The Tohono O’odham children were required to attend Indian boarding schools, designed to teach them the English language and assimilate them to the mainstream European-American ways. According to historian David Leighton, of the Arizona Daily Star newspaper, the boarding school the Tohono O’odham attended was the Tucson Indian School.
This boarding school was founded in 1886, when T.C. Kirkwood, superintendent of the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church, asked the Tucson Common Council for land near where the University of Arizona would be built.
The Common Council granted the Board of Home Missions a 99-year lease on land at $1 a year. The Board purchased 42 acres of land on the Santa Cruz River, from early pioneer Sam Hughes.
The new facility opened in 1888, with 54 boys and girls. At the new semi-religious boarding school, boys learned rural trades like carpentry and farming, while girls were taught sewing and similar domestic skills of the period.
In 1890, additional buildings were completed but the school was still too small for the demand, and students had to be turned away. To raise funds for the school and support its expansion, its superintendent entered into a contract with the city of Tucson to grade and maintain streets.
In 1903, Jose Xavier Pablo, who later went on to become a leader in the Tohono O’odham Nation, graduated from the school. Three years later, the school bought the land they were leasing from the city of Tucson and sold it as a significant profit.
In 1907, they purchased land just east of the Santa Cruz River, near present-day Ajo Way and built a new school. The new boarding school opened in 1908; it has a separate post office, known as the Escuela Post Office. Sometimes this name was used in place of the Tucson Indian School.
By the mid-1930s, the Tucson Indian School covered 160 acres, had 9 buildings and a capacity of educating 130 students. In 1940, about 18 different tribes made up the population of students at the school.
With changing ideas about education of tribal children, the federal government began to support education where the children lived with their families. In 1960 the school closed its doors. The site was developed as Santa Cruz Plaza, just southwest of Pueblo Magnet High School.