Situated just four miles south of the Nevada State Capital in Carson City lies the historic Stewart Indian School campus—a boarding school for American Indian children that operated from 1890 to 1980. The Stewart Indian School was part of the Native American Boarding Schools Project, a national program that removed children from their families in an attempt to eradicate the Native American Culture in the United States.
Children and Indian youth from Nevada, California, Arizona, and New Mexico attended the Stewart Indian School, representing an impressive 200 tribes. Here, they were forbidden to speak their native languages or dress in traditional clothing, and taught the English language and vocational skills ranging from ranching to carpentry. While many viewed this as abolishing entire cultures, others saw this as an opportunity for American Indians to gain a quality education and become Nevada citizens. Though a hard to imagine 200 Native American Boarding Schools once peppered the entire United States, the Stewart Indian School is one of two historic campuses that remain, welcoming visitors to learn about this thread of American history.
Historic Stewart Indian School
Named after WIlliam M. Stewart—Nevada’s first senator—the Stewart Indian School opened its doors on December 17, 1890. The first class was comprised of 37 Washoe, Paiute and Shoshone students and staffed by 3 instructors. Although a mere three buildings were all that stood when Stewart first opened, American Indian masons constructed an additional 60 buildings by the 1920s. At one time, the school even had a 10,000 gallon swimming pool and a platform for the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. The Stewart Indian School was in operation until 1980, when it closed due to federal budget cuts and poor safety standards. Later in 1985, the property was added to the National Register of Historic Places, which encompasses all 63 structures that stand today.
Perhaps Stewart’s most striking feature is the masonry implemented in nearly every edifice on this 60+ building campus. Big changes to the campus were initiated upon Superintendent Frederick Snyder’s arrival to the school in 1919. Phasing out old, overcrowded wooden structures, Snyder harnessed student workmanship, under the supervision of master stonemason Jim Christopher and Hopi stonemasons Earnest and Burton Wungnema. Most were built between 1923 and 1956 using stones collected by students. Some Stewart students became stonemasons and built stone buildings throughout Nevada.
Visiting Stewart Today
Though this historic campus has been part of the Nevada story for more than 130 years, the former Administrative Offices have recently been transformed into a new Cultural Center and Museum. Opening in early 2020, the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum is dedicated to the memories of the first Stewart students from Great Basin tribes, and all students and families who were impacted by the Stewart experience.
Many personal accounts from Stewart alumni can be found throughout the Museum, and tell the story of a complex past that changed the course of generations of children. The countless stories of hardship, resilience, strength, and triumph are at the core of the current efforts to preserve the Stewart campus, and are illustrated in exhibits throughout the museum.
In addition to sharing Stewart’s story through compelling first person accounts, the museum is an epicenter for cultural heritage through Native art, storytelling, arts and crafts demonstrations, lectures, public programming, and educational activities.
The Stewart Indian School offers a free audio walking tour throughout the grounds. Referencing signs throughout the campus, visitors can use their personal cell phones to dial into the tour, which is comprised of Stewart alumni sharing stories about their personal experiences as students within buildings along the route. Comprised of 20 stops, the trail is 0.6 miles on paved surfaces that winds throughout the 63 buildings that still remain on these historic grounds.
The Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Closed Saturdays and Sundays.
Admission to the Stewart Indian School is free, though this enriching cultural center depends on donations. These contributions help with establishing and preservation of museum exhibits, and supports future additions to the property. Please consider making a donation!