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Native American Oral History Resources: Chilocco Indian Agricultural School Collection

About the Collection

The Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, located in north central Oklahoma, operated from 1884-1980 as one of a handful of federal off-reservation Indian boarding schools in the United States. Thousands of students passed through the school's iconic entryway arch during its nearly century-long existence. Even today, Chilocco continues to be a powerful site for memory for its remaining alumni from over 127 tribes, as well as the Native people, directly or indirectly impacted by its history and scholars and students throughout the world who seek to understand its role within the larger context of U.S. Indian boarding schools. 

The oral history collection represents a two year collaborative project between the Chilocco National Alumni Association (CNAA) and the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program (OOHRP) at the Oklahoma State University Library. It started as a request from the CNAA Veterans Project Committee to document the first-person stories of their numerous veteran alumni through oral history interviews. However, with additional funding help from the Tom J. and Edna M. Carson Foundation, this project quickly grew into a more ambitious undertaking.

The CNAA identified and OOHRP conducted oral history interviews with more than 40 Chilocco veterans and other alumni and held two scanning events for alumni at the annual Chilocco Homecoming. This collection contains over 1,100 images of campus facilities, students and staff, activities, and events.

Through these resources, we seek to increase knowledge and understanding of the legacy of Chilocco Indian Agricultural School while also facilitating efforts to tell the stories of the many thousands of students who attended.

You can view the materials for the oral history collection here. If you are interested in the photo collection, follow the link here to view that collection.

Topics covered

Arapaho heritage, Boarding school employees, Board school students, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Charlie Company, Cherokee heritage, Cheyenne heritage, Chickasaw heritage, Chilocco Indian Agricultural School--Alumni and alumnae, Choctaw heritage, Creek heritage, Culture, Education, Family, Friendship, Indian actors, Indian Health Service, Korean War, Metalsmithing, Military experience, Occupations, Off-reservation boarding schools, Otoe heritage, Paratroopers, Ponca heritage, Psychological stress, Race prejudice, Religious beliefs, Sexual assault, Social service, Substance abuse, Tohono O'odham heritage, Tonkawa heritage, Tribal diversity, Tribal student programs, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. National Guard, U.S. Navy, Veterans, Veteran groups, Vietnam War, Vocational teachers, Yakama Indian Reservation

Select interviews from the Chilocco Indian Agricultural Collection

Wes Studi

Wes Studi (Cherokee), a 1964 graduate of Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, discusses his path to and through Chilocco. He mentions some of the duties and experiences he had during his time at the school and how Cherokee was his first language. Studi talks about his military career and shares a few of his memories from his tours in Vietnam. He connects the regimented requirements of life at Chilocco with the regimented requirements of life in the U.S. Army. Studi also acknowledges how much he enjoys coming back to Oklahoma and to Chilocco as he continues his successful career in film.

Jim Baker

Jim Baker (Choctaw) attended Chilocco Indian Agricultural School and later served as superintendent of the school. He shares some of his experiences at Chilocco as a student and as the superintendent. Baker explains the history of the school and its relation to the National Guard. He mentions challenges he faced as superintendent and talks about various programs he implemented. Baker also discusses some of the outside opinions and influences on the school. Lastly, he describes why Chilocco is special and why so many former students think back fondly on their time at Chilocco.

Joe Thornton

Joe Thornton (Cherokee), a 1934 graduate of Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, talks about his family and how he came to be at the school. He describes a few of his student experiences and how he first became interested in archery. Thornton discusses his time in the U.S. Army, his duties as a radio technician during World War II, and parlaying those skills into a radio and television repair business. He then describes his career as an award-winning archer, his role in archery being included in the Olympics, and various worldwide competitions. Thornton also mentions some of his secrets to living to be a hundred. He also talks about representing the Cherokee Nation and Chilocco throughout his life.


Interviews featured in a podcast

Opened in 1884, Chilocco Indian School was one of the largest federally-funded boarding schools for Native American youth in the country. Located twenty miles north of Ponca City, Oklahoma, the school offered a half academic / half vocational curriculum, focused on assimilating Native students into the dominant culture. Like most boarding schools, Chilocco went through different phases of development, reflecting changes in the federal policy towards Native Americans. These changes were often prompted by the efforts of Native educators, community workers and activists, and shifting attitudes within the larger society. Throughout these shifts, however, the school’s status as a National Guard center as well as boarding school made it unique. In this episode of Amplified Oklahoma, we're focusing on military veterans who attended the school. We’ll hear interview excerpts with Wes Studi and Charles LeClair from the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program's archives. Later, former superintendent Jim Baker shares more about his involvement with alumni, especially in preserving the history of the school.