This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Indian School, Phoenix, Arizona


If you've driven around much in Phoenix, Arizona, you may have been on a road named Indian School. And if you ever wondered about it, yes there was an Indian School in Phoenix. And yes, only Indian people went there. It opened in 1891 and closed in 1990. And, if like most people, you know very little about it, if you jump to many conclusions about it, I really can't blame you. But the real history, like most real history, is much more complex. I am learning about it, and this is what I know so far.

It all starts with a war. No, not between cowboys and Indians, but between Indians and Indians, in Arizona. It's a story as old as civilization, which has been going on all over the world, for tens of thousands of years - the conflict between settled, agricultural people, and nomadic, warring people. If you want to put names to these tribes, you can, but these tribes didn't have names. To themselves, they were the people. All tribes are the people. Only outsiders give them names.

When the Phoenix pioneers started arriving in the Salt River Valley after the Civil War, they walked into the middle of a war. And the side of the war that they sided with they called the Pimas. History books sometimes refer to the group of pioneers and solders as "white men", but there were plenty of Buffalo soldiers who would have not called themselves that. For lack of a better term, I just call the group of newcomers "pioneers". I have to call them something. And the war was between the Pimas and the Apaches.

Pima and Maricopa Warriors in 1889, and a cowboy.

The Pimas allied with the pioneers. This wasn't cowboys versus Indians, this was cowboys and Indians versus Indians. It's a wildly complex story, and if you want to know who won, it was the Cowboys and the Indians. That is, the ones who allied with the pioneers, which actually even included the Apaches. I told you this was complex. You can read more about it in books like Arizona, the Youngest State, by James McClintock. But be careful, it's not a simple, or a pretty, story. And it all leads up to the founding of the United States Indian School in Phoenix, in 1891.

The United States Indian School in Phoenix was established for the Pima Indians. Within a few years it was opened to other tribes, and it served many states. The emphasis was on practical knowledge, such as trades like welding, etc. that prepared young people to get jobs. Like most technical schools that teach a trade, as opposed to University tuition, it was looked askance at by many people. And, like any school, many people opposed the entire idea of it. I have been a teacher, and believe me, there are a lot of people who don't want to go to school, any school.

The Indian School was not a prison, but it was compulsory. Students lived in dorms on campus. It was not an ideal situation, and the relationship between different tribes of people never is. The Indian School teams initially played baseball with the Tempe Normal School (now ASU) until the other high schools could give them some competition.

When you drive on Indian School Road, think about the school. And hopefully it will inspire you to learn more. That's what I'm doing.

More about the Phoenix Indian School and Steele Indian School Park

Students from California in 1916

The Indian School football team in 1921

The Indian School Art Department in 1906

The Indian School in the 1940s



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