Historical and Cultural Context

John Bear is a classic example of rebellion- an individual who despite being raised to adhere to the rules, having attended three specific schools for Native Americans, never followed the rules. Within months of arriving at the Carlisle Indian School, he not only sneaked off campus with a friend in “citizens’ clothes”, he had developed a relationship with a white woman, Hazel Myers.

Myers herself testified in John Bear’s court-martial, detailing their relationship. His court-martial occurred on April 21st. John Bear was found guilty on May 8th. On May 25th, less than 3 weeks after John Bear and Joe Muggins were found guilty and expelled, Hazel Myers’ body was found in an outhouse on the outskirts of Carlisle . Her head was bashed in.

The Harrisburg Telegraph’s headline the day they found her was “Believed Carlisle Indian Murdered Girl with Club During a Drunken Brawl”.  The subheading declared that the Carlisle Police was “Questioning Every Redskin in School…”.

Hazel Myers’ murder sparked a manhunt for the killer- a day after there was a reported “Redskin” with her, the blame shifted to an Italian laborer nicknamed “Ikey”, who by May 27th had allegedly “Fled to Italian Shores”.  By June 3rd the Harrisburg Telegraph reported that Hazel was likely murdered by a Harrisburg woman with a grudge, whereas three days later in Carlisle it was published that Hazel Myers’ murder will “likely go unsolved”.

The blame was shifted from an outsider- a Native American- to another outsider- an Italian laborer.


On May 26th, the front page of the Harrisburg Telegraph had an image of the alleged “Ikey”, but opposite the article on Hazel Myers’ alleged murderer was an article on the ongoing scandal of the Carlisle Indian School, both in regards to their alleged corrupt football program and mistreatment of the students at the school. Although the reports of the scandal were ongoing, there was an actual congressional investigation into the school. The investigation was recorded and published in “Hearings Before the Joint Commission of the Congress of the United States: Sixty-Third Congress, Second Session to Investigate Indian Affairs”. The document I found was part 11, and spanned over 300 pages, including testimonies of both students and staff. The hearings occurred between February 6-8th, and March 25th in 1914. During this time, the superintendent was Moses Friedman. By the time Joe Muggins and John Bear were expelled in May 1914, the superintendent Moses Friedman was replaced with Oscar H Lipps.

The investigation was intended to judge the institution, both for quality of life and corruption in the administration. The Carlisle Indian School was founded in 1879 by Richard Henry Pratt, and he was forced to retire in 1904. The school closed in 1918. The Carlisle Indian School was no longer in its prime, and the investigation is essentially a culmination of longstanding issues the school had faced. In the investigation, a teacher stated that “…all academic and industrial work [was] made subservient to athletics and football…” (1360), further detailing the misuse of school funds for the athletic department.

The investigation further includes information about money stolen from students by the administration, public intoxication and alcohol provided to the students, the state of the food provided to the students, and the provisions available to the guard house.


The guard house was a point of contention for the Carlisle Indian School. It was a separate building from student housing. It was used as a method of punishment. Any form of infraction could result in male students being sent to the guardhouse for an indeterminate amount of time- “Do you mean to say that part of the punishment imposed on a refractory student is starving him…Yes, sir” (1006). Further discussion revealed that students in the guard house did not receive bedding beyond a bare mattress (1007).  This was not the first time Moses Friedman and the guard house were investigated. In 1910 there were a number of correspondences between a lawyer in Carlisle, Arthur Rupley, and Moses Friedman, the superintendent at the time. Rupley brought up the antiquated design of the building-  In his letter to Friedman, Rupley states that “The Guard House and Dungeon constructed during the Revolutionary War is almost an airtight compartment with no light and inadequate ventilation and is a most unsanitary condition. The conditions under which the Indian boys are confined are worse than our County Prison”.

Friedman replied that the guard house “…is not thought to be an unsuitable one nor such as to endanger the health or well-being of the students confined there for a brief time”, further describing the guard house “…as a last resort, and only in instances where it is the only method of dealing with incorrigible pupils…”.

Note that the investigation in 1914 revealed that most students were not court-martialed or properly sentenced to the guard house (1007), but rather the disciplinarian, E. E. McKean, acting on orders of the superintendent, decided who would be sent there (1008). It was further reported that at least 8 students were sent to the guard house in the span of a single month (1007).

In his letter to Moses Friedman, Arthur Rupley stated that “I am certain that the imprisonment of the Indian boys in this dungeon will sooner or later reach the public press of the State and become a scandal…”. Rupley sent his letter voicing is concerns in 1910.


A part of the issue reported in the investigation was the repeated state of drunkenness by the male students at the time. Most of the guard house residents were sent there for intoxication. Alcohol was not allowed on the premises, and most students reportedly procured the banned substance by going into town and pay black men to purchase the alcohol for them (1008). Although many students were punished for being drunk, the football players were not (1361).

Only weeks after the newspaper reports about Hazel Myers, a story ran on June 10th, reporting the official sentencing of 5 black men in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. They were charged with providing alcohol to students at the Carlisle Indian School. E. E. McKean, the school disciplinarian, attended the hearing, as did the new superintendent, Oscar H. Lipps. The five men, who received varying sentences, were charged for specifically selling alcohol to the football team, of whom the school administration seemed to be the most concerned.


Scandals, dismissals, and their subsequent cover-up were rife in the history of the Carlisle Indian School, especially at the end of its life. The complex relationship between the school, its surrounding area, the government, and its students are all necessary in understanding the circumstances John Bear Junior was facing during his tenure and expulsion at the Carlisle Indian School.

 

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