The first to die was the only one buried in three different cemeteries.
The Carlisle Indian School was barely open seven weeks when Amos LaFarmboise, a 13-year-old Sioux, died on Nov. 26, 1879.
He was originally buried in the government plot of the Ashland Cemetery on the east end of town just south of present-day York Road. The government bought the plot in 1878 and buried the 500 Union soldiers that were moved from a cemetery in Maryland. Only 35 soldiers are identified by name; the rest are unknown.
Disquiet for the dead
Located a mile away, Ashland seemed a convenient and obvious place for Capt. Richard Henry Pratt to bury a Native child, researcher Jacqueline Fear-Segal wrote in her essay “The History and Reclamation of a Sacred Space.”
“Certainly Pratt was very keen to gain official endorsement for his action,” she said of the founder and first superintendent of the school. “The day after Amos was laid to rest … Pratt wrote the war department.”
Pratt may have been influenced by what Fear-Segal wrote were “murmurings and disquiet among the local population about this Indian burial in a cemetery used by Carlisle’s elite.”
In early 1865, Col. William Penrose started up the venture that became Ashland. The Old Graveyard on East South Street was filled to capacity, and three other cemeteries were almost full. There was a need for a new necropolis.
Penrose was joined by a group of trustees, including Alexander Black Ewing, who had started the Ewing Brothers Funeral Home in 1853. B.M. Ettinger, a civil engineer from York, laid out Ashland on 12 acres in June 1865 using a garden-style plan that called for a serpentine pattern of tree-lined paths among 1,500 lots.
An Army officer, Pratt wanted to confirm the government plot would be available “for the interment of Indian youth who may die while attending the school,” Fear-Segal wrote.
Official red tape
His inquiry touched off a flurry of letters between high-ranking officers and the secretary of war, according to her research. “All of who displayed some confusion, and between them, took more than two months to arrive at a decision.”
The adjutant general was unsure Native children could be interred at Ashland. He wrote the quartermaster general such a burial was not allowed in the cemetery deed. But the adjutant also left open the possibility a new deed could be drawn up.
Ultimately, the judge adjutant general made the final call by referring to language quoted directly from the deed that the U.S. has the “exclusive and entire right of interment” on the lot “to have and to hold for the burial of such white persons.”
“In my judgment these last words constitute a condition annexed to the grant, that the premises shall be used for the burial of white persons only,” Fear-Segal wrote quoting the final ruling. “I have therefore to express the opinion that the interment … of an Indian would not be legally authorized.”
Over 10,000 Native boys and girls attended the Indian school from 1879 to 1918. The school was designed as a social experiment to remove youths from tribal influences, assimilate them into white culture and teach them a vocation. Fear-Segal pointed out the irony in her essay.
“So Indian children, who had been brought to Carlisle to be instructed how to live like whites, were now legally barred from lying alongside them in death and openly categorized as nonwhite,” she wrote.
On Jan. 17, 1880, a second boy died while attending the Indian school. Renamed “Abe Lincoln,” he was the 16-year-old son of the Cheyenne leader Antelope. This time Pratt did not organize a burial at Ashland, but had the remains interred in a plot of open farmland marked “Old Burial Grounds” on historic maps of Carlisle Barracks, according to Fear-Segal.
So Abe Lincoln was the first Native American buried in what became the Indian school cemetery. When Pratt received the official word that no Indians were to be buried at Ashland, he ordered the remains of the first boy, Amos LaFarmboise, disinterred and buried beside the namesake of the 16th U.S. president.
“Within just three months of its establishment, the Carlisle Indian School had opened its own discrete, segregated cemetery,” Fear-Segal wrote. “A legal judgment about the Indian’s nonwhite racial identity had been built into the landscape of an institution dedicated to educating Indian children to join white society.”
But this was only the beginning. The Indian school cemetery became an expression of the school’s philosophy and mission, according to her research. She said the children were buried with Christian prayers and laid to rest in an east-west position in keeping with the tradition of the church.
“There is no evidence that any Indian families or community members were even present at interments or that they were permitted to carry out their own traditional ceremonies,” Fear-Segal wrote. “The extensive range of nations on Carlisle’s enrollment list meant that practices surrounding death varied enormously. To Pratt this was irrelevant.”
Barbara Landis is the archives and library specialist on the Carlisle Indian School for the Cumberland County Historical Society. She wrote an essay titled “Death at Carlisle: Naming the Unknowns in the Cemetery” for the book “Carlisle Indian Industrial School: Indigenous Histories, Memories and Reclamations,” which was edited by Fear-Segal.
“Just the existence of graves in a cemetery on the school grounds lays bare the deeply troubling practice of interring pupils at Carlisle, rather than returning them home to their families,” Landis wrote. “There is no correspondence in the archive to suggest that Pratt gave parents and other family members the option to reclaim the children’s bodies or their possessions. Nor do we know anything about their last days or their last wishes, apart from a few references in the weekly [campus] newspapers.”
The federal government closed the Carlisle Indian School in 1918. The buildings and campus were transferred from the Department of the Interior back to the U.S. Army for use as US General Hospital No. 31 to treat and rehabilitate wounded men returning from World War I.
Two years later, the Army established on post a medical field service school that officially rejected the Indian school cemetery as a burial ground for whites who die at Carlisle Barracks, Fear-Segal wrote. Instead, they were buried at Ashland.
The Indian school cemetery fell into disrepair and the graves were seen as an obstacle to the expansion of the post. A request was made in 1926 to move the bodies to what became the Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery along the present-day Claremont Road. The disinterment of the remains took place during the summer of 1927.
Once again, for the third time, what remained of Amos LaFamboise was buried in a different cemetery, but he no longer rests alongside the boy named Abe Lincoln. They are at opposite ends of the cemetery and separated by four rows of gravestones.