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Bismarck Indian School Closure


For thirty years, Bismarck, North Dakota was home one of 30 non-reservation boarding schools for native students in the US. The Bismarck Indian School was established in 1907 between the Missouri River and the city’s Northern Pacific Railroad tracks. Students largely came from the Fort Berthold Reservation, but also Standing Rock and Turtle Mountain, and some from other states too.

The school had a tumultuous history, including five superintendents within a five-year span, from 1917 to 1922. The school’s first superintendent, W.R. Davis was reported as a popular with the students. Every student and teacher crowded the train platform to see him off after he retired in 1914.

The school closed for a short time in 1918, partly due to the Great War. School staff often doubled up on jobs, as in the case of a blacksmith/carpenter and a seamstress/cook. Many employees sought transfers, and resigned simply because they didn’t want to stay. Poor maintenance also plagued the school.

The Bismarck Indian School served up to 125 students. It was under the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Girls learned about housework and sewing, while boys were taught about livestock and carpentry. Students were often treated poorly and punished for thefts, escapes and other behavior. Punishments included confinement and strappings.

Many students and their families resisted the school’s forced assimilation into Euro-American society. Turtle Mountain families in particular resisted the school and often refused to send their children. Fort Berthold families threatened organized opposition against the school. As one of its superintendents wrote, the school had “one of the rottenest reputations” he had ever encountered.

In 1922, the school became an all-girl institution. It closed on this date in 1937, with the site later becoming a temporary camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps and military grounds.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


Annis, A.A. (2012). Resistance on the great plains: The Bismarck Indian school. (University of North Dakota, Grand Forks) Retrieved from: ""