Imprisoned 1875 - 1878
As western expansion increased in the mid 1800's, tensions and violence between the Native Americans and white settlers began to escalate. These rising tensions were the origins of the Red River War fought in the year 1874. This war essentially ended the traditional way of life for the Plains Indians, and at the conclusion of this war, many Native Americans in the southwestern territories had been forced onto reservations. One such reservation was Fort Sill in current day Oklahoma. It was from this reservation that 74 prisoners, mostly male warriors, were chosen for confinement. Many were survivors of the brutal Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. They came from five different tribes; there were 33 Cheyenne, 27 Kiowa, 11 Comanche, 2 Arapaho, and 1 Caddo. Included among the prisoners were 10 Mexicans who had been assimilated into these tribes.
Conditions at Fort Marion
Initially, conditions at the fort seemed bleak. Many of the prisoners were uncertain whether their lives were in danger or just how long the imprisonment would last. They wore chains and shackles, were kept under lock and key, and were confined to the casemates (rooms) and courtyard. The gundeck was blockaded and access was only allowed when accompanied by a guard. The prisoners slept on the room floors, most of which were dirt, although some wooden floors were added to make the conditions more sanitary. Still, disease was a constant concern, and the continuous presence of guards from the St. Francis Barracks made the Native Americans very apprehensive.The commanding officer at St. Francis Barracks was initially responsible for the care of the Native Americans in
Richard Henry Pratt was a Lieutenant in the 10th Calvary. He was assigned to duty in the District of the Indian Territory, comprising most of present-day Oklahoma, as early as 1867. In 1875, Pratt went east to Fort Marion and served as the jailer at the fort until the prisoners were released to the Indian Bureau in 1878. Pratt was the driving force behind the 1879 founding of the Carlisle Industrial School in Carlisle Pennsylvania. He served as the school's superintendent until his dismissal in 1904. Pratt retired from the army in 1903, and the Indian Bureau closed the Carlisle School in 1918.
Education & Industry
During the imprisonment, the young men received a western education. They learned how to speak and write in English along with other elementary level skills. Many of the casemates were converted into classrooms, and lessons were conducted during the morning hours. The teachers were mostly local women who volunteered their time. These women included Sarah Mather, Anna Pratt, Rebecca Perrit, Nannie Burt, Julia and Laura Gibbs, and Amy Carruthers. In addition to receiving an education, the prisoners were engouraged to earn money by producing items to sell and engaging jobs in town. Bows and arrows, polished alligator teeth, canes, and paper toys were all sold for profit. Popular souvenir items at the time were sea beans.Sea beans could be collected on Anastasia island, and those found here are called MacKay beans, which are seeds found in the tropics and deposited on the coastlines of Florida. These beans were collected, polished, and sold to tourists. In addition, the prisoners were periodically engaged in odd jobs such as clearing land, and one prisoner worked at a local rail depot.
Many of the young men confined at Fort Marion engaged in drawing and painting. The work that they produced is referred to as ledger art. This is a general term used to describe most Native American works of art in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This term refers to the artists' use of paper, usually ledger paper from an accountant's ledger book, to create works of art. This trend became more common as buffalo became scarce and increased contact with white settlers made paper more accessible. Many examples of ledger art still exist today from the period of the imprisonment. These works illustrate a close connection between ledger art and traditional Native American hide painting. Common characteristics include a lack of background, faces usually in profile, no intentional shading or color variations, a lack of perspective, and near and far objects were generally placed on top of one another to show distance. The surviving sketches indicate the prisoners had access to blank or partly used ledgers, army rosters, day books, memorandums books, and various pieces of paper. The works are produced in lead pencils, ink, colored pencils, oil pastels, and watercolors. The most common themes included scenes of life on the plains, the journey to Florida, and the prisoners' experiences at the fort.
Life after Fort Marion
In 1878, the prisoners at Fort Marion were released to the care of the Indian Bureau. Many prisoners made their way back west, but 22 expressed a desire to stay in the east and continue their education. Pratt then made arrangements for these men to have their education funded by white citizens. With the help of Miss Mather, Pratt convinced the superintendent of the Hampton School, a school in Virginia started for freed slaves after the Civil War, to accept 17 of these men as students. The remaining five went to live with families in the northeast.
A Kiowa Legacy
Pratt worked at the fort to assimilate the prisoners. And in doing so, he asked those prisoners to give up their cultural identity and accept a new way of life. Some prisoners were more receptive to this program than others. But at least one prisoner wanted to make a lasting record of their presence at the fort. Remembering his cultural values, he chose to etch a Kiowa Sundance Camp scene on the walls of this prison. Today, that carving is a physical reminder of that Native American experience at Fort Marion.
Last updated: May 21, 2020