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Colony Mission: Seeger Indian School in Washita County, Oklahoma

Updated: Sep 8, 2023


Wall
The remains of the dormitory.

Colony, a little hamlet in Washita County, Oklahoma, began a long time ago as a Caddoan settlement. Then, in 1886, John Seger, along with Arapahos and Cheyennes, settled Colony and opened The Seeger Indian Industrial and Vocational School in 1892 and, three years later, the Dutch Reformed Church founded a mission here.


John Seger originally came to the Darlington Agency, established by the federal government in Indian Territory for the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes, in 1872 as a brick mason. Despite having no formal training or education, he became the headmaster of the school upon its founding. According to contemporaries, this was in part due to friendships he forged with the people.


The buildings for the school were built from hand-made bricks by Arapaho and Cheyenne students, an occupation that Seger taught them. The school offered classes in agriculture, domestic sciences and animal husbandry as well as classes in music, language, mathematics, biology, and religion. The purpose of the school was to "teach" the people to integrate into a modern society by focusing on practical skills.


It's important to note that most information about the school comes from people who were not Arapaho or Cheyenne. The non-natives lauded industrial schools like this for their efforts, but we can't tell if the tribes appreciated the intrusion into their traditional ways because contemporary accounts by the children are scant. Judeo-Christian cultures in the 19th century, for example, condoned the use of physical discipline against children, something that the tribes themselves did not practice. Tribal members were also not allowed to teach at these industrial schools, and they were put to work at the schools in sewing, farming, and more; at least they were allowed to keep their wages. The students were also forced to live at the school instead of with their own families.


Interestingly, the school closed in 1932. This may have been a result of the Merriam Report (1928), which detailed problems with the lack of autonomy in education for nations. Many "Indian Schools" around the state closed at this time as well, especially after the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The buildings of the school at Colony were shuttered. Today, the Seeger Indian School —listed on the National Register —only exists in ruins after a fire destroyed the site in 1971.


The Cheyenne and Arapaho nations are very active in Colony, where murals, Pow-Wows, and other events bring their cultures to the forefront. Cheyenne Chiefs are selected at Colony, too, in an important tribal ceremony.


Visiting Colony, one of the oldest towns in the Oklahoma Territory and the first one to boast brick buildings, is highly recommended!


Building
What the dormitory for girls once looked like (Oklahoma Historical Society).
Men around cattle
Students at the academy in Colony learned animal husbandry. Here, the Cheyenne and Arapaho students learn cattle branding (National Archives).
Men and women beneath trees
Cheyennes and Arapahos sit at tribal council at the agency in Colony in 1900 (National Archives).

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