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Richard Henry Pratt papers

Call Number: WA MSS S-1174

Scope and Contents

The papers span Richard Henry Pratt's career as an officer of the United States Army and as a key figure in the development of Native American boarding schools.

The papers are divided into seven series. Series I, General Correspondence and Official Papers consists of official Army papers as well as Pratt's incoming and outgoing letters. Pratt made copies of most of his letters. These copies, either carbons, drafts, or volumes of letterpress impressions, are filed chronologically as Outgoing Letters and provide a very complete record of his letter writing. Incoming Letters are arranged alphabetically by author.

The main subject of Pratt's correspondence until 1904 was the founding and administration of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. This correspondence reveals Pratt's efforts to gain support for the school from the United States government and private donors, as well as the day to day diffIculties in the school’s management. In addition, there is correspondence with former students and Carlisle staff members, including Howard E. Gansworth, Dr. Carlos Montezuma (Yavapai-Apache), and Chauncey Yellow Robe (Rosebud Sioux).

Pratt's correspondence reflects conversations with prominent Americans - both Native and white - with regards to contemporary issues facing Native Americans. Correspondence topics are wide-ranging and include the education and cultural assimilation of Native Americans, particularly at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School; the interaction between Native Americans and the federal government of the United States and its departments; and perspectives on the tribal reservation system. Correspondents in this series include: Lyman Abbott (10 items), Samuel C. Armstrong of the Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute (101 items), Spencer Fullerton Baird (21 items), Rudolph Blankenburg (14 items), James W. Champney (18 items), Clara B. Colby (2 items), Henry L. Dawes (31 items), W. Maslin Frysinger (22 items), Henry G. Ganns (39 items), Howard E. Gansworth (22 items), Franklin K. Lane (18 items), John D. Miles (145 items), Carlos Montezuma (122 items), Knute Nelson (34 items), Arthur C. Parker (45 items), Carl Schurz (12 items), and Cato Sells (13 items).

Also documented in Pratt's correspondence is Pratt’s view of his work as advocacy for education and citizenship for Native Americans. Contemporary armed conflicts west of the Mississippi River and the United States government’s interests in seizing Native lands led to settler conceptualizations of Native Americans as savages incapable of existing within or alongside white American society. The contemporary development of the reservation system complicated settler ideas of how Native Americans might or might not integrate into white society; Pratt opposed the reservation system as running contrary to his assimilationist efforts.

Official Papers, contains material on Pratt's early Army career and his experiences with Native American prisoners of war at St. Augustine. This section contains reports, orders, official correspondence, and communications. Threaded throughout these papers are Pratt's observations and notes about his attempt to assimilate the imprisoned Native Americans into white American society. Included here are the relayed words of Kiowa Chief Mah Mante to the United States government through Pratt, lamenting the loss of family contact and requesting that those imprisoned be allowed to have their families visit them. The United States government denied this request.

Series II, Family Correspondence , contains Pratt's letters to and from members of his family. Also included in this series is the correspondence of his daughter, Nana Pratt Hawkins; his wife, Anna Laura Pratt; his son, Mason Delano Pratt; his grandson, R. H. Pratt, II; his granddaughter, Sarah Pratt; his son-in-law, Guy LeRoy Stevick; and his daughter, Marion Pratt Stevick. Pratt's correspondence with his wife documents his experiences while serving in the Army and founding the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, with an emphasis on arriving and departing from various locations safely, who he was meeting with, and maintaining school funding. The correspondence of Pratt's children details their futile efforts to have Pratt's autobiographical work published after his death. Correspondence between Pratt's children and Elaine Goodale Eastman, author of Pratt: The Red Man's Moses, reveal the preparation of and reaction to this biography.

The correspondence of Mason D. Pratt focuses on his attempt to gather newspaper coverage about the movement of imprisoned Native Americans from Fort Sill to Fort Marion in 1875. Some details about Pratt's role in the Sioux Commission of 1888 are found in the correspondence of his son-in-law, Guy LeRoy Stevick.

Series III, Addresses, Diaries, Writings, and Notes , contains copies of articles and addresses by Pratt which detail his beliefs on Native American education and forced assimilation. In addition, there are several versions of Pratt's autobiographical work and four diaries recounting Pratt's activities during the Civil War.

Series IV, Photographs and Drawings , contains numerous photographs of the facilities and children at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. There are also a large number of photographs of Pratt. Other subjects include the Native American prisoners of war imprisoned at Fort Marion. The photographs of children at Carlisle include propaganda photographs created by Pratt with the photographer J. N. Choate. Choate, along with other photographers, worked with Pratt to create photographs that showed Native American children wearing their traditional cultural clothing and marks of their heritage and juxtaposed those photographs with images of the same children with Native cultural markers removed and wearing white Christian or military clothes and short hair - especially for young Native boys. In the traditional cultures of the children who attended Carlisle, cutting one’s hair was frequently a sign of loss or mourning, adding an additional layer of meaning to Carlisle’s assimilationist goals. Through photographic juxtaposition, Pratt and Choate created a visual narrative to support the Carlisle Indian School’s assimilationist claims. There are negatives for many of the photographs in this series. Contact prints have been made for the glass plate negatives, and the originals have been placed in the Restricted Fragile series, where they may be consulted only with the approval of the appropriate curator.

This series also includes ledger art retained by Pratt made by Native American prisoners at St. Augustine and children at Carlisle. The drawings document the experiences of the St. Augustine prisoners and Carlisle children, illustrating the artists' home environments and their present circumstances, offering insight into how they perceived the aftermath of the United States' domination of the west. This includes the work of Kiowa artist Etahdleuh Doanmoe, which documents his journey from the Great Plains of the American west to imprisonment in St. Augustine and his experiences while incarcerated.

Series V, Clippings, Scrapbooks, and Miscellaneous Publications , contains a large amount of newspaper clippings, both loose and in scrapbooks, that chronicle Pratt's activities from the St. Augustine days to the end of his career. Two scrapbooks in this series are devoted to press reactions to the Sioux Commission of 1888, of which Pratt was a member.

Series VI, Special Files , contains assorted biographical materials about Pratt and miscellaneous materials on the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

Series VII, December 1976 Acquisition, contains printed material, ephemera, and photographs pertaining to Pratt and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School; material concerning Pratt's service in the United States Army; genealogical materials pertaining to Pratt; correspondence; photographs and negatives of Native American camps, the Pratt family, and trips to Alaska and New Mexico; sea beans polished by Native American prisoners at Fort Marion, Florida; and maps showing Indian reservations within the United States.


  • 1862-1972


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Boxes 34, 42, and 43: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Richard Henry Pratt Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Richard Henry Pratt Papers were the gift of Margaret Hawkins Seelye, Edgar M. Hawkins, Jr., and Richard Pratt Hawkins, 1959 and 1976.


Organized into seven series: I. General Correspondence and Official Papers, 1867-1924. II. Family Correspondence, 1862-1956. III. Addresses, Diaries, Writings, and Notes, 1862-1953. IV. Photographs and Drawings, 1875-1904. V. Clippings and Miscellaneous Publications, 1874-1953. VI. Special Files, 1878-1963. VII. December 1976 Acquisition, 1871-1972.


23.18 Linear Feet ((102 boxes) + 3 broadsides)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers primarily relate to Richard Henry Pratt’s work and theories on education as a means of assimilating Native Americans into white American society. This is documented in correspondence, letter-press books, writings, diaries, notes, and photographs. Also included are papers relating to Pratt’s family, responses to Pratt’s work, and documentation about his founding and running the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which removed Native American children from their homes and forced them to assimilate into white American society under the guise of providing education. The papers also include ledger art by Etahdleuh Doanmoe (Kiowa), drawings by other unidentified Native American artists, and photographs both of Native American subjects more broadly and of children at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.


Richard Henry Pratt (1840-1924) was a soldier in the American Civil War and later fought in armed conflicts against Native Americans on the Great Plains. In 1879, Pratt founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, the first Native American boarding school in the United States. These schools removed Native American children from their homes and forced them to assimilate into white American society under the guise of providing education. Carlisle created the template for similar state and religious institutions in the United States.

Pratt was born in Rushford, New York in 1840, and his family moved to Logansport, Indiana in 1847. As a child, he contracted a case of smallpox, which left him with facial scars for the remainder of his life. Pratt’s father was killed when Pratt was an adolescent, leading him to leave school and work to support his family until he joined the military.

Pratt's military career began in 1861, when he enlisted as a Union soldier during the American Civil War. He mustered out at the rank of captain in 1865 but found civilian life did not suit him. Pratt rejoined the army in 1867 at the rank of second lieutenant. He was assigned the command of the 10th US Cavalry, a regiment of Black soldiers that served on the Great Plains. While armed conflicts in the American west had been ongoing since before the American Civil War began in 1861, the war’s conclusion in 1865 meant that the government of the United States had more capacity to focus on conflicts between white settlers and Native Americans over land west of the Mississippi River. The United States government used a combination of treaties and armed response to seize land and force Native Americans onto smaller and smaller parcels, destroying their traditional ways of life and ties to their ancestral lands. Impacted tribes resisted this displacement through battles and through smaller raids and skirmishes. The 10th US Cavalry under Pratt was one of many United States Army units sent west to fight in these conflicts.

In response to raids on border settlements in 1874 following the Red River War, General Phillip Sheriden ordered that thirty-four Cheyenne, twenty-seven Kiowa, nine Comanche, two Arapahoe, and one Caddo be held as prisoners of war out east at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. When he heard the plan, Pratt expressed a desire to be a part of the military detail. In a letter to General Sheridan that he reproduced in his autobiography Battlefield and Classroom, Pratt stated that he already had familiarity with a number of imprisoned Native Americans at Fort Sill, and a belief that "much can and should be done to reform these young men" during their imprisonment. Pratt carried out his conception of reform during the three years the prisoners were held at Fort Marion. He requested that he be given leeway to direct and adjust the conditions of the prison as he saw fit, which meant implementing military protocols and standards, including military haircuts and uniforms, drills, English language education, and a guard system where Native men monitored each other. St. Augustine residents were invited to come to the fort and see the work of "civilizing" the Native men there, and some local women, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, assisted in English language education. Work at the fort included maintaining the building and living quarters and polishing seashells for the tourist trade. Outings were also arranged to encourage socialization and acclimation to white culture.

Pratt's work was in contrast to the prevailing white American opinions at the time, which saw Native Americans as irredeemable savages. This view was a reaction to the wars on the Great Plains where Native American nations strove to defend their ancestral lands and waterways from annexation by the United States government. Pratt’s observations and experiences at Fort Marion led him to believe that an educational system based on military tenets of strict conformity and discipline would allow Native Americans to effectively assimilate into white American culture. Pratt’s experience at Fort Marion allowed him to convince officials in the United States Army and government that similar strategies could be used on Native American children. The Department of the Interior gave Pratt the Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania for this purpose, and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School opened in 1879.

Pratt served as superintendent of Carlisle from 1879 to 1904. In the summer of 1879, he journeyed to western reservations and removed eighty-two children from their homes and families for the inaugural cohort. Pratt instituted a zero tolerance policy for any aspect of Native American traditions and culture. At Carlisle, children lived an extremely disciplined life, performing drills and following a bell system throughout the day. Children were forbidden from wearing traditional Native American clothing and were instead given garments similar to what their white peers would wear. Even with Pratt’s vigorous defense of the boarding school system, the number of children who graduated from Carlisle remained low throughout his superintendency, with only thirty to forty degrees granted in a given year. Throughout the years that Carlisle existed, many students aged out without graduating, ran away, or died. More than one hundred children are known to have died while at Carlisle, mostly of infectious diseases. At present at least 186 people are known to be interred in the Carlisle Indian School cemetery. These numbers will likely increase from the total known in 2023 as research continues.

In 1888, Pratt headed a commission created by Secretary of the Interior William F. Vilas to convince representatives from Teton Lakota tribes to agree to the Sioux Bill, in which tribal members would be forced off their ancestral land -- designated by the United States government as the Great Sioux Reservation -- in exchange for goods and services provided by the United States government. The commission failed in its aims, as Pratt’s presence only generated further resentment because of his role separating children from their families at Carlisle, and the commission had to be reformed later without him. The commission was one example of many of the United States government's drive for more land, and the accompanying sense of displacement, frustration, and loss felt by the Lakota tribes in the area. These feelings contributed to the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890.

During his superintendency of the Carlisle School, Pratt became an outspoken opponent of tribal segregation on reservations. He believed that this system as administered and encouraged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) hindered the education and civilization of Native Americans and created helpless wards of the state. Commissioner of Indian Affairs T.J. Morgan believed children should remain on the reservation for school, following the United State’s public school model. Longstanding animosities came to a head in May of 1904 when Pratt strongly denounced the BIA and the separatism of reservations as a hindrance to the assimilation of Native Americans in a speech given at the 1904 Baptist Ministers’ Conference, held in New York City. This controversy, coupled with earlier disputes with the government over civil service reform, led to Pratt's forced retirement as superintendent of the Carlisle School in 1904. After his retirement, Pratt continued to write and speak on his viewpoints.

Richard Henry Pratt married his wife Anna Laura Mason on April 12, 1864. Together they had four children: Mason, Marian, Nana, and Richenda. Pratt died on March 15, 1924 in San Francisco, California, and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

The information in this biographical note is taken from Pratt, Richard Henry, Battlefield and Classroom: Four Decades with the American Indian, 1867-1904. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1964); Fear-Segal, Jacqueline, White Man's Club: Schools, Race, and the Struggle of Indian Acculturation. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007); and Greene, Jerome A., "The Sioux Land Commission of 1889: Prelude to Wounded Knee." South Dakota History 1, no. 1 (1970): 41-72.

Processing Information

This finding aid was revised in 2023 to address oppressive, outdated, and harmful descriptive language. During that revision, description was changed in the abstract note, scope and contents note, and biographical note. Racist, euphemistic, and harmful descriptive language referring to colonization, colonizers, and Native American people was replaced in 2023. Previous versions of this finding aid may be available. Please contact Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library for details. If you have questions or comments about these revisions, please contact the Reparative Archival Description Committee. For more information on reparative archival description at Yale, see see Yale’s Statement on Harmful Language in Archival Description.

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, competing priorities, and whether or not further accruals are expected. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.

The December 1976 Acquisition received a basic level of processing in 2014, including rehousing and minimal organization. This acquisition has not been merged and organized with the collection as a whole.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the Richard Henry Pratt Papers
by Andrew Patterson and Alison Clemens
August 1972
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2023-09-05: Finding aid revised to remove oppressive, outdated, and harmful descriptive language. See the processing note for more information.

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