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Assimilation's Agent

My Life as a Superintendent in the Indian Boarding School System

Edwin L. Chalcraft

Publication Year: 2004

Assimilation’s Agent reveals the life and opinions of Edwin L. Chalcraft (1855–1943), a superintendent in the federal Indian boarding schools during the critical period of forced assimilation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Chalcraft was hired by the Office of Indian Affairs (now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs) in 1883. During his nearly four decades of service, he worked at a number of Indian boarding schools and agencies, including the Chehalis Indian School in Oakville, Washington; Puyallup Indian School in Tacoma, Washington; Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon; Wind River Indian School in Wind River, Wyoming; Jones Male Academy in Hartshorne, Oklahoma; and Siletz Indian Agency in Oregon.

In this memoir Chalcraft discusses the Grant peace policy, the inspection system, allotment, the treatment of tuberculosis, corporal punishment, alcoholism, and patronage. Extensive coverage is also given to the Indian Shaker Church and the government’s response to this perceived threat to assimilation. Assimilation’s Agent illuminates the sometimes treacherous political maneuverings and difficult decisions faced by government officials at Indian boarding schools. It offers a rarely heard and today controversial "top-down" view of government policies to educate and assimilate Indians.

Drawing on a large collection of unpublished letters and documents, Cary C. Collins’s introduction and notes furnish important historical background and context. Assimilation’s Agent illustrates the government's long-term program for dealing with Native peoples and the shortcomings of its approach during one of the most consequential eras in the long and often troubled history of American Indian and white relations.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. v


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pp. vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Editor's Introduction

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pp. ix-lxii

Perfectly, the home reflected the man. Colorful dahlias and a lush garden of vegetables adorned an impeccably manicured backyard. Next to the two-story, brown-tinted, barn-style Sears, Roebuck, and Company...

Chronology of Significant Events

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pp. lxiii-lxiv

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Note on Provenance of Manuscript and Methodology

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pp. lxv-lxvi

According to archivist Lawrence Stark, Washington State University purchased the Chalcraft-Pickering family papers and photographs in late 1986 from Florian Shasky, a dealer in out-of-print books and manuscript materials. Included in the Chalcraft-Pickering acquisition...

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pp. 1

A personal narrative of incidents relating to the lives of Edwin L. Chalcraft and his beloved life companion, Alice Fawcett Chalcraft, written for the information and remembrance of their two children, Edwin Pickering Chalcraft and Alice Pickering Chalcraft.

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pp. 3-4

In writing the following, there is no thought in mind that it is to be a formal biography, but rather a simple and brief statement of some of the experiences of two young people whose acquaintance and association covered many years prior to the time they were united for...

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Chapter 1. Journey to theWest

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pp. 5-15

We left our home at Albion, Illinois, on December 10, 1881, accompanied by Miss Eliza Flower, one of my wife's cousins, who was going to Bickleton, [a small town located in south-central] Washington Territory, where two of her brothers, Samuel P. and Charles E. Flower...

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Chapter 2. Chehalis Indian Reservation

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pp. 16-78

In the evening of Thursday, September 27, 1883, after having supper with our next-door neighbors,Reverend and Mrs. Strange, and spending the evening with them, Alice and I left Seattle to take charge of the Chehalis Indian Reservation and boarding school under supervision...

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Chapter 3. Puyallup Agency and School

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pp. 79-113

We arrived at Puyallup Agency on July 1, 1889, and on that date I succeeded [Mr.] Hall as Superintendent of the school. We found life here somewhat different from that at Chehalis. The school was one mile from the city of Tacoma and only thirty-five miles from Seattle...

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Chapter 4. Salem Indian Training School

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pp. 114-125

I arrived at Chemawa, where the Salem Indian School is located, on Saturday evening, November 3rd, 1894. Chemawa is a station on the Southern Pacific Railroad five miles north of Salem, Oregon. Supervisor of Indian Schools, Charles D. Rakestraw, temporarily in charge...

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Chapter 5. Private Citizens

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pp. 126-129

We came from the Salem Indian Training School to Seattle on April 12th, 1895, and established our home in the house we had built at 617 Tenth Avenue in 1889. As we were now private citizens, and the time our own to be used as we saw fit, little was done until May 2nd, when...

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Chapter 6. Shoshone Indian Agency, Wyoming

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pp. 130-138

I left Seattle to take charge of the Wind River School at the Shoshone Reservation in Wyoming on May 13th, 1900, and arrived at Rawlins, Wyoming, late at night on the 16th. From here, it was necessary to travel by stage 160 miles to the Agency. The next morning at seven...

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Chapter 7. Supervisor of Indian Schools

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pp. 139-202

I arrived at Standing Rock Agency, North Dakota, the evening of October 16, 1900, met Agent George H. Bingenheimer, and wired the Indian Office that I should begin work as Supervisor of Indian Schools the next morning...

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Chapter 8. Salem Indian Training School, Second Appointment

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pp. 203-257

We arrived at Chemawa on September 17, 1904. On the way from Canon City, memories of the past kept floating through my mind, especially from the time of my reluctant transfer, or "promotion," as Commissioner Browning called it, from the Puyallup School to...

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Chapter 9. Jones Male Academy

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pp. 259-264

I arrived at Jones Male Academy on July 22nd, 1912, and on the 23rd, took charge of the school, relieving Superintendent W. F. Aven who was leaving to take charge of a girls' school. The school plant consisted of a large brick building that housed one hundred pupils...

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Chapter 10. Siletz Indian Agency

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pp. 265-294

I arrived at Siletz Agency, eight miles north of Toledo, Oregon, on Friday, June 26, 1914, leaving the family in Seattle until I reported the conditions found at Siletz, and took charge of the Agency on July 1st. A sad accident happened that morning. Charlie Klamath, a very old...

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Chapter 11. At Home in Seattle

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pp. 295-300

On our trip from Siletz Reservation to Seattle, we traveled in a rather leisurely manner, stopping overnight at the Chemawa School and again in Portland, to visit friends. Christmas week was spent with Pickering's family in Seattle, then we went to our home. The house...

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Editor's Postscript

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pp. 301-302

There is an overused but nonetheless appropriate axiom that says the more things change the more they remain the same. As a commentary on the history of Indian-white relations in the United States, it is apropos. As we enter this twenty-first century, the Office of Indian...


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pp. 303-304


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pp. 305-325


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pp. 327-339

Index (Images follow)

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pp. 341-360

E-ISBN-13: 9780803204355
E-ISBN-10: 0803204353

Publication Year: 2004

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indians of North America -- Cultural assimilation -- Northwest, Pacific.
  • Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Education.
  • School superintendents -- Northwest, Pacific -- Biography.
  • Off-reservation boarding schools -- Pacific, Northwest -- History -- 19th century.
  • Chalcraft, Edwin L.
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