From 1890 until it closed in 1980, the Stewart Indian School in Carson City was the only off-reservation boarding school in Nevada for Native American children. Children from Nevada and throughout the West were forced to attend the institution through secondary school age. Students came from many tribes including the Nevada-based Washoe and Paiute tribes, as well as Hopi, Apache, Pima, Mohave, Walapai, Ute, and others.
In 1888 the Nevada Legislature passed a bill that authorized the sale of bonds to purchase land for an Indian boarding school. Once purchased, the land was conveyed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs who established the boarding school to train and educate Indian children with the ultimate goal of assimilation.
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The campus began with a Victorian-style wood framed dormitory and school house. As enrollment increased, new buildings included shops for training, a hospital, and a recreation room. A Virginia and Truckee Railroad stop was established by 1906 to deliver supplies and facilitate transporting students to and from the school. By 1919, 400 students attended the school.
Classes included reading, writing, and arithmetic but focused on vocational training in various trades, agriculture, and the service industry. Classes offered for boys included ranching and farming, mechanics, woodworking, painting, and carpentry. Students learned stone masonry from their teachers, including Hopi stone masons, and helped to construct more than 60 native stone buildings on the campus.
Stewart girls attended classes in baking, cooking, sewing, laundry, and practical nursing. Much of the school’s basic needs were supplied by students’ products or fulfilled by their newly acquired skills. Vocational training remained the school’s principal focus until a shift to academics occurred in the late 1960’s.
The Stewart Indian School was initially intended to assimilate the young people into mainstream American culture. Policies prohibiting speaking native languages and practicing native customs anguished both students and their parents. The Federal policy toward American Indians radically changed with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, after which self-determination and self-government were supported.
Organized sports began at Stewart Indian School in 1896. Teams competed under the school mascot the Braves. The football team became Nevada State Champions in 1916. In the late 1920s Stewart became a member of the state interscholastic athletic league. In 1937 a new stone gymnasium was built. Team sports such as baseball and football provided friendly interchange between schools and communities.
Stewart coach Robbie Willis talks about the Old Gymnasium:
In later years, the Bureau of Indian Affairs encouraged schools such as Stewart to let students speak their native languages and to promote classes in native cultures. Today, the State of Nevada Indian Commission annually hosts the Stewart Father’s Day Powwow, which presents traditional competition dancing, Stewart School alumni recognition, arts and crafts, special events and exhibits. Photograph courtesy Nevada State Museum.
Frederick Snyder, who served as the school superintendent from 1919 to 1934, began the practice of using colored native stone (quarried along the Carson River) for campus buildings; much of the masonry used in the vernacular-style buildings is the work of student apprentices working under Hopi stonemasons. The majority of the surviving buildings were built between 1922 and the beginning of World War II.
Text and audio courtesy State of Nevada Indian Commission
Photographs courtesy Nevada State Museum
Video by Howard Goldbaum