The 1867 Manual Labor School at Grand Ronde

In the 1860s the issue of education was at the fore of the duties of the Indian agents at Grand Ronde. Years of letters complained about irregular federal funding and support for this service to the tribes, a service supported by provisions in most of the ratified treaties. Still further Indian Agents were working to find ways to assimilate their Native charges, as this was the federal Indian policy of the time, but the agents did not have the federal support to have a sustained effort to get the natives converting to American culture. The school at Grand Ronde was operated by the Catholic Priest, Rev. Adrien Croquet, who supervised an order of Sisters. They taught a mixture of regular subjects of reading and arithmetic, while also imposing upon the impressionable minds’ Catholic religious teachings. Education then was conceived of and operated as a two-prong system of assimilation, educating the young people to become white Americans and devaluing Native culture.

The transcription that follows suggests that the mission of assimilation and conversion to Catholicism was largely successful at Grand Ronde. John W. Wells, the Special Indian Agent encountered a population of some 300 people at the Saturday Council meeting, who did not like the Protestant teachers at the school and so would not send their children there. Walls asks for regular Catholic teachers so that the children may be educated faster.

The Manual Labor School at Grand Ronde is hinted at in numerous letters. Wells’ account suggests that the school is in the Grand Ronde community, within Old Grand Ronde. The Catholic Boarding school is not begun until about 1872.  The schoolhouse described below which earlier letters state is of the “manual labor plan” is clearly that of a boarding school, with two lines of military bunks. The other type of school, a Day School, is operated much like public schools today with the students arriving in the morning and leaving at the end of the school day but living at home. The “manual Labor plan” is really an immersion plan to quickly turn young Native students into civilized Americans. The sparsity of the building and its furnishings suggest that the students spent their time during the day, perhaps all day, grouped around the one large table listening to instruction and doing their work. At night all of the students slept in the same room. much to the consternation of Wells.

The conditions of the schoolhouse are particularly grim. A small unventilated space with little light. The space has a fireplace, and the conditions suggest that the students would be susceptible to respiratory illnesses, perhaps flus, and pneumonia and perhaps molds, which can help grow respiratory problems, which in this period would have easily killed young people.

Wells seems particularly entranced by Homer, likely the 13-year-old Homer Hoffer, an old tribal family. Homer was the best student of both reservations. His father was one of the original chiefs of the Oregon City Clackamas Clowewalla tribes.

“I found the school located in a small room, unventilated; dark; and humid; a stove in it without fire which the closeness of the room rendered unnecessary. A desk of the capacity in length to seat the scholars, stove at the end of the line or row of bunks like those used in barracks; opposite to which stood another row of bunks of like kind with room to pass between. This was all the accommodation for sleeping which I saw, and if it be all I should judge it an unfit place for the male sex alone. And if, the girls have sleeping apartments elsewhere, the eye rests nowhere upon these, or partitions, to convey the idea of an observance of the rule for the separation of the sexes; at least, in the daytime, before and after school hours. The narrow school room (with its bunks) appears located at the back of the sitting room of the family; these are at the side of a room of the length of both devoted to washing and cooking; this long room and the school room have the same damp, cheerless air; and from the location of these three rooms, it is impossible for the long room and the school room to receive that healthful ventilation in a sanitary point of view.

The repellant tone of the school-room was brought forcibly to my mind, on Saturday during the council I held with the chiefs. They told me that apart from their repugnance to the school which they had on account of their religion (they being Catholics) they, that is those of them who had children, would not send them to this school because they sickened and died after being there a few months. The reason for this mortality was patent to my mind while the chiefs were speaking; and I felt that what otherwise might be deemed their superstition, was alas a truth which physiological causes demonstrated!

The children did well in their exercises in spelling, reading and the first four rules of arithmetic; or, I should say the arithmetical branch of the exercises was engrossed by a small boy about 13 years of age, a son of the Chief of the Oregon City Tribe, named Homer (Homer Hoffer). They were not so proficient in singing as the scholars of “Siletz;” they sang no hymns at all, but on the contrary, a rude song called “Johnny” of low metrical character indeed the terms of which were not indelicate, but rather unrefined for youth. (the song could be “When Johnny Comes Marching home,” a popular Civil war song)

These children evince remarkable aptitude to learn; but, as a whole, they are not I should think so proficient as those at “Siletz”; while I believe Homer to be the aptest and best scholar of all in both schools To show you their susceptibility to learn, and the progress which they have made, I herewith enclose the books of Homer after two years

Hooker, after odd spells of a year

Lincoln, the same

Susan Clarke, after 5 month tuition

George Washington, after 3 days

Geslie, the same

(these appear to be study books of the students, they would have kept them so they can study for tests. The books are not with the letter)

Which afford a practical test of the sufficiency of the system of the education of the Indian youth so happily founded by your Department and which you and your efficient coadjutors Mr. Mix and Mr. Watson have so much at heart.

On Saturday the 19th, I held a council with the chief at the office of the Agent;

… They say the school is repugnant to them for the reasons heretofore stated; and they wish their daughters placed in the charge of the Sisters, and their sons in that of a Teacher or Priest of their persuasion, being Catholic converts; and that this is a reason insuperable to them why they have never acknowledged the school.

They say they have no objection nor have they ever raised any, to the children of Protestant Indians being educated there; but have been subjected as Catholics in not having the benefit of the religious ministration and culture to which they are attached.

This subject is so easily solved under the 1st article of the Amendment to the Constitution, that it does not need the school and its paucity of numbers (with an education fund of 2200 dollars a year, assigned to the Grande Ronde Agency, productive of so trifling an amount of good with so much harm) to elucidate it.

… an appropriation be asked of Congress for this employee (teacher) at an annual salary of $1000.00.

With reference to the school system for Indian children as applicable to the Grand Ronde Reserve, I would respectfully recommend that a contract be entered into with the Rev. F.N. Blanchet, Archbishop of Oregon,… and that the usual facilities for the erection of a Mission and school houses, and buildings for the accommodation of the Sisters & teachers (common to those according to or enjoyed by the Protestant Societies) for the religious and mental training of the Children of Catholic Indian converts.

This done, apart from the unquestioned right under the Constitution to worship God, according to the dictates of their consciences, the Indians will no longer complain that in a few month after entering the school at Grand Ronde, their children die or have to leave with broken constitutions occasioned by maladies contracted there; a terrible truth unhesitatingly imparted to me by Mr. Clark the present Teacher of the Grand Ronde School; and new, plain, but commodious and well ventilated buildings, will prevent it.” (Report of John W. Wells Indian Agent to The Superintendent of Indians Affairs 1/21/ 1867 RG75 m234 r615)

Another issue is mentioned at the near conclusion of the letter, that of the freedom of religion. Wells is most concerned that the Natives at Grand Ronde be free to have instruction in Catholicism, that they worship Gods based on their “Conscience”. His definition of religious freedom appears to only concern Christian religions.  Ironically this conversion is a very recent phenomenon as most of the tribe resisted conversion from their native religions. In fact, many tribal leaders continued their tribal spirituality well into the 20th century despite all the effort to convert them. It appears that the people at the reservation were still practicing their culture while they professed to be Catholic. Their protestations against the Protestants may actually be a protestation they had learned from their Catholic priest as there were minor political conflicts in this period between the Catholics and Protestants over access to Native peoples at reservations and control of the schools, which are the main conversion facilities.

The council meeting mentioned above has additional notes in Wells’ report. He notes the leaders present and they are presented as the leaders of their respective tribes. They were,

Tom- Chief of the Rogue River band  (Likely Tyee Tom)

John- Chief of the Oregon City tribe (Homer Hoffer’s Father?)

Jake- Chief of the Cow Creek band  (Cow Creek Band of Umpquas)

Lewis- Chief of the Umpquas & Calapooias   (Upper Umpqua and Yoncalla Calapooias)

Billy- Chief of the Calapooias       (Willamette Valley Calapooias- could be southern tribes)

Peter- Chief of the Umpquas       (another Umpqua tribe? or same as above, tribes normally have more than one chief)

Joseph Hutchins Chief of the Saint Ams    (Santiam Band of Calapooias)

Joseph Sangareto- Chief of the Marysvilles  (Marys River or Chapinafu)

Quackety- Chief of the Molels       (likely Southern Band of Molalas)

Tom, Sub chief of the Calapooias     (Tom Hutchins? Santiam or Willamette Valley Calapooias)

Peter the Yamhill Chief            (Peter Kenoyer?- here the Account could be mistaken at Peter is Tualatin)

Exceptions being Dave, Jake, Kilkie, and Wacheno (not being present) (John Wacheno- Oregon City Chief)


January 21, 1867 Report on Grand Ronde, John W. Wells to Superintendent of Indian Affairs, RG75 M234, r615

Report on Indian Affairs 1863, Oregon Superintendency report

8 thoughts on “The 1867 Manual Labor School at Grand Ronde

      1. Okay, family records show’s Dad of Homer Hoffer as the Chief with a few names, on the treaty as Lalbick, a.k.a.s., Oregon City John Chief, Old Man Hoffer Apperson, & Chief John Kawache. Wacheno is new name well worth looking into! Thanks for all your dedication to our peoples history David!

      1. Moses Apperson was Homer’s brother. Moses was captured & his family taken to Oregon asylum, now the Oregon state hospital, who claim they do not know what happened to the families cremated remains. A few cousins went there to claim them & bring them home, to no avail.

        They were interred in a circle on hospital grounds with other urns, that were later dug up & lost. 🙁

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