Riverside Indian School

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Riverside Indian School
Established 1871
Opened 1871
Current Status Active
Location Anadarko, OK
Alternate Names
  • Washita-Caddo School


Located at Anadarko, the Riverside Indian School is the nation's oldest federally operated American Indian boarding school and is one of four such schools remaining.

Organized in 1871 by Quakers at the old Wichita Indian Agency commissary with 8 pupils and Thomas C. Battey as the first principal. A History of Riverside Indian School, Anadarko, Oklahoma, 1871-1971, was written by Ruby W. Shannon, who taught English and journalism at the school from 1964 to 1970. "Initial classes were held at the agency in the spring of 1871. In the beginning, it was supposed to be a day school, with students who lived nearby going home each night. Still, most of the students came from at least four or five miles away. They often spent the night on campus, sleeping behind a log or fence or anything that could afford a windbreak,” Shannon wrote in her book.

When the school reopened in fall 1871 following a summer break, the agency staff had set up a makeshift dormitory with one room for boys and another for girls. A permanent school facility replaced the makeshift one in 1872 “a short distance” from the agency.

They added the Wichita-Caddo School to the property in 1872 accommodate Washita and Caddo children. In 1878–79 the facility was relocated, due to a massive fire at the original building, one mile west to its present location along the Washita River and was named Riverside Government Indian School.

The Riverside Government Indian School ran off the adage "Kill the Indian, Save the Man." The schools main purpose, under Federal rule, was assimilation over education. Pupils had their long hair cut off, cultural clothing taken and replaced with English clothing, and were forbidden to speak any language except English or suffer punishment that could include beatings.

For a half-century Riverside served Wichita, Caddo, and Delaware students, and in 1922 Kiowa enrolled there after Rainy Mountain Mission School closed. Navajos began attending in 1945.

Still in operation and overseen by the Federal Government, Riverside presently has students from dozens of Indian nations attending grades four through twelve. Admission requires a Certified Degree of Indian Blood. Riverside's board of education, administration, staff, and faculty are predominantly American Indian.

Riverside's history is a part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs federal boarding school system that originated with Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Indian boarding school-system curricula generally emphasized agriculture to 1910, vocational education to 1960, academics to 1990, and college preparation in the 1990s. Cultural programming was introduced in the 1960s. Approximately six hundred students were enrolled at Riverside during the early twenty-first century.


A large cemetery is rumored to have been accessible about a 1/2 mile behind the Riverside school until the 1980's. Locals now report that the dirt road leading to it has disappeared with time and the headstones gone. The location of a cemetery has however not been officially confirmed.