Construction on Seneca Indian Boarding School, in Wyandotte, Oklahoma, began in 1871, and classes began in 1872, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Wyandotte, a town named to honor the Wyandotte Tribe, is about one mile south of U.S. Highway 60 and 12 miles southeast of Miami, the county seat.
According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the land for the Seneca Indian Boarding School was donated to the Society of Friends (Quakers)—who established a mission in the area in 1869—by the Wyandotte Tribal Council to operate a boarding school for Seneca, Wyandotte, and Shawnee children.
It was Colonel Richard Henry Pratt who coined the term “Kill the Indian in him and save the man,” with the founding of Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania in 1879. The goal of boarding schools was to remove Native American children from their homelands and traditional ways and assimilate them into Western religion and ways of life.
Joe Kagey, who served as principal of Seneca Indian Boarding School from 1928 until he retired in 1956 organized his school on a three-quarter day system. Native American students attended academic classes on day, then the next half-day participated in vocational exercises, wrote A.M. Gibson in “Joe Kagey: Indian Educator.”
Gibson also reported that the boys worked in the Seneca Indian Boarding School carpentry and machine shops, and were taught animal husbandry, modern farm management, and maintenance. The girls were taught cooking, sewing, home management, and grooming.
Gibson noted that during Kagey’s administration of Seneca Indian Boarding School, Native American students excelled in athletic competitions. “For many years, the Seneca team ranked with the State’s best, placing high or winning most local and regional tournaments,” Gibson said in the article about Kagey. “The school was involved in an interscholastic athletic program too, which included football, basketball, baseball, tennis, and track… The highlight of the athletic year was the Athletic Field Meet, held on the campus each year, and included all sorts of sports competition.”
Lawrence Panther talks about daily life in the 1960s at Seneca Indian Boarding School, and notes how the many different sports programs helped him adjust to being away from home.
Panther was brought to the boarding school after a new admittance policy was passed requiring that Native American students were at least one-quarter Indian, reports Gibson. At that time, most of the students enrolled were Cherokee—173 students out of 273.
The Seneca Indian Boarding School closed in 1980. Check out these 12 images from the boarding school.