Custer Lives!

Shawnee Indian Mission


In July 2009 I visited the site of the former Shawnee Indian Mission in Kansas. As I got closer, I wondered if any of my ancestors were boarded here. The Indian Schools have always distressed me. I have always wondered about the children taken from their parents and housed in them. I imagine my children being taken from me, their heritage stripped away. Anyone who is familiar with me knows that I am very proud of my unusual ethnic mix and would probably resist the authorities trying to take my kids and their identity. That said, I would also know that the Whites had won and they would need to learn the new ways. The Shawnee Indian Mission was one of many established as a manual training school for boys and girls. Shawnee, Delaware, and other Indian nation children were housed here from 1839 to 1862.

The Shawnee Indian Mission is easy to find, signs are everywhere, and resides in a very nice residential neighborhood known as Fairway near Kansas City, Kansas. I pulled into the parking lot of the East Building and entered, paying the small $3 entry fee. I was met by a very friendly and helpful lady. She gave me a brief history of the 12 acre National Historic Landmark complex and explained the self guided tour which begins in this building. Unfortunately for me the school records were being moved to an electronic media and I was I unable to research my family. I shall return some day and do so.

I sat to watch a movie about the history of Kansas and the Shawnee. The 18 minute movie, "Crossroads of Culture", was a very nice production with excellent production values. To my major disappointment it dealt mostly with the Kansas White culture and the US Civil War. As I was walking around in the East Building I kept looking at the huge photographs of Indian children on the walls. No smiles. A couple of children looked White or of mixed blood. This building served as the boys dormitory and classroom.

Many items from the classrooms were on display along with very nice explanation texts. A good portion of the room dealt with Shawnee history. There were displays about Shawnee life before White contact and their removal from their lands afterward. A timeline of Shawnee leaders is shown. Cornstalk was not included. Some very nice paintings of traditional Shawnee life are displayed. They look like large water colors. A life size reproduction of the first White likeness of a Shawnee is displayed. It was sketched in 1796 by Joseph Wabin in Illinois.

I next made my way across the street to the North Building. It was erected in 1845 and served as the Indian girls dormitory and classroom. Boys and girls were housed and taught separately. A classroom is restored, complete with study materials. Most of the other displays in this building are about assimilation into the White world. Some fantastic Indian bead work and clothing were displayed, I don't think any of it was Shawnee however. I remember seeing Iowa, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Sac and Fox. I'm sure there were others I have forgotten. One piece that tugged at something inside me was a bag by Marilyn Bushyhead Kindsvatter, a Sac and Fox and Cherokee. In it's beadwork were two crossed American flags. I wondered what went through Ms. Kindsvatter's mind as she constructed this bag. I'm sure a mixture of pride and pain that I often feel. Beautiful weaved baskets were also displayed. The North Building concluded with a session on Pow-Wows and the changes in modern Indian art.

I next crossed the street again to the West Building. It is the oldest of the three standing buildings, constructed in 1839. It was used as living quarters and classrooms for the Superintendent and teachers. It's now used as private office space and you need to wait for someone to escort you through it.

I walked the grounds and garden before taking a seat to reflect on this site. It was a good site to sit and reflect on one's mixed heritage. I think of myself as White but with a great deal of pride in my Shawnee past. I smiled, got up, and thought "I hope the children who left here were still Indians with the pride they had learned the White ways.".

I went back inside the East Building to visit the giftshop. It's small but packed with a lot of goodies. In addition to Indian subject matter, the US Civil War and the Kansas Border Wars are well covered. I made several book purchases along with souvenirs and toys for the grandkids. The Mission is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm and closed holidays.

If you are Shawnee, or Shawnee descent like me, I encourage you to visit.

The entrance with the East Building in the background.

The North Building.

Some of the many student photos. That's the school bell to the right.

Beautiful leggings displayed in the North Building.

The restored girl's classroom.

The West Building.

The first known Shawnee sketch by Whites.

The State Historic Site Marker.

The bag by Marilyn Bushyhead Kindsvatter.

A beautiful headdress in the North Building.


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