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Tour Through Time

Tour Through Time: 1914 surprise visit turned into glowing report on Carlisle Indian School agriculture

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Cato Sells

Cato Sells was the U.S. commissioner of Indian Affairs.

There was a surprise guest at the dinner table that Sunday, Sept. 13, 1914.

U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells was sharing a meal with students of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

His visit was unannounced with none of the typical pomp for a federal dignitary. There was no welcome from a local brass band or a committee of prominent citizens.

School Superintendent O.H. Lipps entered the dining hall to find the commissioner chatting up Native American youth prior to heading out on his fact-finding mission.

“He proceeded with lightning dispatch to a penetrating inquiry into the agricultural methods employed at Carlisle and various closely related departments,” The Sentinel reported on Sept. 15.

For Sells, this work included receiving updates from the heads of every department along with a comprehensive review of administrative, academic and industrial functions on campus.

Sells refused to comment to reporters on his general impressions of the school. Instead, the commissioner wanted to review the mass of technical information before offering his feedback.

Ten days later, on Sept. 25, The Sentinel reported that Lipps had received a letter commending the Indian School for being in harmony with the vision of Circular No. 892 on School Farms.

In that circular, Sells wanted school farms to raise a variety of feed crops along with a surplus of fruits and vegetables for winter use and canning.

“Let your calves grow into beef for your school,” the circular reads. “Make your dairy amply large and of such kind that there will be plenty of milk, cream and better. Feed the skim milk to the hogs and grow your port meat. Where practicable, cure your own bacon and ham, make your own sausage and dry and corn your own beef.

“Give careful consideration to chicken raising,” the circular adds. “You should establish chicken houses and place girls in charge of the chickens. This would furnish poultry and eggs for your needs and at the same time train your girls in an industry which will be of value to them in their future homes.”

Tour through Time runs Saturday in The Sentinel print edition. Reporter Joseph Cress will work with the Cumberland County Historical Society each week to look at the county through the years. Send any questions, feature ideas or tips to

Email Joseph Cress at


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