Concho Indian Boarding School

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Concho Indian Boarding School
Established 1909
Opened 1909
Closed 1983
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location El Reno, OK
Alternate Names
  • Cheyenne-Arapaho Boarding School at Concho
  • Concho Demonstration School


The first school was opened at the Darlington Agency on the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation in 1871 by the Hicksite (Liberal) Friends and Orthodox Quakers and was called the Cheyenne-Arapaho Boarding School. In 1872, the facility was built with federal funds, but run by the Quakers. Few Cheyenne children attended the school and as a means to entice them, a partition was erected to divide the classroom into separate areas for the Arapaho and Cheyenne students. In 1879 the facility was renamed the Arapaho Manual Labor and Boarding School and a new facility was built for the Cheyenne students located at Caddo Springs, which was called the Cheyenne Manual Labor and Boarding School. Within 5 years, it was reported that the children at the agency schools were responsible for raising 211 cattle and hogs and cultivating 130 acres of land.

In 1881, a new school, called the Darlington Mission School was built and run by the General Conference Mennonites but a fire which occurred on 19 February 1882 destroyed the building, taking the life of the missionary's infant son and three Indian children. Federal funds and donations from the Mennonite Mission Board were secured to rebuild the mission school by December, 1882. The Mennonites had the same problems as the Quakers had had in trying educating the two tribes together, and opened a fourth school in 1882. called Cantonment. By 1884, the agent reported that attendance in the four schools represented 66 students at the Arapaho boarding school, 22 students at Cantonment, 71 students at the Cheyenne boarding school and 28 students at Darlington.

After 1891 federal policy shifted and began to require more standardization, attendance quotas and less use of federal funds for church "contracted" institutions.[11] By the mid 1890s only about half of the school-age children on the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation were attending school. An experiment with enrolling Indian children in the public school system and offsetting the costs to the schools was attempted in 1896-1897, but was discontinued. Declining attendance at Darlington forced its permanent closure in June, 1898 and Cantonment closed in 1901. In 1908 both the Arapaho Manual Labor and Boarding School and the Cheyenne Manual Labor and Boarding School were closed and the facilities sold by the government. The Darlington Agency was also closed and relocated to Concho in 1909.

The new school Concho Boarding School opened in 1909[4] and re-implemented the farming model, which continued during the Great Depression. In 1932 the Seger Indian Training School, which had incorporated the students of the Red Moon School in 1917, closed and its students were transferred to Concho. Total Concho Boarding School students for 1932 were 133 boys and 117 girls.However, the school struggled during the Dust Bowl period, where between 1933 and 1937 there were 362 dust storms in the immediate area, coupled with tornadoes and flash flooding. As part of the Works Progress Administration President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order in 1933 which authorized the Indian Service to establish a Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Concho to improve the grounds and buildings, implement soil erosion controls, and develop water resources. The agency buildings were razed and rebuilt in 1933 and a hospital was constructed in 1941.

The era of the federal Indian Termination Policy from the 1940s through the 1960s saw threats to close tribal schools and Concho was not immune. Richard Boynton and George Levi, of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Business Committee and Robert Goombi of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma sent pleas to Oklahoma Congressmen to fight school closure. The bid to save the school was successful as some of the buildings were converted into a facility to assist troubled students in 1962. In 1968, a new school complex was built for the boarding school, featuring a pioneering teaching program which was to be operated in conjunction with Southwestern State College. The program was designed to overcome language and cultural barriers and offer Indian students access to college materials and individual instruction.

The school was closed after the graduation ceremonies held 14 May 1982 due to federal budget cuts. Though parents and the tribe protested the closure and obtained an injunction to stop it, at the end of the 1983 school term, the school permanently closed. The school buildings were returned to the tribe from the BIA in 1985 for use as business enterprises. In 2015, plans were in the works to convert some of the buildings to a fitness center.


Concho was developed to provide a means of integrating and assimilating American Indian children into mainstream society. It, like other federal boarding schools, was run on a strict military model. Students were wakened at 5 a.m., performed military drills and formations, ate breakfast and were in class by 6:00 each morning. Academic subjects, including reading, writing, and arithmetic, were studied for half the day and the remainder of the day consisted of labor.

Trades and farming were taught to boys and girls were taught domestic labor and nursing. A large experimental farm was maintained, where the children were instructed in conservation and planting techniques. Boys milked cows and girls helped prepare all of the meals and sewed clothing. Discipline was strict and infractions, like speaking in their native language rather than English, were punished by things like breaking large rocks into smaller rocks or sawing wood. Each infraction required punishment of one hour of labor.

Initially, the school offered education to the 6th grade and students would have to transfer to Carlisle, Chilocco or Haskell Institute for secondary education. By around the 1920s, the school curriculum mirrored public education being offered throughout the country and included sports, music, art, and a full course of educational subjects. By the time the school closed in the early 1980s, it offered instruction for grades one - eight and was predominantly attended by orphans and students who had difficult home environments.