Pawnee Boarding School

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Pawnee Agency Boarding School
Established 1876
Opened 1876
Closed 1958
Current Status Active
Location Pawnee, Pawnee Tribal Reserve, OK
Alternate Names
  • Pawnee Agency
  • Pawnee Boarding School
  • Pawnee Indian School


The policy of the U.S. Government toward the Native Americans was to get them to accept allotment (ownership of tribal land by individual tribesmen) and American style education. Together, these two things were expected to end the tribes' dependence on the American government. Toward that end, the government had built schools on Pawnee land in Nebraska Territory, where most of the tribe lived by the time of the American Civil War. Treaties between the U.S. and the Pawnees had established that the latter would cede their lands in Nebraska to the government and move to an area the government had designated for them in Indian Territory. The removal had been scheduled for 1876. The industrial school in Nebraska Territory operated by the government for the Pawnees closed in September 1875, since holding classes would be impractical during the move.

For various bureaucratic reasons, the planned boarding schools could not be ready as soon as the tribe arrived at their destination. However, it was possible to open two day schools in February 1876. These could provide only an elementary level of education. Government policy makers held that a hierarchical system would produce satisfactory results. Day schools would introduce children to the English language and basic primary education. Those children who made satisfactory progress would move on to boarding schools, Boarding schools would continue the primary subjects, add more advanced topics and focus half of each day on "industrial education." Off-reservation schools offered more advanced education and industrial training.

Although planning for the boarding school was well advanced in February 1876, construction funding had not been approved. An 1857 treaty had appropriated ten thousand dollars a year to operate two industrial education (manual labor) schools. The Pawnees had expected to use the unexpended portion of the money to construct the new school. The government's Indian Office held that the funds were only to support existing schools, not to build new ones. By the summer of 1877, the Indian Office finally agreed that not using the funds to build the new school meant that the Pawnees would have no school, therefore abrogating the treaty. The construction contract was awarded shortly after. The new school building and girls' dormitory were completed in May, 1878. However, other delays ensued. A cistern dug near the school leaked all its water. Later, it was determined that the cement used in its construction was still "green" (uncured) when water first filled the cistern. This was repaired, but purchasing school supplies was delayed in the Fall by bureaucratic delays getting the required approvals. School finally opened on November 11, 1878.

McClure documents complaints and problems that cropped up after the school opened. One was overcrowding. Agents regularly requested funding for a second school, as promised in the 1857 treaty. No such action was ever taken. In 1884, the Agent reported that the water supply had always been inadequate; water of poor quality had to be hauled from a source a half mile away. Official visitors found 39 girls sharing 13 beds in 1889. The sewage system was inadequate as late as 1900. Despite the lack of a satisfactory sewer system, there was a new building program during the 1890s that resulted in the construction of a commissary and carpenters' shop (1891) and the Boys' Dormitory (1892).

The original Boys' Dormitory was destroyed by a fire in 1904. There were no deaths or injuries, but the monetary loss was estimated at 25 to 30 thousand dollars. The school sent some of the youngest boys back home and housed the remainder in other buildings. The administration also concerned itself about fire safety measures in other buildings. The burned building was replaced in 1909.

In 1932 another large building was constructed to consolidate a number of functions that had previously been scattered in other buildings. It was said to have been completed in September 1933, and contained classrooms, offices, an auditorium and a gymnasium. This was the last building constructed on the school campus, and has several features not found on other buildings, including: -a T-shaped floor plan, with classrooms and offices in the cross wing and a gymnasium in the column; -a portico in the center of the cross wing, with three round-arched doorways and, inside the portico, a double-doored entrance framed by a large round-headed arch; -a date stone above the center of the portico bears the number "1932" and the name "A. R. Snyder", who was the school superintendent at that time; decorative arched porticos toward the sides of the front facade, with slightly recessed brick beneath them. The main part of the building has a flat-top and hipped mansard roof which extends over each end of the front (west) facade, forming a gable over the decorative arch in each end of the facade. Each gable contains a fanlight. There is a flat roof over the portico. The gymnasium has a low-pitch gable roof with no overhang. The roofing material is a light colored metal, and there is a parapet above the ridge. Elsewhere, the roof is covered with modern composition shingles.

This was the main school building until the boarding school ceased to operate in 1958. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) then turned the building over to the city of Pawnee, which made it available for the Good Samaritans, a charitable service organization to turn it into a nursing home. The Samaritans vacated the building in 1972, when the city announced it would return the school property to the Pawnee tribe. The 1932 School Building was renovated in 1976, then leased by the BIA to become the administrative offices for the Pawnee Agency.


In 2011, the Oklahoma Historical Society's Historic Preservation Office awarded its Citation of Merit for the rehabilitation of three buildings of the former boarding school. The buildings were: the former staff quarters, the dining hall and Pawnee Indian Clinic. All three now serve the new Pawnee Nation College. Recipients of the award were the Pawnee Business Council, Barrett L. Williamson Architects, and Builders Unlimited.