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Tour Through Time

Tour Through Time: John Leslie was apprentice photographer on Carlisle Indian School campus

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John Leslie

This photograph of female students was taken by John Leslie while he was an apprentice to John Choate, the official photographer of the Carlisle Indian School, from 1894 to 1896. 

A gloom had settled over the gallery of John Andrews.

It was early March 1896 and the Carlisle photographer missed the friendly charm of John Leslie, a student at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School who served as his attendant.

Leslie had departed suddenly for his home in Washington state. The historical record is unclear as to why.

“He went without saying goodbye to some of his best friends who awoke on Friday morning and found him gone,” the Indian Helper, a campus publication, reported on March 13. “It was not a runaway, but only a sudden ending of a plan contemplated for several weeks.

“John [Leslie] made friends wherever he went,” the article reads. “His genial presence will be greatly missed in Carlisle.”

A Puyallup Indian, Leslie was 21 when he arrived at the school at Carlisle Barracks on Aug. 27, 1892, according to his student information card. He stayed on for almost four years before being discharged as a graduate on March 5, 1896.

From 1894 to 1896, Leslie worked as an apprentice to John Nicholas Choate, the official photographer of the Carlisle Indian School. The June 1, 1894 edition of the Indian Helper described Leslie as “Mr. Choate’s right hand Indian man.”

The Cumberland County Historical Society has an information file on Leslie in its archives. Leslie was a photographer at the school between 1894 and 1896. His work also took him off-campus and into the surrounding Carlisle community.

The July 20, 1894 edition of the Indian Helper reported that Leslie had views of the Conodoguinet Creek near Cave Hill for sale at 10 cents each. Two months later, the publication described Leslie as someone “learning the trade of photography during his half days out of school.”

In 1895, Leslie produced a souvenir booklet with 61 photos of the school and its students, most of which he took on his own. That same year, Leslie put together an exhibit of photographs at the Atlanta International Exposition.

The following year, Andrews photographed Leslie with other members of the Class of 1896. Three months after his departure for the Pacific Northwest, the July 24, 1896, edition of the Indian Helper reported that Leslie was doing well as a photographer in Steaveston, British Columbia.

Years later, in 1907, Leslie completed a survey questionnaire distributed to Indian School alumni by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Leslie wrote that he was not married and was employed as the chief engineer onboard the steamer City of Shelton sailing out of the Olympia, Washington. There was no information given on how he went from being a photographer to a maritime technician.

Other archival information places Leslie in Olympia, but as a photographer. He was among the professional shutterbugs whose work was featured in a 1915 catalog.

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 or tips to

Email Joseph Cress at


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