Introduction: “An Army of Christian School-Teachers”
In 1891, Merrill Gates, president of the Lake Mohonk Conference, declared that “the time
for fighting the Indian tribes is passed.” What was needed, instead, Gates claimed, was an “army
of Christian school-teachers.”
That is the army that is going to win the victory. We are going to conquer barbarism, but
we are going to do it by getting at the barbarism one by one. We are going to do it by the
conquest of the individual man, woman, and child which leads to the truest civilization.
We are going to conquer the Indians by a standing army of school-teachers, armed with
ideas…and the gospel of love and the gospel of work.
The plan was fairly simple and straightforward. “Cannot civilization civilize?” former
commissioner of Indian affairs, George E. Ellis, asked in 1882.
He, like so many others,
believed it could. The solution was in education.
Conquering this “Virgin Land” and its aboriginal peoples had been a rather bloody affair.
There existed, however, a separate “intellectual” war waged in a gentler fashion. This war was
ideological and psychological. It was waged, not with swords or muskets, but in classrooms, with
neckties and Holy Bibles.
The ‘Kill the Indian, Save the Man,’ and the ‘Friends of the Indian’ movements of the
century, as well as Richard Henry Pratt’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School, are all clear
articulations of this sentiment that through education and ‘Americanization’ the native could
peaceably exist within western civilization. Pratt’s school, in many ways, was the most explicit
Merrill Gates, “Proceedings of the Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian 1891,” in
Annual Report of
the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 1891
(Washington: Government Prinitng Office, 1891), 114
George E. Ellis,
The Red Man and the White Man in North America
(Boston: Little Brown, 1882), 600.