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.
Special to Indian Country Today
The first message came at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 30, just after my story was published online and before I had even seen it myself.
It was one of three messages from people who had information about Nora Printup, a Seneca girl who drowned in Ocean City, New Jersey, in 1905, while attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.
A flood of messages has since come in from Rosebud, Winnebago, Omaha and Alaska, inquiring about several names on the published list of students (below) who died while attending Carlisle or the Lincoln Institution in Philadelphia.
Several people said they are consulting with their elders and death books to see if there are any matching names. Some had already been looking for their children but had not been able to find where they were buried. Many of the messages asked about how to repatriate their relative.
It’s hard to keep track. Messages have been pouring in since the story, “A Mother’s Prayer: Bring the children home,” was published by Indian Country Today on Sept. 30 — Orange Shirt Day and now the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, and Day of Remembrance in the U.S. The messages brought requests for further information on the names, offers to volunteer time and expertise, and invitations for interviews.
One person emailed to ask who was doing the research, why I wanted the information, and what I would do with it. All are important questions to ask, and I welcome dialogue about this sensitive and sacred work.
My hope for publishing the story was to reach out to Indian Country to connect these children to their living relatives. But there’s still work to be done.
Lauren Peters, Alaska Native advisor at Fort Ross State Historic Park in California, recently helped bring her great-great-aunt Sophia Tetoff home to Alaska from Carlisle’s cemetery where she had been interred since 1906.
Peters reached out to me when she was on her way to Carlisle in June, asking if I had any children from Alaska on my list. I shared Ephraim Alexander’s file with her.
After my recent story, Courtenay Carty, tribal administrator of the Curyung Tribal Council in Dillingham, Alaska, inquired about Ephraim. Ephraim is from the homelands of the Curyungarmiut (People of Curyung), and she had been researching his life and working to understand the process to bring him home for the past few years.
According to the 1900 census, Ephraim was born in approximately 1882. Carlisle documents state that he was from Nushagak River, Alaska, in the Bristol Bay region, and was “an Eskimo.” His interment record says he is from Nunaugauchak, Alaska, and was the son of Tall and Anna Alexander.
Being born Yup’ik, Ephraim — or Ephriam, as it is sometimes spelled in school records — was not likely his given name at birth. He came from a small village surrounded by the 280-mile-long Nushagak River, flowing with Chinook, sockeye, and coho salmon and many freshwater fish, which remain an important food source for Alaska Native peoples.
The region where Ephraim is from remains accessible only by boat or plane. In 1902, Ephraim sailed out of the Nushagak River, never to return to the land his people have inhabited since time immemorial.
He arrived in the flat, green farmlands of Carlisle, in central Pennsylvania, about one month later after traveling 4,000 miles by boat and train. He was set to stay for five years to serve as an interpreter and train as a carpenter.
In 1904, he was on a so-called “outing,” likely farming, at the home of Phineas Briggs, in Dolington, Pennsylvania, in Bucks County, from March through September. When he became sick at Carlisle with what was described as a “bad cold,” the Rev. S.H. Rock took him to his home in Lititz, Pennsylvania. He died on Aug. 11, 1905, at 22.
Rock, a teacher and doctor, had been a Moravian missionary — one of the oldest Protestant denominations — at Carmel Mission, Alaska, who had converted Ephraim while there. Carmel was not a traditional Nushagak village but rather a Moravian Mission established outside of the old village of Kanulik. Nunaugauchak was the Yup’ik name for Carmel, which means it is “a new place.”
The Lititz Record death notice from Aug. 12, 1905, announced the news: "An Alaska Native Dies Here."
Ephraim Alexander, a native of Carmel, Alaska, who had been a pupil at the Indian school at Carlisle, and who was previously converted by the Moravian Missionaries in his native country, died on Friday last at the home of Rev. S. H. Rock, near Huber's school house. He had become the victim of consumption and sank very fast. Mr. Rock kindly took him to his home and did all he could for the young man during the past month or more.
The deceased had been an interpreter in Alaska for several years and was an earnest worker for the protestant religion.
His age was 22 years. The funeral took place on Saturday, when the remains were interred in the Moravian graveyard.
Rev. E. S. Hagen officiated.
'His heart set on returning to Alaska'
Henry Rose was from the village of Utknuxenaxamiut, which is believed to be an Anglicized spelling of Utngungssarmiut, which was a Yup’ik village at the mouth of the Togiak River, commonly known today as Old Togiak.
It is likely that Henry and his brother Peter were orphaned, and were taken to the old village of Nushagak and possibly the Carmel Mission. Henry was sent to Carlisle and was on outing from Carlisle in the summers of 1905 and 1906 at the home of Rock. During the summer of 1907, he was on outing with the J. Wesley Bruckart truck farm in Lititz when he became ill, according to records.
He returned to Carlisle in July and died of tuberculosis on Aug. 8, at age 22. His obituary in the Lititz Record states: “Henry expressed the wish to be buried in the Moravian cemetery here. The Esquimo boy had his heart set on returning to Alaska.”
Rock had returned to Alaska before Henry died. Henry was buried at the Carlisle Indian School cemetery.
Rock may have also recruited Edward Angalook from Alaska, who had been on outing with the Eyre family in Dolington, Pennsylvania. He died at age 18 on Sept. 24, 1905, of tuberculosis, three weeks after Ephraim died. The school newspaper, The Arrow, reported on Sept. 29, 1905, that his death was after a long illness in which “he bore his long sufferings with Christian fortitude, and welcomed the end.” He is also buried at the school’s cemetery.
A later article in the Lititz Record claimed that “consumption is an inherent disease with the Esquimo” and “fifty years is considered as an old age among the Esquimos.”
Rock recruited other Alaska students as well and escorted them to Carlisle and upon their return to Alaska. Rock had at least three outing placements, possibly more, at his home or at the Moravian Mission in Lititz, records show.
‘Neither shall there be any pain’
Before I headed to Pennsylvania in 2018 to look for the children who died on outing, I wrote to some dear friends in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to let them know I was coming to look for a boy who was buried in Lititz. I had no idea where Lititz was, so I was a bit surprised when they told me they had just moved to the small town of Lititz a few months prior. Turns out, they lived only a few minutes down the road from the Lititz Moravian Cemetery, which is in the center of town. Lititz was founded by Moravian missionaries in 1756.
My son and I stayed with our friends for a few days and set off to find Ephraim. We walked down Main Street and made a stop in the historical society to inquire about the cemetery. I told the woman sitting at the front desk that I was looking for a burial for Ephraim Alexander, who had been at Carlisle. She got quite excited as she held out her cell phone to show me a newspaper article she was in the middle of reading when we walked in.
She pointed at her phone and said there was someone named Louellyn White looking for children from Carlisle. After a proper introduction, she graciously provided me with what little information they had about Ephraim.
My son and I walked across the street and up the hill behind the Moravian church to the cemetery, where lush green grass stretched as far as I could see. It took a while to locate Ephraim’s grave. My son ran along and played in the grass while I sat at the grave site awhile. I left some tobacco, burned sage. I sang and let him know he’s not forgotten.
Most of the children didn’t have markers of any kind so I was a bit relieved to find Ephraim’s. A scripture from Revelation 21:4 is inscribed on his flat gravestone, which remains common practice among Moravians: “Neither shall there be any pain.”
Truth and Reconciliation
On Sept. 30, my son and I did a presentation at his school where we shared our Creation Story and told of his great-grandfather’s time at Carlisle. He sat in a circle on a blanket he brought from home. He wore his tobacco pouch and bear claw necklace, and before him he placed his rattle, a braid of sweetgrass, a bundle of sage, and a turtle shell which he held up as he told the story of Skywoman falling and landing on turtle’s back.
Later, I told him how proud I was and reminded him that his great-grandpa, who spent his entire childhood at the Lincoln Institution and Carlisle Indian School, wouldn’t have been allowed to share that in his school. When I was his age, I was made fun of during show-and-tell when I shared my red fringy poncho that my father bought me from the Bears Den Trading Post in Akwesasne. But now, he can reclaim our stories and culture in honor of the children who were punished for sharing theirs.
Now, our own children can help shine light on a future of healing and justice for Indigenous peoples. My response and dedication to this work continues to come from a place of service to others in hopes we can put our minds and hearts together and see what we can do for our children.
Can you help these children go home?
Here is a list of children and young adults who died on outings from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School or while attending the Lincoln Institution. The list will be periodically updated with new names and information, and the names will be marked as new or revised. One person on the list, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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
Courtenay Carty and Lauren Peters contributed to this article.
Our stories are worth telling. Our stories are worth sharing. Our stories are worth your support. Contribute $5 or $10 contribution today to help Indian Country Today carry out its critical mission. Sign up for ICT’s free newsletter.