Critical Commentary

The primary sources that are considered are the following: an exchange between Harvey K. Meyer, a clerk to the superintendent, Julia Bear, John Bear Junior’s mother, and J.W. Dady, the superintendent of the Red Cliff Agency in Bayfield, Wisconsin.

transcribed letters

Outside of the published newspaper articles, none of the correspondences or student information was meant for public consumption. The Carlisle Indian School maintained tight control over their students’ publications, and these letters represent the antithesis of everything the Carlisle Indian School administration was trying to project.  The subject was a student who, rather than assimilating into the ideal that the Carlisle Indian School projected, staunchly rebelled and was ultimately expelled.

Additional censorship is exemplified in the Harvey K. Meyer’s (HKM) letter to Julia Bear- in it he does not detail anything regarding the murder of Hazel Myer’s, unlike his letter to the administrator at the Red Cliff Agency, where he writes: “I want to state further that the Hazel Myers with whom Bear associated with was found dead on the outskirts of Carlisle several weeks ago and that a coroner’s jury pronounced it a case of murder, so that he was not locked up any too soon in our guard-house to escape being mentioned in connection with that case”.

The implications in this correspondence are obvious: the administration within the Indian School, when news of Hazel Myers’ death broke, sought to cover up any connection with the school possible. They put both John Bear and Joe Muggins in the guard house in order to protect their own reputation- if the press knew of the expulsion and connection between the students and Hazel Myers, along with fact that Hazel testified in the court martial of John Bear, the school would face outrage beyond what they had already experienced. There was over a month between John Bear’s expulsion and his release from the school, and in that time, he had written to his mother, complaining that he was sick, and in jail. When Julia Bear voiced her concerns and urged the administration to send John home, Harvey K. Meyer stated that it was likely due to John’s participation as a witness in a court case against a number of black men who had illegally purchased alcohol for the students. Only after the case ended and Hazel Myers’ death was declared to likely be unsolved was John Bear sent home, and as soon as possible.

A witness in court is not held in a jail. Likely, John was describing the guard house, which has previously been described as “…worse than [the] County Prison”. In his statement regarding John Bear’s living arrangements, Harvey K. Meyers quickly dismisses the valid complaints that Julia Bear makes- theft of money and clothes from the students- and goes on to describe John as a bad student and unsavory character. He takes no considerations for John Bear as a student, and misrepresents himself as the “supervisor-in-charge”.

In direct contrast to sincere and heartbreaking letter from Julia Bear, the deliberate language and wording in the administrative letter reveals the hypocrisy of the Carlisle Indian School’s administration. Harvey K. Meyers attempts to manipulate the facts regarding John Bear’s expulsion: failing to mention the murder of his lover shortly after his court martial, refusing to provide information as to why John Bear was kept captive in the indeterminate amount of time between his expulsion and the court case in Williamsport, and repeatedly emphasizing John Bear’s bad character.

The anthology we are creating is intended to reveal the lives of these students as they try to deal with the harsh regime imposed on them and simultaneously reveal more about themselves and their identities both as people and Native Americans. We do not have any first-person accounts by John Bear- everything that has been gathered has been reported- but regardless we are left with the impression of a young man who represents everything that the administration sought to hide. Whether or not John Bear was guilty of murdering Hazel Myers was irrelevant. The administration believed that his past involvement would damage their reputation and did their best to erase him from existence. Just as the school’s publications attempted to create the perfect gentrified “savage”, the administration strove to erase a real student. Both of these actions were intended to further the school’s agenda- more funding, more support, and more positive recognition.

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