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Richard Henry Pratt (1849-1924) was the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Born in New York, Pratt spent his youth in Indiana and served in the Indiana Volunteer infantry and cavalry during the Civil War. In 1867, he re-entered the military and was assigned as an officer to the Tenth United States Cavalry, a regiment of black soldiers. Serving primarily on the Oklahoma frontier, Pratt was ordered to supervise the incarceration of 72 Indian prisoners at Fort Marion near St. Augustine, Florida in 1875. In this role he began to develop the theories of education and assimilation that he would introduce at the Carlisle School in 1879.

Between 1879 and 1904, Pratt administered the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. With annual enrollment averaging 1000 students, the school taught core academic subjects, like reading and math, as well as vocational skills, to Native American students. More fundamentally, Pratt's school aimed to prepare the students for full assimilation in American life by wiping out their Indian identity. ("Kill the Indian, save the man," Pratt often said.) On arrival, the students' long hair was cut and they were issued uniforms. They were told to select an English name and were forbidden to speak their native languages. The children were organized into military-type units and drilled in the school yard. A military-type court system enforced campus rules; offenders served time in the old barracks guardhouse. To complete the process of acculturation, Pratt hired out the children for a portion of the year to neighboring farmers and manufacturers. The children provided cheap labor to their host families, but Pratt believed that the Indian students received a more valuable exposure to Anglo-American culture and lifestyle.

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