Flandreau Indian Boarding School


Last Updated: 6 years

As the banished Minnesota Dakota people gathered in their new home in South Dakota, they expressed an interest in the establishment of a school.

This desire was also corroborated by the non-Indian residents of Flandreau, South Dakota, who were equally anxious to have a government boarding school built near their town. Plans began to develop for the Flandreau Indian Boarding School.

South Dakota U.S. Senator, Richard F. Pettigrew, who originally had platted Moody County, lobbied the Territorial Legislature for its creation and made sure his relatives homesteaded critical areas around the future city of Flandreau.

In his first state election in 1889, Pettigrew campaigned as a candidate for the United
States Senate, when he promised during his campaign that he would promote a
government boarding school to be located at Flandreau.

After his speech, Moody County citizens, including many American Indian voters, elected Pettigrew to the Senate.

Pettigrew evidently convinced local citizens that an Indian School would be more advantageous than having the state capitol located in the area. Pettigrew, however,
did not immediately follow through with his election promises.

Not long after the elections, Native American residents from the surrounding Sioux reservations made it known through petitions to the government that they wanted to
establish a boarding school at Flandreau.

On March 24, 1890, George Pettigrew, a cousin of Richard’s, hired John Eastman to lobby for them in Washington. In a letter to Eastman in which he informed the lobbyist that citizens of Pipestone, Minnesota, were also looking for a boarding school, Pettigrew warned Eastman that the location of a school at Pipestone would ruin Flandreau.

In response, Eastman collected petitions from nearby reservations and delivered them to R. F. Pettigrew in Washington, D.C.

On May 13, 1890, the Senator acknowledged receipt of the petitions for the school at Flandreau and said he would present the information to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

On August 13, Pettigrew advised Eastman that an appropriation bill to finance the school
finally had passed both houses of Congress and awaited the president’s signature. In
1891, Congress appropriated $72,000 for the purchase of a school site and the erection of
three buildings.

This appropriation included $2,000 to purchase 160 acres of land for the
site of an Indian Industrial School to be located near the village of Flandreau.

U.S. Indian Agent Helms and Hosea Locke, a local teacher, received instructions on
October 3, 1890, to select and secure options on land.

On October 29, Agent Helms reported the possibilities of a fertile and satisfactory location about one-half mile north ofthe town of Flandreau on the north quarter mile of section twenty-one at a price of $48 an acre.

Not surprisingly, the land belonged to Senator Pettigrew. Another site was
available about two miles northwest of the village at $10 an acre, and Helms reported
other desirable locations in the vicinity that would cost at least $3,000 or more.

On November 21, he recommended the purchase of the land from Pettigrew.

On the recommendation of the U.S. Indian Office, an inspector appeared to examine
the land options. Inspector Cisney reported one piece of land situated at the southeast
quarter of section 28, but found it to be too flat for adequate sewage disposal.

Ultimately, he recommended the purchase of the Pettigrew tract for $2,000 as the best buy. The sale was completed on March 30, 1891.

For temporary school quarters, employees at Flandreau moved an old school building
from near the river to the highest land on the boarding school property. Soon thereafter
workers began construction of new buildings.

Although classes were being held in temporary structures, ninety-eight pupils had already enrolled in classes.

By March 7, 1893, three buildings were completed. By the time of the construction of these buildings, twelve staff members had been hired. Following Rigg’s death in 1893, for a short time the school was called Riggs Institute. 

The main objective in constructing such institutions was to build a model for
assimilation. The purpose of the school was to provide vocational training and language
skills to American Indians to assist them in assimilation.

Congress originally appropriated funds to operate the school only through 1892, but later found the project amenable enough to both the students and larger community to sustain it as a long-term institution.

On March 3, 1893, Congress appropriated $167 per pupil for each of the 100 students expected at the school. Congress also appropriated money to enlarge or improve the physical plant and curriculum at Flandreau.

By July 1892, Congress had provided more than $27,000 for construction of permanent buildings. 

The government later purchased land to serve as an agricultural laboratory for the students.

The first permanent building constructed on the campus was Winona Hall, a two story
structure constructed of brick. The building served as both a girls’ dormitory on the
upper floors and as a dining hall on the lower level, with a seating capacity for 150.

It also contained an employee’s reception room, a girls’ reading and reception room, a dispensary, classrooms, the superintendent’s office, and a lavatory. Women students
lived on the second floor.

By 1895, as a consequence of overcrowding, the basement ultimately served as kitchen, dining room, and storerooms.

Because the enrollment at the school increased quickly, it became necessary to erect a brick and stone addition to the female dormitory. With this addition, the facility could accommodate 300 students. 

The second building constructed at the school was the building where classes were
held. This two-story brick structure opened in 1892 and accommodated 150 students. It
contained four classrooms and a storeroom for books.

In 1900, the classroom accommodations were expanded, as additions were added and the school replaced the kerosene lighting system with electricity.

Over the next few years, other buildings were added. The male dormitory, Mayota
Hall, was constructed in 1892. It was a two-story brick building that contained six
bedrooms on each floor, with a reading room and a dressing room on the first floor. The building housed sixty young men and two employees.

In 1893, the government built both a barn and the fourth major building on the campus. This barn was a brick structure containing the boiler house, fuel room, carpentry shop, laundry, and bake oven capable of baking 300 loaves of bread at a time.

The next year, the school connected to the city water supply and thus enjoyed a system that provided better water for drinking, laundry, and a much-needed modem sewer system with indoor bathrooms for both the male and female dormitories. 

In 1895, the school received a grant from the government of $52,000 to enlarge the
overall facility. With these funds the school officials built a hospital in the southwest
comer of the campus, an eight-room two-story frame cottage for the superintendent, and a two-story brick dining hall.

The second floor of the dining hall, boasting four three room apartments and a storage area, served as the living quarters for the staff. The dining hall, “Tiyo Tipi” (meaning center tent or the central part of the village where the feasts were held), was a two-storied round structure with a gabled roof and a stone foundation. 

The first floor contained a dining room that served 400 students. It also contained a kitchen, bakery, and an employee office.

Other dormitories were added later in 1897, and in 1898 additional classrooms were added to accomodate more students.

Reports by government inspectors document the early development of the Flandreau
School during its earliest years. Inspector Jam.es P. McLaughlin, who served under the
U.S. Secretary of the Interior, evaluated the school in a report in 1897.

He described the brick buildings as relatively sound with minor rejoining work needed on the cement floors of the basement. He also briefly communicated about the two new buildings under construction and an addition to another.

One of the new buildings was comprised of a dining room, kitchen, and bakery on the first floor, and dining room, employees quarters,bath, and closets on the second floor. The other new building housed a large boys’ quarters with a reading room and two large spare rooms on the first floor. 

The school occupied 160 acres of land, with forty-six acres set aside for cultivation. The rest of the property was divided into farm and school buildings or facilities.

McLaughlin reported that the school cattle herd included twelve milk cows, one bull,
thirteen young cattle, five horses, and five hogs. The forty-six acres in cultivation
included 200 bushels of corn, 600 bushels of potatoes, 100 bushels of turnips, 100
bushels of other vegetables, and ten tons of hay.

McLaughlin believed that Superintendent Leslie D. Davis of Flandreau Indian School was an excellent choice for his position.

In 1899 another federal agent, Indian Inspector Cyrus Bede, visited Flandreau Indian
School. He reported that the school had 225 students in attendance and offered that they
were all responsible for cooking, cleaning, and tailoring.

He described the facility as being in “good” condition and mentioned $3,000 that had been recently appropriated for new construction and repairs.

Bede also believed that the school as a whole was well managed, and in fact was one of the best government plants that he had seen. He suggested that the school plant would benefit from additional appropriations set aside for expansion of the buildings and grounds.

In 1900, James P. McLaughlin returned to examine the campus. He described the
school as having twelve buildings (seven brick and five frame), with three dormitories
that were formerly classroom buildings.

He reported also that the school cultivated thirteen acres of land, with twenty-five acres of potatoes and five acres of gardens, corn, and small grain. The farm also maintained a livestock herd of horses, milk cows, and cattle.

After 1900, the physical plant of the school was further developed. In 1903, the
school added a six-room vocational shop equipped with plumbing and lighting facilities, and by 1909 the facility also housed the printing office, blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, manual training room, a harness and shoe shop, a tailor shop, and painting department.

All of this vocational equipment supposedly would give Indians the skills necessary to assimilate. 

By 1913, the school was comprised of 480 acres of land with fifteen brick and eight
frame buildings, all with steam heat and electricity.

The land had been purchased through the years, with the total value of the school listed at $250,000.

Between 1923 and 1924, the masonry students constructed a Library, Duplex, and Office building. Under the direction of the masonry instructor George Rae, the students also built a one story wood frame building. Students actually gained skills constructing several buildings at the school.

In contrast to the many construction projects during the first few decades, there were few projects after the 1930s. Students constructed a new shop building in 1932. This exercise and the resulting construction also was used for vocational classes.

Students learned masonry skills during the pouring and working of concrete.

The School purchased new equipment and machinery, including several latches, a large press, a power twin hammer, and a buffer. All were for training students in skilled work.

In 1932, the students also constructed a Home Economics building. This two-story structure was a carpentry class project from design to completion. On the first and second floors the girls’ vocational commercial foods and sewing classes were held. In the basement was a nursery for thirty children.

During the 1970s, the students constructed a cultural center that would ultimately bring the types of activities to the Indians that would help them accommodate to mainstream society. During this decade, Flandreau also added a greenhouse and three mobile home classrooms in 1974-1975.

These facilities either celebrated American Indian cultures or provided more classrooms for biology classes and/or facilitated Title I programming under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The new building projects of the 1960s and 1970s reflected a resurgence in cultural pride, as well as a renewed interest in courting the federal government for funding.