WARNING: This story contains disturbing details about residential and boarding schools. If you are feeling triggered, here is a resource list for trauma responses from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition in the U.S. In Canada, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Hotline can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to provide additional information about some of the students listed below.

Louellyn White
Special to Indian Country Today

At least 10 Indigenous children died on outings from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and are buried in various locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. At least 32 Indigenous children from the Lincoln Institution are buried in two different cemeteries in Philadelphia.

Their names are listed here in hopes of connecting them to their living families and communities, not just on Remembrance Day on Sept. 30, 2021, but for days to come.

These children and likely many more lie in foreign lands, interred without regard for their families or traditional burial practices, because they were part of the U.S. Indian boarding school policy, which aimed to eradicate Indigenous identities.

Government-sanctioned institutions for Indigenous children in the U.S. included one of the first all-Indian, off-reservation schools, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which started in 1879. Dozens of institutions across the U.S. and Canada, including Lincoln, were modeled after the Carlisle school, whose founder’s mission to assimilate Indigenous peoples became infamously known for his saying, “Kill the Indian, save the man.”

Carlisle outing burials

My research into Carlisle Indian School began several years ago when I explored my grandfather, Mitchell Arionhiawa:kon White, and his experiences at Carlisle, which led to finding names of children who died on outings and were buried in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey areas.

Carlisle outings were the brainchild of Richard H. Pratt, the founder and first superintendent of Carlisle, who thought that by sending children into White homes, farms, and businesses in the summer, instead of back to the reservation, the assimilation process would be sped up and there would be no danger of the children “returning to the blanket.”

Patrons sought children to work as domestic servants and farmhands, and when a child died, patrons would often return to Carlisle seeking a replacement.

This photo from about 1900 shows pupils at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. The school helped shape policies for Indian boarding schools in the United States and Canada. (Photo courtesy of the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center)

Supported by a contract from the National Native American Boarding School Coalition, I set off to find those who died while on outings and were not sent home or buried in the school cemetery. I visited six different cemeteries in Pennsylvania and New Jersey looking for 10 Indigenous children. Almost all are buried in unmarked graves.

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It took months to locate the cemetery where a 17-year-old Seneca girl, Nora Printup, was buried because documents indicate that she is buried in three different locations. It wasn't until I was there, at the actual cemetery, with the interment ledger, that I was able to verify that she is buried there, even though the ledger merely states: "Indian girl who drowned...Aug. 23, 1905.”

This was the exact date noted on her death certificate and other documents. Additional confirmation came from a newspaper headline: “Three races buried side by side” describing an “unknown woman cast up on the beach” who was buried in the Potters field at the Seaside Cemetery in Ocean City, New Jersey, likely in the same grave with two other children, one "Negro" and one "White."

A brief story in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Aug. 24, 1905 notes the death of an Indigenous youth later identified as Nora Printup. She is buried at Seaside Cemetery, in Ocean City, New Jersey, but her ancestors have not been found. Associate Professor Louellyn White at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, is trying to find families of her and other children who died while attending Indian boarding schools. (Photo courtesy of Louellyn White)

I walked through cemetery after cemetery, through rows and rows of towering marble headstones belonging to White wealthy families, and grave markers that were so old they were no longer legible. But even those that deteriorated with the passage of time were symbols of a privileged class. I knew I wouldn’t find our children under those headstones. Still, I searched.

My young son, who was six at the time, was with me at some of those cemeteries, including Seaside, where we looked for Nora Printup. The caretaker pointed to a tree and said that that was the general area of the Potters field for outcasts, degenerates, orphans and Indians. We sat under the tree and my son and I laid tobacco down, smudged, and prayed for Nora and let her know her life had meaning and she wouldn’t be forgotten.

As my tears flowed to help heal centuries of historical trauma and grief, my son ran off amidst the headstones, quickly returning with a dead bumblebee. He asked to leave tobacco for the bee’s spirit and gently buried it under the same tree. For Nora.

The Lincoln Institution

I spent a week in Philadelphia in June 2018 searching for outing burials. I thought my work was almost complete, but on my last day in Philadelphia, an email arrived from the Woodlands Cemetery. I had written to them inquiring about a young girl who was sent from Carlisle to the Lincoln Institution and had died there.

When I opened the email, I was unprepared for what it contained: 25 names of Indigenous children who died while at Lincoln and were interred at Woodlands.

The registry only listed names and dates of internment but no nations, making it impossible to tell where these children came from and who their current relatives and communities are. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania revealed annual reports indicating names and nations but several reports are missing. When the nations are named, they are often not specific enough to track a living community.

I also recently discovered there are at least seven more Indigenous children from Lincoln buried at the Fernwood Cemetery, just outside of Philadelphia.

The annual reports and written accounts by the Lincoln administration do not reflect the same number of children who died and are buried in those cemeteries. They are grossly undercounted. For example, the annual report in 1892 reported only two deaths in the prior year, stating they were the first in over five years. Yet, there were three deaths in just the previous year, and three more would die in 1892, including one right after the annual report was published.

Like Carlisle, Lincoln was designed to civilize and assimilate Indigenous children into White society. The Lincoln Institution began as an orphanage for children of Civil War soldiers. Founded by wealthy White philanthropist, Mary McHenry Bellangee Cox, Lincoln evolved as an Indian boarding school, modeled after Carlisle. The first group of girls arrived in 1883 from western tribal nations.

The Lincoln Institution at 324 S. 11th St. was reserved for girls, while boys resided a few miles away at the Educational Home on 49th street and Greenway, in downtown Philadelphia. Lincoln also continued to take in White orphan boys who lived alongside Indigenous boys.

Lincoln professed to be non-denominational; however, several children were baptized and confirmed with the Episcopal Church. In 1900, Lincoln lost its congressional funding of $167 per child, per year, after allegations of abuse were reported.

Several reports were filed by the Board of Public Charities and investigated by the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, condemning the school for poor nutrition and physical conditions.

The Indian Rights Association annual report in 1899 notes the inhumane treatment of “inmates,” included boys being “stripped and flogged,” receiving “over a hundred lashes,” while another was forced to wear a “ball and chain” around his ankles while confined to a “dark and forbidding stable, where he was fed bread and water.”

Beatings and whippings were routine for slight offenses, such as speaking at mealtimes or speaking out about the abuses, or crossing the road to get a drink of fresh water.

Woodlands and Fernwood cemeteries

Although incomplete, annual reports from the Lincoln Institution and other archival documents have helped trace some of the nations of the children buried at Woodlands and Fernwood.

There are two burials from my home community of Akwesasne (St. Regis). On March 9, 1885, Kanitakeron Thomas Deer was interred at Woodlands. He was 13 when he died, but cemetery records recorded the size of his coffin as that of a 10-year-old. The second is Jacob Jackson, who was sent to the Thomas Indian School when he was 5 years old. After a few years, he was sent to Carlisle until it closed in 1918. He stayed with his outing patron, continuing to work on their farm until he was into his early 40s when he died after being hit by a car on the highway. He was buried in the Old Graveyard in Carlisle, without a headstone or marker of any kind.

I still have not found Thomas' or Jacob’s present-day relatives. Some communities hold stories of children who went off to boarding school and never came home. Some of those stories are lost to time.

Yet each child had a name, a mother, a father, and families who loved them and likely never had the opportunity for closure and healing from the immense grief they must have felt knowing their child died so far from home.

Scattered bones

There are still more children to find and to reconnect with their families. There are still more children to remember and to help on their journeys in the spirit world. There are still more children to be brought home.

The recent news of 215 Indigenous children’s unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian School in British Columbia was just the beginning. More unmarked graves have since been found at sites of other former Indian residential schools across Canada, including 751 unmarked graves found by Cowessess First Nation at a former residential school in Saskatchewan. And the list of unmarked graves grows every week with new findings.

The current focus is on unmarked graves at specific sites of former Indian residential schools in Canada and Indian boarding schools in the U.S. The few dozen grave sites I have located seem pale in comparison.

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School is seen on Tk'emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada on May 27, 2021. The remains of 215 children have been found buried on the site of the former residential school. (Andrew Snucins/The Canadian Press via AP)

They are not located on the grounds of a former Indian boarding school but are scattered throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Some are documented, a few have headstones. 

The headstones at the Woodlands are so old they are illegible and/or sunken into the ground. The burials at Woodlands are at times two or three deep, because it was common practice at the time in public cemeteries to bury caskets one on top of another to save space. However, none of these children was sent home to their families for proper burial. Some families may not have even been told their child died.

But what does all of this tell us? It tells us that this search is going to be long and arduous, complicated by incomplete and missing records.

The U.S. attempted to break up Indigenous communities by relocating and removing tribal nations and their children across the U.S., creating a diaspora of Indigenous peoples far from their original territories. Today, we see the tragic consequence, with children’s bones scattered across the U.S., far from their original homes and in some cases far from the Indian boarding schools themselves.

They stole the children to get to the land, water, and resources of our Mother, the Earth. They stole the children so they could bury our traditional teachings and ceremonies, because they are the way to the truth. They stole the children and tried to bury that truth along with their bones.

We need to look further than the Indian boarding school cemeteries and search at outing locations and public cemeteries. We need to go through archival documents with a fine-toothed comb. We need to listen to the oral traditions of Indigenous community members and believe them when they say a child went missing after being sent off to these institutions.

There will be children unaccounted for. Some may never be found, and we may never know what happened to them. There will be children whose grave sites are known but may never be reconnected to their living relatives.

My original research plan was to gather as much data as possible on every burial and share this information through community engagement sessions and then help facilitate commemorations or repatriations depending on the wishes of their closest relatives in an effort to bring closure and healing. But that is proving difficult, because while historic records might name a nation, such as “Sioux,” it’s not always evident which present-day community they belong to, complicated by removal policies and the common practice in Indian boarding schools of changing Indigenous names. 

It is going to take a considerable amount of time, a considerable amount of financial resources, and expertise in archival research and ground-penetrating radar. This work needs to be led by Indigenous people, communities, and organizations. It cost approximately $11,000 over two years to compile the data I have on Carlisle outing burials and Lincoln cemeteries. But the work is incomplete, and I am out of funding to continue doing the heart-wrenching work of finding our children and reuniting them with their families.

Accountability and justice

The U.S. is far behind its acknowledgement of the genocide committed toward Indigenous peoples. As the first Indigenous person to hold in a presidential cabinet position, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland gives us hope with the announcement of a formal inquiry into the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of federal Indian boarding schools. I pray it is done with respect and dignity while empowering communities to make their own decisions about their children.

Resources need to support various healing efforts that are driven by the unique and diverse cultural communities of Indigenous peoples.

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School's student card for Nora Printup, Seneca, shows she arrived in 1897 at age 12 and spent five years at the school before she died from drowning. She was sent out twice on extended "outings" to work with local families doing sewing and laundry, records show. Associate Professor Louellyn White at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, is trying to find the families of dozens of students who died while attending boarding schools.  (Photo courtesy of Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center)

Indigenous peoples need to lead every step of the way without interference by government or religious authorities. It needs to be grassroots rather than a top-down approach, with proper consultation and consensus.

Carlisle was a federal institution. Lincoln was mostly funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and heavily supported by the Episcopal Church. Records are incomplete and inaccurate, and enrollment information is missing. Deaths were undercounted.

There needs to be accountability and justice that goes beyond an apology and monetary compensation. Reparations for the stolen land, waters, resources, and deaths of children would be a start. Our ancestors and these children are rising up and guiding us to the truth so we can heal from a long and painful history to make positive change for future generations.

'They died alone'

This is difficult emotional and spiritual work.

When I visited Woodlands, I sat in the rain under a tree near the children’s graves. I offered tobacco and corn, and burned sage, cedar, and sweetgrass. I prayed for them. I cried for them.

I thought of the children who were taken away from their mothers to be raised in abusive institutions designed to eradicate their very existence. When they cried for their mothers, no one came.

Some children died in these institutions from the most horrific abuses. Some were sick with pneumonia or tuberculosis, lying in bed alone suffering and crying for their mothers. And no one came.

They died alone.

They had no one to cry for them at their deathbed or burial, though they had mothers, and fathers, grandmothers, aunties, and cousins who missed them and loved them. I thought of the mothers who were sometimes thousands of miles away and couldn’t be with their babies to comfort them, to hold their hands and hug them when they began their journeys in the spirit world. They didn’t get to give them a proper burial and ceremony to help them on their journey.

For those mothers who may have been told their babies were gone, I thought of the gut-wrenching pain they felt. They didn’t get to say goodbye. They didn’t get to sit by their graves and weep.

So I did it for them.

For more info
For more information about the Carlisle Indian School Farmhouse Coalition or to make a donation, visit Preservation Pennsylvania.

Are your ancestors on the list?

Here is a list of children and young adults who died on outings from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School or who attended the Lincoln Institution but whose families have not been found. The list will be periodically revised with new names and information, and those names will be marked as new or revised. One student, Jacob Jackson, was sent on an outing and stayed until he was 42 years old, when he was struck and killed by a car. At least three additional youths were reported to have died and their bodies sent home for burial, but that information has not been verified. If you know of these children, contact Louellyn White at louellyn.white@concordia.ca. 

Carlisle students

  • Ephraim Alexander, 22, identified as Alaska Native, died Aug. 11, 1905, buried in Moravian Cemetery, Lititz, Pennsylvania
  • Taylor Ealy, 18, Zuni, died July 10, 1883, buried in Schellsburg Cemetery, Schellsburg, Pennsylvania
  • Alice Peazonni, 17, Maidu, died June 26, 1910, buried at Forks of Brandywine Church/Brandywine Manor, West Brandywine Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania
  • Pauline Peazonni, 12, Maidu, died June 12, 1913, buried at Forks of Brandywine Church/Brandywine Manor, West Brandywine Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania
  • Nora Printup/Doxtator, 17, Seneca (Tonawanda), died Aug. 22, 1905, buried in Seaside Cemetery, Ocean City, New Jersey
  • Gertrude Spotted Tail, 14, Brule Sioux, died Aug. 31, 1883, buried in Byberry Meeting Quaker Burial Grounds, Byberry, Pennsylvania
  • Libbie Standing, 13, Cheyenne, died July 20, 1884, buried in Brick Church Graveyard/Church Hill Cemetery, Juniata County, Pennsylvania
  • John Walking Pipe, 24, Arapaho, died March 5, 1891, buried in Old Stone Graveyard/Slate Hill, Old Slate Hill, Lower Makefield Township, Pennsylvania
  • Jacob Jackson, 42, Mohawk/St. Regis, died June 27, 1934,  buried in Old Graveyard, Carlisle, Pennsylvania
  • Unknown "Indian Girl," died about 1886, tribe unknown, buried Byberry Meeting Quaker Burial Grounds, Byberry, Pennsylvania

Lincoln students buried in Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia

  • Annie Afraid Of Bear, 16, Sioux (Pine Ridge), buried March 12, 1889
  • Frankie Staoweka Bear, 20, Pawnee/Kitkahock, buried Feb. 6, 1889
  • Hattie Hanpantanka Charco, 14, Comanche, buried March 16, 1886
  • Sophia Dahwadtes, 10, Kiowa/Comanche/Wichita, buried July 7, 1884
  • Thomas Kanitakeron Deer, 13, Iroquois/St. Regis/Mohawk, buried March 9, 1885
  • Louisa Kinyewin Farnham, 15, Sioux/Pine Ridge, buried Nov. 8, 1887
  • Ella Fisher, 8, perhaps Crow, Nov. 24, 1884
  • Cehas (Charles) Fisher, 13, Crow/Omaha/Mille Lac, buried March 6, 1891
  • Harold Mato Gay Bear Harris, 21, Dakota/Sans Arc/Cheyenne River, buried April 22, 1895
  • Harold G.B. Haines, 21, Dakota, buried April 24, 1895
  • Nettie Wanske Hansel Roubideaux, 20, Modoc/Cheyenne, buried Aug. 13, 1894
  • Charlie Washogopga Hill (Hall), 9, Omaha/Winnebago, buried March 7, 1892
  • Henry Mazatiyopa Irondoor, 20, Yankton Sioux, buried June 3, 1892
  • Jennie Oyateyuhevin Ironnest, 10, Sisseton Wahpeton/Lower Brule/Rosebud, buried March 9, 1885
  • Angie Jordan, 9, Chippewa/White Earth/Red Lake, buried Oct. 2, 1884
  • Fannie Keirk/Kirk (revised), 19, Gewaebenazseek-Chippewa (White Earth/Mississippi Band), buried Jan. 11, 1896
  • Edward Wahkish Moore, 16, Wichita/Kiowa/Comanche, buried June 21, 1892
  • Mattie Nason, 10, tribal affiliation unknown, buried Jan. 13, 1897
  • Abraham Neck (revised), 17, identified as "Dacotah Sioux,” buried Feb. 15, 1885
  • Joseph Norcross, 18, , tribal affiliation unknown, buried April 6, 1893
  • Henry Shawanogunash Peake, 18, Chippewa/Mille Lac/White Earth, buried Oct. 31, 1895
  • Samuel (Hei-nun-gan) Porter, 18, Winnebago/Ogallala, buried Feb. 21, 1891
  • John Robinson Longwolf, 14, Sioux, buried Jan. 7, 1886
  • Rowland Mott Roubideaux, 1, Sioux, buried March 10, 1896
  • Etta Springer, 15, Omaha, buried April 25, 1890 

Lincoln students buried in Fernwood Cemetery, near Philadelphia

  • Margaret Billings (new), 14, identified only as Native American, buried Feb. 9, 1908
  • Hattie Blackchief, 8, perhaps Onondaga (New York), buried Jan. 6, 1900
  • Mabel Bloch, 19, Cheyenne/Arapaho (Oklahoma), buried Dec. 8, 1906
  • Edward Bucktooth, 7, Seneca (Allegany, New York), buried March 26, 1900
  • Warren Clute, 12, tribal affiliation unknown (New York), buried March 17, 1900
  • John Frenchman, 14, Ho-Chunk; Omaha/Winnebego (Nebraska), buried May 4, 1897
  • Charles Levi, 8, Seneca/Tonawanda (New York), buried March 18, 1900
  • Sophia Smith, 17, tribal affiliation unknown, buried March 26, 1897
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