Efforts underway to restore Stewart Indian School, a Carson City landmark with a bittersweet legacy


Gloria Whiterock McDonald has fond memories of her time at Stewart Indian School in Carson City. She was in the eighth grade when she arrived from the Duck Valley Indian Reservation near the Nevada-Idaho line in 1961.

“When I was going to school it was good,” she said. “I enjoyed my time here. I made a lot of friends here.”

McDonald shared some of her memories during a dinner and tour of the 110-acre campus, part of a fundraiser to preserve the site, restore buildings and turn it into a historical and Native American cultural center.

But for her ancestors and those of other Native Americans, Stewart Indian School conjures painful memories from a dark period in the nation’s history, when Indian children were taken from their homes and families and forced to attend government-run schools to assimilate into a white society.

A dark past

“They could only speak English. That was the only thing that was allowed,” Nevada Indian Commission director Sherry Rupert said. “They could no longer practice any of their traditions or ceremonies.”

“My ancestors did go to school here and they did suffer here,” she said.

Kostan Lathouris, a member of the Chemehuevi Tribe, recalled his grandmother.

“When she was 15, she was picked up by the state, put on a bus and sent up here,” he said. “She stayed here for about a year until she ran away.”

“She was found about two months later,” Lathouris said. “Given the choice to come home or go back to school, she went back to school until she left a year later.”

His grandmother would never talk about her experience. Lathouris, a graduate of UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, studied federal tribal law and is active in the Stewart Indian School Preservation Alliance.

“This is my passion, remembering the history,” he said. “But also celebrating the survival and success stories.”

Schools date back to Civil War era

The Bureau of Indian Affairs established the first Indian boarding school in 1860 in Washington state, according to the American Indian Relief Council. The schools were seen as a way to assimilate Indian tribes into mainstream American life, where Indian children would be taught to shed their traditional ways and adapt to the emerging society brought on by white settlers. At one point, the federal government operated about 60 such schools across the country.

Stewart Indian School opened in 1890 and operated until it was shut down in 1980 because of federal budget cuts and earthquake safety concerns with the masonry buildings.

More than 30,000 children, mainly from Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico, attended the school over that time. They learned reading, writing and arithmetic, but classes also focused on vocational training, such as ranching, farming, mechanics and carpentry for boys, and cooking, sewing and practical nursing for girls.

The federal government then transferred the property to the state, with the restriction it be used for public purposes and that a portion be set aside for crafts, memorabilia and artifacts related to the school.

Early on, the schools were operated with a military-style regimen. Students marched to and from class and meals; strict discipline was enforced.

Ralph Burns wanted to go to Stewart for the vocational training.

“I had to convince my mom to let me come here,” he said.

His elders’ experiences weighed heavy on his mother’s reluctance.

His grandmother “was literally kidnapped to come here,” he said. “It was a bad place for her.”

“She had no choice,” Burns said. “I wanted to come here.”

Stewart today

Stewart Indian School was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

State agencies use some of the buildings on campus. The Nevada Corrections Department has administrative offices and the state Peace Officers Standards and Training runs a law enforcement academy there.

The grounds are open to the public, and private tours can be arranged. There is also a self-guided walking tour, where visitors can use cellphones at 20 different sites to access recorded messages from alumni and employees about their personal experiences.

But many of the stone structures are crumbling. Rupert envisions converting the old administration building into a cultural and resource center, equipped with computers for research and staff or volunteers to help organize school records, documents and old photos. One room is planned for retail space for American Indian artisans to show and sell their creations.

As she walked through a girls’ dormitory, McDonald said she shared a room with three others. The cafeteria could feed 500 students, and McDonald laughed thinking about how she liked lunch, but often didn’t care for dinners. She and a few of her schoolmates made friends with the kitchen help, who would give them sandwiches out the back door.

Standing outside the dorm where she once lived, McDonald, a cheerleader in high school, described how the boys, housed in separate dormitories, could come only halfway across a grassy area to meet with the girls.

She met her first boyfriend there, a fellow she lost track of for more than 40 years after he went to war in Vietnam. They met again a few years ago at the annual Father’s Day powwow at Stewart and remain friends.


State commitment

Gov. Brian Sandoval has made preserving the Stewart Indian School a priority for his administration.

“Stewart Indian School has an incredibly important role in our state’s history and frankly our nation’s history,” he said, calling it an “international treasure.”

“There’s really an important story to be told on a lot of different levels,” he said. “Some of it is not a proud history.”

In his first year as governor in 2011, Sandoval elevated the Nevada Indian Commission chairmanship to a cabinet-level position, giving tribes representation on the executive branch cabinet for the first time.

Sandoval feels a personal connection to Stewart, having played high school basketball in the gym there in the 1970s.

The 2015 Legislature approved a bill authorizing the sale of 100 acres of state-owned property in the Clear Creek area southwest of Carson City and to designate those proceeds for the preservation of Stewart once the property sells.

The property sale will not be enough to fully restore the campus, but supporters said the proceeds could fund some critical projects and be used to leverage additional grant funding.

During testimony on the bill, Michon Eben, tribal historic preservation officer for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, said her great-grandmother, grandmother, father, mother and brother all attended Stewart Indian School, in a span from around 1900 through the late 1970s. Her parents met there.

“This important place is worth preserving and sharing with current and future generations,” Eben testified. “There is no substitute for standing in the same environment as my great-grandmother, grandmother and parents.

“This experience cannot be duplicated by looking at pictures or videos; it can only be truly experienced by walking the grounds, sitting in the same classrooms, and being among the same grand trees that were planted when my ancestors attended the school.”

Legislators in 2015 approved the governor’s budget recommendation to begin preliminary design and planning for some rehabilitation work. Also, about $105,000 was spent this past fiscal year for landscaping projects, including building a replica stone planter near the site entrance and replacing concrete walkways and stairways around the campus.

Sandoval said his goal is to continue those efforts.

“Moving forward, it’s going to be a priority for me in the next budget,” he said.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Find @SandraChereb on Twitter.

VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like