Chickasaw Male Academy/Harley Institute

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Chickasaw Manual Labor Academy
Established 1844
Construction Began 1844
Construction Ended 1845
Opened 1845
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Tishomingo, OK
Alternate Names
  • McKendree Acadeny
  • Chickasaw Manual Labor Academy
  • Chickasaw Male Academy
  • Harley Institute


Chickasaw Manual Labor Academy was established in 1844 by tribal law as the first tribally established school in the Chickasaw Nation, (the Nation having split from other tribes in 1849.) Although the school was officially established by the Chickasaw Tribe, it was overseen by the Methodist Church with the help up tribal funds. The Chickasaws used a large part of their Mississippi land sale money to establish a school system in their district, and Methodist & Presbyterian missionaries already in the area were ready to serve as teachers. The tribe had raised $12,000 in 1844 for the cause, and constructed an academy 2 miles SE of present day Tishomingo. (The area previously was called Good Springs.) Wesley Browning, a prominent Methodist missionary, supervised construction and John. C. Robinson, another missionary & teacher, served as superintendent for several years. This coeducational school with facilities for 120 students was called McKendree Academy.

In 1852 the school began enrolling male students only, after the opening of a girls Chickasaw Academy, and was renamed the Chickasaw Manual Labor Academy for Boys.

After the Civil War the name of the school was again changed, this time to the Harley Institute. (Still boys only school.) In 1868 Joshua Harley and his wife Lucretia, came to the Nation and went into contract with the Chickasaw Nation as head of the school. They both served as teachers at the institute. During these years Mrs. Harley bore four children, two of whom died in infancy to be buried in the cemetery adjacent to the old Academy.

It was reopened by the tribe without Methodist support in 1876. This period of tribal control of their schools is called the Golden Age of the Chickasaw. During this time Chickasaw leaders changed the curriculum at the schools; time spent on religious education was reduced and academic curriculum was expanded. Both Bloomfield (the girls' Academy) and Harley's curriculum was considered equal to that of a junior college.

Between 1880 and 1885, the Chickasaw School suffered several fires and finally tribal authorities decided it would be more expensive to repair the structure than to build a new one. Moreover, the old location had proven unhealthy, some thought due to bad water and waste disposal. Professor Harley died at the school December 24, 1892 and his wife carried on to the end of the school term. A flood in the early summer (1853) damaged the saw-mill, overflowed the corn field and swept away part of the fence. The water rose in a few hours to many feet higher than had been ever known and the loss to the school amounted to $2,000. About 170,000 bricks had been burned (fired) for additional buildings at the academy. One such building was to be a three-story structure, 52 feet long by 22 feet wide. Six rooms were to be 19 feet square in the clear, with a fireplace in each. Two small bedrooms were to be cut off the halls on the second and third floors. The new mill was directly across at the south end of the old building, which formed a right angle with the new. A well had been dug 50 feet deep in the yard and it supplied excellent water and a "horse-power" erected for general purposes.

The Chickasaws controlled the curriculum at the schools until statehood in 1907.

In 1946 the federal government purchased the Roxie A. Chapman Estate as part of a much larger impoundment area for the Denison Dam in Texas, which created Lake Texoma. At that time 16,464 acres of land and water were set aside to become the Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge.