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Stories From a Sacred Place: Gray tombstone embodies a racial divide

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Indian Cemetery Gravesites

The Thomas Marshall gravesite sits in the middle of the Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery.

One tombstone stands apart from all others in the Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery.

Carved of gray granite, this grave occupies the middle ground surrounded by row upon row of identical white markers.

It is the final resting place of what remains of Thomas Marshall, a Lakota from Pine Ridge who arrived in Carlisle in 1895, but was never a student of the Carlisle Indian School.

Researcher Jacqueline Fear-Segal profiled the life and death of Marshall to illustrate the underlying lesson of what this last remnant of the original Indian school cemetery could teach us. She documented her findings in the chapter “The History and Reclamation of a Sacred Space” in the book “Carlisle Indian Industrial School: Indigenous Histories, Memories and Reclamations.”

Diverse talents

Marshall arrived in Carlisle to study at the Dickinson College preparatory school prior to become an undergraduate in Latin and science. To support himself, Marshall lived on the Indian school campus, where he worked as a janitor in the storehouse and then as a tutor in charge of the small boys’ dormitory during his junior year at Dickinson.

“(His) intellectual and personal qualities had been evident to white teachers from his early years,” Fear-Segal wrote. Prior to coming to Carlisle, Marshall had graduated in 1894 from White’s Manual Labor Institute in Wabash, Ind.

Oliver H. Bales, the superintendent of that school, was so impressed by Marshall he sought out funds for the Indian youth to continue his education. In her research, Fear-Segal quoted a recommendation letter from Bales:

“He (Marshall) will have completed Rhetoric, Algebra and three books of Caesar’s Commentaries by the last of June, having taken in thoroughly the lower branches in their order. At odd times he has acquired a useful proficiency in shorthand and type-writing. He studied book-keeping and show, during two months of responsible charge of our account books and office work, a remarkable aptness and application of the principles. He is a good bass singer, performs well on various brass instruments, and renders organ voluntaries with fine effect.”

‘Pass’ for white

In his letter to the superintendent of Indian schools, Bales emphasized his support for Marshall had less to do with him being a Lakota Indian than “his worthiness, superior natural ability, integrity, and attainments.” Even though “all his early associations were among the Sioux Indians … He is however, to all appearance, Caucasian,” Fear-Segal quoted from the letter.

To her, Bales was saying that Marshall should be given support because his combined abilities and looks meant that he could successfully “pass” in the white world. Her research found that Marshall chose not to accentuate his Indian looks, but instead was seen to blend with his white classmates in a Class of 1900 group photograph.

“He appeared to carry his Indian identity with both ease and humor,” Fear-Segal wrote. This was illustrated by his responses to five questions in a Dickinson College compilation of “Junior Statistics.”

“In Marshall’s entry, he playfully claimed and subverted white stereotypes of Indians: Name: Thomas P. Marshall; Forte: Reserve; Past: In a Wigwam; Present: At the Indian School; Future: With his Squaw; Greatest Need: Less Modesty.”

His joke about his squaw was significant because Marshall was engaged to the Yankton Sioux writer and musician Gertrude Simmons also known as Zitkala-Sa, according to Fear-Segal. “Like Simmons, Marshall functioned effectively in the white world, although unlike her, he was a committed Christian.”

Marshall served as president of the Indian school YMCA chapter. He represented Carlisle at national meetings and moved easily between the white-run world of the Indian school and the privileged white world of late 19th century Dickinson College. Yet, despite the intermingling, Marshall was buried alongside fellow Native Americans.

YMCA tribute

Marshall died suddenly on April 23, 1899, of what was diagnosed as “malignant” or “black measles.” Indian school officials blamed his illness on a letter Marshall received from his Indian home in Dakota. There was even a notice printed in the campus newspaper Indian Helper that his death was an isolated case and no sign of an epidemic, according to research conducted by Fear-Segal.

“The Dickinson College community was stunned to hear of Marshall’s death,” she wrote. “His class met to issue formal resolutions to express their grief, and at a memorial service on the campus Dickinson’s president gave a eulogistic address. Yet there was never any suggestion that Thomas Marshall should be buried anywhere but in the Indian school cemetery.”

The following year, in 1900, the YMCA broke with Indian school practice. Instead of the standard tombstone with the name, tribute and date of death of the deceased, the YMCA members erected a granite rock memorial to Thomas Marshall signaling his special status with a gesture more in keeping with a white cemetery. There was no mention on the stone that Marshall was Lakota.

“If not for its telltale location in the Indian school cemetery, Thomas Marshall’s grave might easily have been mistaken for the final resting place of a white man,” Fear-Segal wrote. “In death, as in life, he had been made to pass.”

The granite grave marker was moved in the summer of 1927 with the rest of the tombstones of the original Indian school cemetery. It now sits in the center of the Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery along Claremont Road.

Email Joseph Cress at


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