mar. 21 2015 04:57 PM
Juliana from Austin, TX

My father has two Chiricahua Apache ancestors; we were the lucky ones who escaped being sent to the concentration camp known as Fort Mason. This forced assimilation of Native children was genocide, no two ways about it. Jon can rationalize all he wants, but there is no window dressing to put on stealing children from their families, beating them if they spoke their languages, and in Canada, performing medical experiments on them while at residential schools. The number of children who died while in these schools is appalling; look into the information and see for yourself. Taking children from their parents and depriving them of love, affection, and culture had a similar effect on Native families as did generations of Black families being broken apart by slavery.

Mar. 18 2015 02:02 AM
Jon from Cincinnati, OH

I'm reading all these disgusted comments from the others, and I think it's unfair to judge history's actions based on today's cultural values. Again, as the story attested, I think Pratt was doing what he saw was an important cultural service. He was trying to preserve the humanity of these people over their culture when it appeared impossible to preserve BOTH.

Obviously, I like the 'before' pictures much better, and wish we could replay history differently, but it raises a very important point. I often feel like we go to great lengths to preserve a culture or historic value, but at the end of the day, would it be more beneficial for all to let go of some things?

Here's an imperfect metaphor, but bear with me: If today's americas were suddenly plagued by illness, and I somehow survived and moved to China– How well would it serve me to keep focusing on things familiar? (i.e. finding the perfect cheeseburger, sports bar, apple pie, etc.) Wouldn't I fare better to let go of certain home 'comforts' and embrace the culture in which I live? I'm definitely NOT trying to excuse the past or what happened to the american Indians, but I can definitely see the sensible pragmatism in Pratt's actions... especially given the values of the day.

Again, the values of the day seemed to treat indians as less than human. In Pratt's eyes, he was ELEVATING these people to equals... not disadvantaging them by forcing them to change.

Mar. 16 2015 01:44 PM
Joy from United States

I listened to the podcast and thought this was a fascinating story. However, after seeing these photos I am really taken aback. It is one thing to hear the story and another completely to see the students' eyes, their fear, their hope and their dreams. It is a good thing that Pratt was trying to show that the Native American had value to offer the new society. However, the manner by which he stripped these children of their families, heritage, rich history and culture is truly alarming and sad. It is just not right. It completely goes against the foundation of this country.

Mar. 09 2015 09:58 PM
Jody Waldo from Stowe, VT

This made me incredibly sad. Respectably, Kathleen and Mik: Native people had their land taken away- land which had sustained them, land that the government and settlers wanted for themselves and felt they had a right to. The native people were moved to leftover, barren lands that settlers didn't want. The lands the native people were relegated to were not able to sustain them, and THIS is why the children were malnourished, and THIS is why their parents, in some cases, willingly sent them to these schools.... because it was better than watching their children starve to death. In nearly every case where an invading culture has moved in on native culture, the same thing has taken place: weaken them with disease (yes, sometimes on purpose:, take their land and give them the bits you don't want- because starvation is a very good motivator for assimilation; focus on the youngest generation and take away their language, their religion, their traditions (=identity). The older generations die off, unable to live as they had for untold generations before, their land, traditions and language and traditions gone, leaving the mostly assimilated. It is nothing more than assimilation by subjugation.

Feb. 28 2015 01:55 PM
Prairiegirl from South Dakota

Instantly upon seeing the first two photos I thought "Their power has been taken from them." It is tragic to see the children changed so radically. Some of their parents may have believed it would be advantageous to learn the ways of the whites, but perhaps the sacrifice was too great. Whites did not then and do not now respect the indigenous people of this country. Take note of the abuse of native children at a hockey game in Rapid City, SD a few weeks ago. The perpetrator got a slap on the wrist while the children got another slap at their self-esteem.

Feb. 28 2015 12:58 PM
newsy from Pennsylvania

Three years schooling and they learned reading, writing and arithmetic and were given nourishment; and, oh well, had to dress in a uniform like the kids even of the public schools today do. They learned a lot like we do when we cross cultures. There were white people who lived in Indian settlements too. We all have to live together in this country and try to understand each other even now. Picking back up your native language for instance when you go home from living overseas is not that big of a deal. Radio and TV are messing with all our cultures. Can you stop that?

Feb. 28 2015 10:47 AM
Bradley Hart from United States

Stolen is not always the best way to categorize these children. Many were sent willingly by their parents in hopes that a white education would make it easier for them to straddle a changing world. A huge number were also sent in hopes of them not starving to death, a real problem on many of the reservation that were receiving bad rations and having terrible harvests. While I do not dispute the horrible treatment they received at all too many of the schools and the cultural genocide that resulted it should be pointed out that no matter the methods and results the Carlisle school was founded by a man who was disgusted at the abuses committed against Native Americans by the BIA.

Feb. 25 2015 12:35 PM
Paul from Saskatchwan

Some of these photos are incredibly haunting; I have a good friend who is half-Sioux, half-Saulteaux (his folks are from southern Saskatchewan) and the kid in the back middle of the Sioux children has the same eyes as him. He and his family are now no different from yours or mine but that's the accident of a generation; he's had to fight hard to retain what bits of his culture he can so he can have a sense of his history, of his people and of his place in this world. As @Kathleen from United States correctly notes, the kids portrayed here were stolen from their parents and subject to ethnic cleansing that continues to this day in various forms.

Feb. 19 2015 06:50 PM
Kathleen from United States

These children were not abandoned, they were stolen from their parents, forced to leave their homes so as to assimilate to the white culture, they were mistreated, and were not allowed to use their native language. After spending 4 years in school they were sent back to their parents homes, unable to speak the language and parents cried and children cried, many children left the home to go to work as they were taught. Cultures lost, languages lost, because the Native people were thought of as heathens, salvages, when they were a people full of love for their family and mother earth around them.

Feb. 08 2015 11:00 PM
Dante Johnson from Salt Lake City, Utah

This was by far one of the most interesting episodes for me as a football fan. I had no idea about this history of the game. Thank you.

Feb. 04 2015 12:16 PM

Now, let's be honest here. The before pictures don't all look that wonderful. Some of the boys and especially the girls really do look malnourished and, for lack of a better word, unkempt. Were these kids abandoned? What's their personal story and how does it relate to the bigger picture that is History? You see I think history is more complicated than the alienation these pictures evoke.

Feb. 04 2015 04:37 AM

How sad I felt to see the beauty and spirit in the Before photos completely missing from the After photos. I can only think of the results as grotesque.

Feb. 02 2015 10:58 PM
Katniss K. Bond from Florida, USA

Equality is not assimilation of Native Americans. Forcing YOUR culture on another group is not making them 'equal' to you. This is horrifying.

Feb. 02 2015 06:45 PM
James Fishman from Phoenix, AZ

Has an eerie similarity to the Australian Aboriginal "Stolen Generations" story:

Feb. 02 2015 03:50 PM
rich montgomery

The pictures are surreal and sad. But thank you for bringing this story. This story shows human spirit, brotherhood, and triumph centered around a game that I have loved for years. More than anger or shame by the ugly actions of well meaning (or not) men, these young men lifted themselves and us all. Around this game, called football. I was humbled, saddened and inspired hearing it. Thank you for bringing it to us. I just bought Sally's book as well.

Feb. 02 2015 12:03 AM
C.P. from MD

They had already been through hell and the after pictures tells then the hell that is to come, why would they look happy.

Feb. 01 2015 07:23 AM
Lynn Duvall from Birmingham, AL

Their hair was not just adornment or an expression of individuality, as it is for other races. It was a great source of spiritual strength. Carlisle didn't need to spend all That money on clothes and shoes. All he had to do was cut their hair.

Jan. 31 2015 03:52 PM
Susan Krzywicki

It is impossible to know what goes on in the mind of another - or even sometimes of our own selves. Desire, memory: they are elusive.

These pictures are startling, and yet, we don't know the whole story - or even part of it - of each of these people. Culture is a complicated issue, as are "winners" and "losers" concepts in war and other brutal endeavors.

What must they have felt? It is painful to even speculate.

I hope that they and their progeny have found ways to resolve at least some of the emotional entanglements and that we can look forward to better days. Days where we live in peace and respect others for their differences as well as their similarities.

Jan. 31 2015 01:39 PM
Adam from MN

I recently returned from a vacation in the Yucatan. The kids in these before photos, ranging from Apache to Pueblo to Navajo, all look more like “Mexicans” that “typical” white “Americans.” (Pardon all the quote marks. You get my point.) These photos illustrate that the white majority in this country, this continent, is really an aberration.

Jan. 31 2015 01:34 PM
Maureen from Smithtown, NY

I'm struck by how much more beautiful I think these children are in their native looks. Not only do they look miserable in their hair cuts and formal wear, they look harsh and blunt. There is a harmony or peace about them in the "before" photos that is not present in the :after". I'm glad many remembered the experience as a good one. In hindsight it seems very misguided but isn't that the advantage of hindsight?

Jan. 31 2015 01:01 PM
Kenneth L from New York

They kinda look miserable in those suits and uniforms.

Jan. 31 2015 10:18 AM
faisha from GA

Those pictures actually sickened me. I felt nausea come over me as a saw the heritage stripped from those poor children. It made me think back to a language class that I took in college, Ojibwa. It was supposed to be an American Indian language class, but in reality it was an American Indian culture class. We watched several videos concerning the kidnapping of Indian children and subsequent placement in these schools. I do not remember learning about one good thing to come out of those schools. The professor was an American Indian/Native American so I guess I guess that was his take on the situation.

Jan. 30 2015 02:26 PM
Kate Clark from Carlisle, PA

Hi Brenna,

Great post! Dickinson College is actually working with the Cumberland County Historical Society to digitize material related to the Carlisle Indian School. We currently have 3,743 individual student files available online. There are also 370 photos and 13 school publications available. The project is ongoing and more material is added every day as we work to improve the site. Anyone who is interested in learning more about the school and the students who attended should check out the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center:

Jan. 30 2015 01:54 PM

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