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Fort Sill Indian School

Fort Sill Indian School

Location Class:
Built: 1871 | Abandoned: 1988
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places Native American Heritage Site
Status: AbandonedEndangered
Photojournalist: AbandonedOK TeamBilly Dixon

Fort Sill Indian School has witnessed many changes during its more than 100 years in Lawton, Oklahoma. When established in 1871 it served Indian children as a reservation elementary school. It gradually became a boarding high school with an enrollment drawn from all over the nation.

On July 1, 1869, Lawrie Tatum, a Quaker, was placed in charge of the Agency of the Comanche, Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache tribes and one of the first assignments carried out by Tatum was the construction of a school. The school was first established in 1871 about a mile north of its present location and operated there until 1899-1900.

The first stone school building was one and one-half stories high. It contained two classrooms, a kitchen, dining room, and dormitories. Josiah and Elizabeth Butler of Ohio had been appointed to take charge of the school. The Butlers opened the first day of school to seven pupils. At the close of the first school year, Reverend Butler had enrolled thirty-three students.

In 1899-1900; the location of the Fort sill Indian School was moved to its current location. In a report to the Commissioner of Indian -Affairs, the first superintendent of the Fort Sill Indian School at its new location, Julian W. Haddon, made the following report:

Buildings: There are twelve buildings belonging to the plant. All of which are in fairly good repair.

Health and Attendance: The health of the pupils was better than average. The attending physician is a very conscientious and competent man who is faithful and untiring in his efforts to restore the sick and protect the health of both pupils and employees.

Industries: Given that this school is in the heart of an agriculture and stock-raising country, we are concentrating our energies on making agriculture and stock-raising the leading features of our work. The school has a farm of 160 acres of fertile bottom land and 2,000 acres of pasture land under fence.

In 1908, the position of Superintendent was abolished and the school head was designated as “Principal”. J. A. Buntin was the first principal of Fort Sill Indian School. In May, 1955, the position of Superintendent was reestablished with James Wallace being promoted to that position. In the early years of the school, strict militaristic-type discipline was a part of the Fort Sill program. It was not uncommon to observe students participating in precision marching as they were moved from one part of the campus to the other. Former students state that corporal punishment was often administered harshly for infraction of rules.

Shortly after World War I, Fort Sill Indian School was under the leadership of Mr. Edward Shield. The predominate concern’ was teaching the Indian students English, the three R’s, and good personal hygiene. The enrollment was 200 with approximately 12 tribes represented.

The first new building to be added after a long period of time was the shop building which was constructed in 1933. In 1935, the gymnasium was built. The present building which houses the academic classrooms was built in 1933. the first senior class graduated in 1939.

During the decade, 1940-1950, the Fort Sill Indian School emphasized vocational training and home-making at the high school level. Two hundred thirty students, representing the Comanche, Kiowa, Apache, Caddo, and Wichita tribes, were enrolled in the first to the twelfth grades inclusive. Many of the students remained at the school throughout the year in order to care for student projects such as field crops, row crops, gardens, dairy, and beef cattle, swine, and poultry. In the elementary grades, the children had gardens, farm animals, and other projects in which they learned about rural life. In the intermediate grades, cooperative projects had been the means of making money for the pupils as well as training them.

Until the middle 1940’s, the Fort Sill Indian School enrollment had been limited to the following Oklahoma tribes: Kiowa, Comanche, Delaware, Apache, Wichita, and Kiowa-Apache. A combination change in the Bureau of Indian Affairs policy took place at the close of World War II when the school’s enrollment was reduced drastically. Oklahoma students were encouraged to attend the local public schools. Navajo students from New Mexico and Arizona were admitted. This change was justified because of the lack of adequate educational facilities for hundreds of Navajo students who were ready for Junior High and High School. The enrollment at one time was 80% Navajo. In 1960, the agriculture program was dropped from the curriculum of the school in favor of a more academically oriented program. That same year, first through sixth grades were dropped from the program as well. In 1963, grades seven and eight were dropped thus making Fort Sill Indian School strictly a high school.

Later the Seminoles from Florida, Alabama-Coushattas from Texas, Chippewas from Minnesota and a great influx of various tribes from the Northwest arrived to add to a multi-tribe enrollment. In 1970, more of the local tribes were admitted to the school enrollment. Over three hundred students were enrolled. Of that number, nearly 200 were from Oklahoma.

Gallery Below


Taken from a 1973 report by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. ED 078 980 – RC 007 087

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Michael Schwarz

Starting from a young age, I’ve always loved exploring. I can remember venturing off and scoping out the houses being built in the developing neighborhood right behind my house. As I got older, I found myself appreciating the work and love that went into architecture and just being excited to pass by the beautifully designed places in downtown.

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