In search of a place for the past
Appeal Staff Writer
Ruby Carillo came to live at the Stewart Indian School when she was 7 years old.
She had lost her mother and was being raised by her grandmother.
It was a drastic change, where her culture and language were not permitted as the school attempted to assimilate her into American society.
“It was scary because we were so little, and it was just overwhelming,” said Carillo, now 71.
It was 1942 and she remained at the school until her graduation in 1955. While her initial reaction to the school was negative, she would eventually grow to call it home.
“I must have rollerskated all over the sidewalks there in those uniforms. Every day, navy blue jumper, white blouse and black shoes. I wore out those shoes pretty fast playing hop scotch,” Carillo remembered.
She was schooled in a variety of vocations, was a majorette in the band and watched in awe as the sports teams dominated.
Carillo said it saddens her now to see the site of her education and the mementos of her early life languishing in a store room.
“When they closed the school it looked so empty, the dorms and gym were just empty. It would be nice to get the memorabilia, our memorabilia from the school and have it out,” Carillo said.
Carillo’s story is typical of the thousands of students who walked the sidewalks of the Stewart Indian School campus from when it opened its doors in 1890 until the last class in 1980. The school was closed because of federal cutbacks and concerns about structural integrity should the campus be hit by an earthquake.
From 1981 until 2001, one of the buildings served as a museum, showcasing the memorabilia from the school and the native tribes.
But for the last five years, the building has sat empty while efforts to revive it stalled because of funding, regulations and red tape.
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Walking through the museum building today, it’s just a hollow shell. The electricity and water have been disconnected, the floor is covered with layers of dust and several of the windows are broken.
“This school is an important part of the history of this state but also of New Mexico, California and Arizona because the students brought here were taken from those states,” said Sherry Rupert, Indian Commission executive director.
With the school’s alumni continuing to age, the Nevada Indian Commission on Saturday kicked off a campaign to repair the building and reopen the museum.
The campus, located one mile east of Highway 395 on Snyder Avenue, consists of 83 buildings on 109 acres. The buildings are now owned by the State of Nevada, with several state agencies and the Washoe Tribe occupying various buildings on the campus.
The Nevada Indian Commission oversees two buildings, one was the superintendent’s house and the other was administrative offices that later became the museum. The museum building was constructed in 1930 by students at the school.
To restore the museum, including new wiring and plumbing as well as improvements to preserve and secure the artifacts and memorabilia, has been estimated conservatively at $550,000.
“This school used to be self-sufficient. It had a post office and an old switchboard that we still have,” Rupert said.
Currently, the more than 900 artifacts and memorabilia from the school and the tribes is being housed in several places, including the Nevada State Museum. The collection includes 795 pieces from the Bureau of Indian Affairs collection, 103 Edward S. Curtis photo prints and 57 from the old Stewart Museum.
The idea is to provide a static place for the alumni to remember their education and experiences from Stewart, while offering information about the three local tribes to visitors.
The plan for the museum includes a demonstration room, a reading room and several exhibit areas to highlight information on the Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe tribes. The exhibits would also showcase the photos and memories from the school, including the trophies from the sports teams.
If nothing else, the Stewart Braves were known for their dominance in many areas of sports, especially boxing.
That’s what Buck Sampson remembers most about his years at the Stewart School.
“In those days, it was a good feeling to be a part of Stewart,” Sampson said. “I loved boxing in the old Stewart Gym, before they built the current one. There were big matches in that gym and it was packed. Man, it was so loud.”
Sampson arrived at Stewart in 1968 and graduated in 1971. He received scholarships in boxing and English to attend the University of Nevada, Reno.
Boxing was incorporated at the school in 1935, and it took only two years for the team to win a Nevada Golden Gloves team title. Through the years, boxers who started their careers at Stewart went on to hold many titles, including Pacific Coast Golden Gloves Champion, Pacific Association Senior Champion, National A.A.U, Nevada Silver Gloves, Sierra Nevada Golden Gloves, National Indian, Olympic Semifinalist and Olympic Team alternate.
“We weren’t a very big club, but we fought hard and worked to win. We had a lot of good times just working out and being involved. It was just something you could be proud to be a part of,” Sampson, now 54, said.
In addition to the boxing the school also had state champions in football and basketball.
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The drive to revive the museum is a personal one for Rupert. Her husband’s grandmother, Virginia Ebe Rupert, was a graduate of the school with honors as a seamstress and in the culinary arts in 1937, and, she met her husband at the school.
She died Nov. 9 at the age of 87.
“As I meet more of the people who lived here, I see more and more of them are getting older,” Rupert said. “A lot of our alumni are dying, and we don’t want the history of this place to die with them.”
Both Sampson and Carillo said it’s their wish that the mementos from their times at Stewart find a permanent home, on display for future generations.
“There are a lot of fond memories of that place. We had a lot of accomplishments and had a lot of athletes that went on to do good things,” Sampson said.
Carillo said, “It would be nice to put the memorabilia on display. That was our home, and it needs to be remembered.”
• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217.
History of Stewart Indian School
The Stewart Indian School opened on Dec. 7, 1890, with 37 students and three teachers. The school was established in part because of a bill passed by the Legislature in 1888 requiring the establishment of a school to train and educate American Indian children.
The campus opened with a capacity for 100 students and included a Victorian-style dormitory and schoolhouse. As enrollment increased, new buildings included shops for training, a hospital, a post office and a recreation room.
A platform for the Virginia & Truckee Railroad was added by 1906 to help with transportation of students to and from the school. By 1919, the school had 400 students. During the next 16 years more than 60 native-stone buildings were constructed by Hopi stonemasons.
The school was closed in 1980 because of federal budget cuts and concerns about the structural safety of the building should an earthquake hit the area.
The first Stewart reunion occurred in 1977 and attracted more than 700 alumni. A museum opened on the grounds in 1981 allowing visitors to learn about the school’s history and remained open until 2001.
Today, Stewart Indian School is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Washoe Tribe and the State of Nevada occupies most of the former school’s buildings.
– Information courtesy of the Nevada State Museum