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The Rise of the Indian Farmer at Carlisle

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“It has been decided to abolish the Business Department and to discontinue the tinsmithing and carriage-making trades, and to establish in lieu of these, thorough, practical courses in domestic science and agriculture….To get the Indian on the soil—his own soil—and to teach him how to raise food products is one of the ambitions that can be entertained by any true friend of the race.”

The tinsmithing shop pictured above was one of many industrial pursuits offered at Carlisle. From its early days, the school stressed the importance of instruction in vocational trades. Students were instructed in carpentry, shoemaking, harness making, tailoring, sewing, blacksmithing, printing and laundry workshops. As attitudes changed outside of Carlisle’s walls, however, new popular images of the farming Indian became influential. After the Dawes Act of 1887, in which reservations were broken up into individual allotments for Indians to farm (and the remainder to be sold to white farmers), the idea of economic assimilation through agriculture became essential to the Indian education. Although some trades survived the transition, this new focus on farming reveals the extent to which Carlisle was vulnerable to changing public opinion.