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Historic school tells its stories in modern ways

CARSON CITY, Nev. – A Talking Trail now accompanies visitors of Nevada’s historic Stewart Indian School, providing a self-guided walking tour of the campus with 20 points of interest and audio stories.

“On the first day we had 153 hits of people calling in,” said Sherry Rupert, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission. “Since then it’s gone down considerably, but I think that has to do with the weather being cold.” She expects use of the Talking Trail to increase greatly in the spring.

The school site is open to the public from dawn to dusk seven days a week.

Using personal cell phones, visitors can access recorded messages from alumni and employees about their personal experiences at the school. The audio recordings also are available on the school’s Web site at for downloading to MP3 players and iPods.

“There are podcasts of all of the voice recorded memories from alumni and former employees,” Rupert said. The goal of the Talking Trail is to preserve the history and memorabilia of the school.

Stewart Indian School provided education and vocational skills for 90 years to American Indian youth from Nevada, California, Arizona and New Mexico, representing more than 200 tribes. It was the only off-reservation boarding school for American Indians in the nation.

In 1888, the Nevada Legislature authorized the sale of bonds to purchase 240 acres of land for an Indian boarding school. Once purchased, the land was turned over to the BIA which established the boarding school to train and educate Indian children, fulfilling a federal commitment to pursue American Indian education in Nevada.

The campus, located three miles southeast of Carson City, opened with a capacity for 100 students and by 1919, 400 students were enrolled. During the next 16 years, students learned skills, including stone masonry from Hopi stone masons. Student curriculum included classes in reading, writing and arithmetic but focused on vocational training in various trades and on agriculture. Vocational training remained the school’s principal focus until a shift to academics in the late 1960s.

The school started with a Victorian-style wood framed dormitory and school house. As enrollment increased, new buildings were added including shops for training, a hospital and a recreation room.

The famous rail line built to move silver from the Comstock Lode, the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, created a stop at the school in 1906 to deliver supplies and transport students to and from the school.

The Stewart Indian School opened on Dec. 17, 1890 with 37 students from local Washoe, Paiute and Shoshone tribes and three teachers. It closed in 1980 due to federal budget cuts and earthquake safety issues with the masonry buildings.

In the 1960s, the state of Nevada acquired the campus; it’s now used for classes, training and agency offices including the Nevada Indian Commission. The Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California established the Stewart Community on much of the former school’s land where they also occupy some of the site’s 83 buildings.

Today, the Stewart Indian School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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