TITLE: THE LONG ROAD TO EDUCATION FOR THE CATAWBA INDIANS
SPEAKER: EMMA ECHOLS
LOCATION: ROUTE 6, BOX 260, ROCK HILLS, S. CAROLINA
DATE: MARCH 3, 1984
The graduation exercise for the Rock Hill High School was held on May 31, 1983.
The Burns Auditorium at Winthrop was filled with 450 students graduating with many
friends and relatives to see the diplomas and hear the special awards. Then came the time
for the valedictorian. Jenny Trimble, a Catawba Indian girl, great-granddaughter of Chief
Sam Blue, came to the rostrum. She began her speech with this: "Well, we made it." Yes,
you've made it, but what a long, difficult road to education it has been for the Catawba
The earliest time that we know of any training for them was at the end of the Civil
War when a lady near Lancaster opened the doors of her school to take in a few Indian
students. We do not know the name of the teacher or who the students were. In the year
1887, the annual yearly appropriation from the state of South Carolina was only eight
hundred dollars, or about thirty dollars a person. This was to provide medical care and
education facilities for all Catawbas. Their homes were log huts of one room, a rock
chimney and no windows, and from the rocky soil of six hundred acres, less than one half
could be used to farm and raise corn, potatoes and cotton. Dr. Scaff's account of his visit
to this tribe in December of 1893, shows the tribe's destitution and poverty. He said, "I
found neither a church nor a school. Turning my horse diagonally into the woods on the
left, I went about a hundred yards and in the midst of a small clearing I saw an old
weather-boarded one-room hut which appeared to be on the verge of falling in. Going
around to the door, I saw a very old Indian woman, all alone, sitting on the floor with a
book in her hand. It was truly a peculiar abode for a human being. It appeared more
like a corn crib for all around the room was a kind of loft with six or eight bushels of
unshucked corn. The woman proved to be the widow of Chief Harris who had died a few
years ago, and the book she had in her hand was a Bible which she could not intelligently
read. No school for the two Indian boys dressed in shabby, faded clothes. Clutched within
their hearts was the dream to get an education." Ben Harris had a part-time job doing odd
jobs for Mrs. Molly Culp at the top of the hill, and best of all, she had a newspaper and
could teach Ben to pick out words. When his chores were finished, the wood box filled, the
water drawn, and the animals cared for, he had a warm place in the corner of the kitchen
and a real school book to study from. What he learned he soon taught his brother Robert,
for he too wanted desperately to learn to read. Ben grew up to be a farmer and that meant
long hours of toil. But night after night he would study alone in his small home. He
married Mary George. They had eight children and he became an elder in his church
teaching others, for he had learned and also served as a chieftain about 1895. His brother,
Bob, put his hard earned education to good use by keeping a detailed diary of events
recalling birth, death and any events important to the Catawbas. In 1895, Bob Howard
Harris was elected chief to serve a four-year term. He carefully kept records that were
taken to Tennessee by his wife but later returned to Rock Hill where they are placed in the
Rock Hill Public Library, and part were kept by his niece, Sally Harris Wade. Mrs. Mary
Harris, the wife, age ninety-six, says, "There was no chance for me to learn to read. I've
never been to school a day in my life. I just work in the fields all day. Then make pottery
at night. Work by day, work at night. Then go up to that college, [Winthrop College] and
sit in the street and sell my pottery".
Time moves on to the year 1897 when the Indians wanted a school so badly that they
agreed to use a hundred and fifty dollars of the state educational appropriation to build a
small school house. According to Sally Harris Wade and Doris Blue, this small building
was made of undressed slabs of pine and heated by a wood stove. The small group of
students used slates for writing, and books and teaching supplies were very meager. Bethel
Platt Presbytery also gave a hundred and fifty dollars for educational work. Mrs. V.E.
Dunlap was employed as a teacher and walked each day from Leskey, about four miles
away. The Indians persuaded her husband to move to the reservation, rent land from them,
and teach them how to make better use of the poor land. So, from personal funds, the
Dunlaps built a small home, and thus began Mrs. Dunlap's long and fruitful ministry among
the Catawbas. She not only taught the children and had parties and picnics for them, she
encouraged and helped several Indian boys and girls to attend Carlysle school in
Pennsylvania. She helped the women to sell their pottery by sending large orders to
Charleston to be sold. She took a firm stance against all immorality, drinking and gambling
and resisted the efforts of the Mormons to take the school away from her. Again and again
pressure was brought upon her to leave and once she was locked out of the school. She
spoke in discouraging tones of her work as great but unpopular. Surely she was not
understood and she was urged to leave for the Indians were divided among themselves.
In 1899, the enrolled pupils were: Sam Brown, Lucy George, Naroni George, Nelson
Blue, Early Brown, Wade Airs, Annie Airs, Sally Harris, Lily Blue, Edith Harris, Vinnia
Harris, Leola Watts, Armiscia George and Alzata Sanders. The Indian agent, J.M.
Simpson, terminated Mrs. Dunlap's services, claiming there were only two pupils and
engaged another teacher, J.N. Leslie. Mr. Leslie was then a student at Erskine and working
to earn his degree there. It is thought he taught during the summer when Erskine College
was not in session. He later became a minister of distinction in the Associate Reform
Presbyterian Church. Later his brother, Mr. Sep Leslie, also taught at this Indian school.
This school building that they used was built by the Indians in 1907. The other white
people who taught here were Sarah and Inez Henson from Lancaster who came over for
a short time, but it is not recorded whether or not they used this particular school building.
When Mrs. Dunlap left the reservation of her own free will in 1905, and after the
two Leslies taught here, a number of Mormons came in to teach for a number of years.
Mr. J.C. Davis, Mr. and Mrs. Orlando Barrow, Elder Berry and his wife were teachers,
although we do not know the exact date that they taught. These Mormon missionaries
usually stayed at the home of the chieftain, Chief Sam Blue. From the years 1904 to 1908,
the school was supplied by Mr. John Sparks who walked to the school from his home near
Roddy Station. He was a good teacher and especially noted for his penmanship. In 1906
Mrs. Sparks replaced her husband, arriving at the school with a horse and buggy. After one
or two years, she stopped teaching to care for her small children, and Mr. Sparks replaced
her using the horse and buggy this time.
S Another early missionary teacher was Miss Macy Stevenson who is lovingly
remembered by many of the former students. Miss Macy, as she was affectionately called,
was a missionary of Social Reform Presbyterian Church in Mexico but was living with her
brother, Reverend Stevenson.Lin-the-----at-Leslie. When she was asked to undertake
the work at the Catawba School, she looked upon this as a God-given opportunity and she
made the journey each day by horse and buggy. One of her former pupils, Mrs. Doris Blue,
remembers: "I was just a small child at this time and my family was living in Rock Hill, but
because we were Indians, I was not allowed to attend the public school there. My father
applied for, and received, citizenship papers, but even so, we were still refused admission
to the Rock Hill schools. My parents, realizing the great value of an education, made plans
for me to stay with my aunt, Mrs. Rhoda Harris, and my cousin, Betty Harris, during the
week and return to Rock Hill for the weekend. Transportation was a real problem but my
father drove me to my aunt's home each Sunday afternoon so I could attend school. Miss
Macy was my teacher. On Friday afternoon I stayed at school until Miss Macy had finished
all her work. Then she took me in her buggy to Leslie and took care of me until I boarded
the eight o'clock train for Rock Hill. I think I did this for one year. After this my father
hired private teachers for me and later for my younger sister Edna. I especially remember
Mrs. Joseph Hall, Mrs. W.C. Sullivan, Mrs. John R. Williams, and Mrs. Dan Hollis. When
I was fourteen, in the year 1918, my parents moved back to the reservation and my mother,
a graduate of Carlysle School in Pennsylvania, became the teacher of the Indian school.
I attended school one year in Cherokee and then returned to complete seventh grade at
Catawba School. Never have I been permitted to attend a public school." Sally Harris
Wade also remembers Miss Macy, and especially her love for song and music. She says,
"I remember Miss Macy. I liked her. She was a nice lady but she couldn't hear good. She
wore hearing aids as I remember. She loved to sing and play the organ. This organ Mrs.
Dunlap had there. She taught me and Sally Beck and Lily Blue, (that's Chief Blue's oldest
daughter) to play the organ. She kept one of us an hour after school and taught us to play
the organ. She taught Tom and Bob too."
Beginning with the fall of 1918 many changes had taken place in the reservation.
Mr. and Mrs. Archie Wheelock, after paying for private lessons for several years for their
daughters, Doris and Edna, decided to move to a home in the heart of the reservation and
enter their children in school there. These girls were fortunate to have their own mother,
Rosa Harris Wheelock, as their teacher. She was well-trained and highly qualified. She
had attended school in Carlysle, Pennsylvania where she met her husband, Archie Baldwin
Wheelock, who was also a graduate of Carlysle and an all-American football player, subject
of many newspaper articles. This family brought culture to the Catawba Indians and
inspired them to strive for an education. Rosa Wheelock was closely involved in the needs
of the community because hunger and illness were everywhere. The flu epidemic was
especially hard here and many of her pupils became ill and died. One family of Brown's
was especially hard hit by the dread disease for as the family returned burying one child
from the cemetery, another child had died and must be carried to the same place. One
mother and her five children were buried together with a marker in the old cemetery. Mrs.
Wheelock also helped the Red Cross as they set up tents and food kitchens and white
people nearby, like Mrs. Grider and others, brought big pots of soup for the sick people.
Mrs. Wheelock taught all grades, one through eight, with approximately fifteen to twenty
children in rows, four years, 1918 to 1922. In the fall of 1924, a young bride from Catawba
Junction, Mrs. Ernest Patton, came to be the teacher. Her husband, Ernest, was a rural
mail carrier, so he brought her by car over the bad unpaved roads and returned for her
when the mail was delivered in the late afternoon. At this time she taught grades one
through eight and her salary was paid by Mr. Sowers, the agent for the Indian affairs. Mrs.
Hall Spenser was the next teacher for the school, 1925, '26'27. She especially enjoyed
teaching language and math, but disliked science, including little green frogs placed in her
desk drawer as a prank by the young students.
In 1935 an outstanding elder of the Mormon Church, Mr. Willard Hays of Daphne,
came as teacher. The first year he had as his assistant Miss Ethel Smith of Columbia. She
taught grades one and two. Mr. Hayes taught the upper grades, up through the ninth
grades. At this time, none were going to high school because of the lack of transportation.
The county did nothing. The second year there was more assistance. Mr. Hays taught all
the grades. The room was packed with students. He gave the assignments to the ones at
the back, and all at the front he was teaching. The materials were provided by the Indian
agent. A certain amount given each year. Mr. Hays' salary was ninety dollars a year and
he never made more than a hundred and thirty-five dollars. School started early in the
morning. As he made a fire, the girls swept and the boys brought water from the spring.
He taught the girls and boys how to make paper cups. The bucket was in the back corner
of the room with a dipper also handy. The agents furnished the text, the tablets, and the
pencils. Spring was a difficult time for school because the boys always went home for lunch
and if the fish were biting, very few of the boys came back. The art supplies were
practically nothing. Mr. Hays started working with needles and thread to make little
designs for necklaces and bracelets, watch fobs and things of that kind. He made a special
one for Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, a map of the Indian reservation, a hundred and forty-four
thousand acres, and in the very middle was one little black bead to show the amount of the
land that was now owned by the Indians. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt came to Rock Hill
Winthrop College and Chief Blue presented this to her with a note of thanks from the
Indian school. Every pupil put a few beads on this necklace. Both boys and girls enjoyed
participating in this beadwork. They also sold some to the visitors and they started sending
some to sell in other places. Busy little fingers kept them out of trouble and the boys
began to adapt wire, making designs with wire, to sell as souvenirs. He also started
baseball games and other sports. The ball was made by wrapping string around a ball of
rubber over and over again. The boys seemed to enjoy this and get along well together.
Mrs. W.C. Cornwall kept Mr. Hayes from 1938 to 1939, and then Mrs. Mel Limeburger
worked with him, 1937, '38 and '39. Mr. G. Leslie became the agent for the Indians after
1935. He was concerned about the Indians, their health, their food, their clothing. At this
time, they were all alike. They were as poor as church mice. The average income was
very, very small. A lunchroom was added on the left side of the school building and
lunches were prepared there with foods given by the government. There was no charge for
these lunches. These years were outstanding years because of the great interest of the
students in their school and the intelligence they showed. Some of them were sharp
students. They enjoyed especially math because they could figure these things out in their
heads. They were not as good in reading. Haywood Canty always played marbles standing
up. He would not kneel down on his trousers and someone asked him why.
"Oh, it's too hard work for my mother to wash these clothes," he said. He always kept
himself immaculately clean. Some of them were very quiet. They would not speak out to
answer in class, but they knew the answers and they could write them down. On one
occasion a missionary came to visit and asked questions but the Indians, being very timid
and frightened of this stranger, did not answer at all. Finally the missionary said, "You act
like a bunch of wooden Indians." They never cracked a smile, but years afterward,
whenever that missionary's name came up, they would laugh and laugh about his strange
sense of humor. One of the interesting things Mr. Willard Hays did was to start a scout
troop for the boys, and his wife, a camping group for the girls. They enjoyed this very
much. Chief Sam Blue took an active interest in the school, and often came to visit. He
knew all the children and they knew him too. He knew also the Indian medicines and often
would tell the children about different kinds of medicines, roots, barks, and berries, that
could be used for their illnesses. Mr. Hays was once probably one of the very few who
remembered hearing the Catawba language. Chief Blue and Sally Gordon, his sister, lived
back of the church, drew water from that village well and they would stop there to talk to
each other in the Catawba language. It was at this time that Dr. Speck, of the University
of Pennsylvania, came to try to record all he could of the language. The stories, the history.
At one time, Chief Sam Blue said, "I don't feel good today. I feel very bad because Mr.
Speck asked me to give him all the bad words, the dirty words that I remember in the
Catawba language." The Chiefs family wanted me to teach him to write his name, and so
I did so he could sign his wedding certificate. He was thrilled over that trip to Salt Lake
City and he had his daughter, Lily, to read prayers and work with him day after day so that
he could repeat these letter perfect. He wanted to be able to make a speech at the temple
in Salt Lake City and so he did.
Off in the city of Rock Hill, some of the men went to work in the textile mills.
There was little farming on the reservations because there was little land suitable for that.
There were no paved roads leading in here at all. No one seemed to care. The federal
government then began to take an interest. As far as the money was concerned, every
summer, whatever was left over would be divided out among the Indians and the heads of
the family. This was called "drawing money." During the years that Mr. Hays was here he
saw changes taking place in the Indian life. The log cabins began to disappear. The people
took a pride in their heritage and in their past. They began to tell the stories of things that
happened long years ago. They were proud of their ancestors and the stories that were
behind them. They began to want an education. Sammy Gordon drove a large, old car
into Rock Hill to take some of the ones to the high school and that was the beginning in
the right direction. From this school a number went on to high school, the outstanding
intelligent students such as Hayward Canty, Alberta Ferral, some of the other Blues, the
Harris'. And he lived to see them graduate from high school with honors.
During the summer of 1944, Miss Mary Baker Hook was attending summer school
at Winthrop College when Mrs. Dunlap, a former teacher of the school, asked her to ride
with her to the Indian reservation. They drove the nine miles from Rock Hill by carriage
pulled by two horses. And Mrs. Hook said, "Little did I dream that I would be teaching
there the next year at the Catawba Indian school." Mrs. Ratery taught the older children,
while Miss Helen Ratery had the younger children. The thing that impressed me the most,"
said Mrs. Hook, "was that the people were so terribly poor. I had seen poverty before, but
never anything like this. I tried to start a school lunch program, but was unable to do so.
People told me I should never let the Indian get into debt, for they would never pay me.
However, I went to York and got the workbooks for each child and at the end of school,
every workbook had been paid. I was very devoted to these children and I felt they looked
to me as a friend as well as a teacher. One year my students enjoyed writing poetry. And
when I showed these to my teacher at Apalachan summer school, she was greatly impressed.
I only wish I had saved some of these poems. The pupils helped to make fires, carry water
from the Avon Spring and sweep and dust and clean the rooms. The little boys knew
exactly how to gather twigs from the forest to start the fire. And I was always at school
early, about eight o'clock. The larger boys loved to pull the bell rope, especially at lunch
time, which meant they would run home for a little something to eat and hurry back to play
ball. Even the girls loved that. One thing the children enjoyed was music. And at
Christmas and at the close of school we always had an entertainment, as it was called. I
well remember the year 1942 when so many were in service, eighteen at that time. So for
the school closing we had patriotic poems and we sang all of the war songs of the Army,
the Navy, the Marines, and the Air Force. The parents and children all seemed to enjoy
that. And my daughter came to play the piano."
In the summer 1947, Mrs. Annie Walton Brock received a surprise telephone call.
"Mrs. Brock, I am Fay Cornwall, a teacher at the Catawba Indian school. We need a
teacher so badly. Will you come and help us?" Mrs. Brock knew nothing about the
reservation. After a visit to the school and over the reservation, she felt strangely stirred
to teach those older children. It was a chance for her to do the same type of art work in
which she was strangely talented and gifted. Around was a natural setting, tall trees around
the school building, but a dirty, muddy road leading in. Her days began by driving slowly
down this dirt road picking up children along the way. Fay Cornwall would come behind
and pick up some of the others. Usually about twelve children they would bring to the
school in this way. The only other person that seemed to go down this road was a rural
mail carrier; he somehow made it. In Mrs. Brock's words, "The appearance of the school
was an old dilapidated building. Three rooms: a main entrance, a T-shaped, and two
rooms. The desks were shabby, unpainted. Years and years before I came, it looked like
that and it did not change. The boys were good to help start fires. The older girls
prepared lunch over on oil stove. Soup and sandwiches. I loved to work with art because
I had been an art major at Winthrop and this was a chance to express my talents. But they
showed me many things too. For these children were very talented. And all I had to do
was stimulate that interest and they went to work. Also in this new school Alzata Sanders
took over the lunch room. She was a very talented pottery worker and after lunch was
served she would sometimes come into the classroom to work with a group of boys and
girls. Showing them the old methods of using clay and sanding stones. They were very few
pleasures in life for these children and I was glad for them to have this opportunity. Our
people started corresponding with the school in North Carolina. And they bought some
thirty or forty pieces of the pottery that we had made. When Christmas time came, we
wanted a special time for the children, a gathering they called it, with recitation, songs, and
so forth. My husband came to play Santa Claus and they were very thrilled. A little boy
tugged at his beard and said, 'I know he was the real thing because when I pulled on his
whiskers and beard they did not even come off.' Another nice thing about this gathering,
there were gifts from the North Carolina children. Much nicer gifts than we would
ordinarily have. One event that I remember at this time, Chief Blue came to talk to the
children about Christmas long ago. 'Right here on these school grounds,' he said, 'the men
got together and demonstrated the shooting with the bows and arrows. There was dancing.'
And then he told them how they must all believe in the supreme God. They did the bear
dance and that was very interesting to the younger group and certainly it was to the
teachers, too. The discipline was very easy because the children were very interested. It
was good to walk and to work with this present group. After they got to know you they
gave you a respect, but you had to be accepted and then things went very smooth. I was
impressed by their poverty. Their homes were very poor. Usually two rooms. Some had
blinds for windows and most of them had open fires. And yet I saw in these that they had
a future. The future would be very, very good for these diligent, intelligent children, so
anxious to get an education." Mrs. Brock was a teacher here 1947-48, 1948-49, 1949-50.
In 1950-51, Mrs. Price and Mrs. Levata Cornice came to be the teachers. Mrs. Price
taught the upper grades. And Mrs. Cornice, grades one through three. Mrs. Cornice had
been teaching district number three, Rock Hill, and so when she applied for this vacancy,
they were glad to have her as a teacher. She received the same salary as other teachers in
the district. The supplies were very difficult to get. They had to improvise and do without.
Sometimes it was difficult to get textbooks and workbooks for each child, but the children
always paid for these. They would go to York, the teachers did, to get the books and then
they would be given out. The children were very quiet; they were busy. There was good
discipline in the room. There were no teaching aids, no music. There was a great deal of
artistic ability in this school as the children learned to draw and to paint and they loved to
sing. Later on, Mrs. Robinson came and she taught them a great deal about music. The
old school burned and so the teachers moved to a new building at the top of the hill close
to the church. This gave the children a great opportunity for many things. There was
plenty of space to play ball, to run, to play jump rope, and they always used their chants
as they jumped the rope. Mr. W.C. Sullivan, the superintendent, and Mr. Pope were
interested in providing the students with all the materials that they could for sports.
Everyday the children would attend devotionals in the nearby church. And this Bible
teaching was done by parents. There was no conflict in this religious teaching. The basic
learning was the same as in other schools. In math they were very good, very quick,
reasoning the answers out orally. They were logical. They were observant. More so than
other children. In science they enjoyed excursions into the nature, the walks to the spring,
the leaves, the berries, the moss, the rocks. They enjoyed all of this. They brought pottery
that they had made at home to show or to give away. And Alzata Sanders, the cook, was
still interested in coming in and showing them how to make pottery. Many visitors came
to see the school. Sometimes the parents objected to this. When girls put on parties, other
schools joined them to help make this an enjoyable experience for the other children.
Mrs. Sarah Robinson joined with Levata Cornice in 1953 and worked with her until 1966.
And she brought a great deal of interest to the children. In fact, a whole new world was
opened up to them as visitors came from Rock Hill, from Columbia, and other places. One
of the interesting things they did was to put on a Thanksgiving dinner and the children were
all dressed as pilgrims or as Indians as they were years ago. This school was heated by gas,
two little gas heaters for each room, with a large coal heater for the auditorium. And so
this gave the children more time to work on their lessons, since they did not have to sweep
or make fires. The parents, too, were cooperative and friendly. They were open and
willing to discuss the problems with their teachers. And so this was a period of time when
the Indian children really went forward. They were recognized and known in the city of
Rock Hill. Just before Christmas there was a big parade in Rock Hill sponsored by the city
and the Indian school was invited to participate. And so the parents got busy making
costumes for their children. Mr. Sullivan provided a large truck. And this truck was
decorated with trees and wigwams and things of that kind. And then the boys practiced on
their dances, led by one of the Indian boys, a canty. When the time came, the children
were very, very excited. The large truck parked on the side street, pulled on into the main
stream downtown for everyone to see. And every time the truck would stop at a stop light
the boys would jump up and do their dance. And the old timers well remember, because
there are pictures to show this. These Indian children really stole the show on the parade
in Rock Hill, 1955-56.
In the fall, September of 1966, the Catawba Indian school was closed and all these
students were brought by bus to the Nestley Elementary School. The principal was Mr.
Herbert Crawford. At that time, his wife, Gwenn Crawford, was teaching the third grade.
In her class there were a group of Indians, a group of whites and a group of blacks. And
these had little to do with each other. They sat in little groups all by themselves. They
played this way on the play ground. Mrs. Crawford was a very loving and talented teacher,
very talented in music and art. And she did everything she could to integrate this class and
bring them into a happy relationship. But she felt that it was a real failure. Until one
day there was a fight on the school grounds and she went out to see what she could do.
After hearing the story from each child, she sent the white boy to the principal and the little
Indian boy continued to play on the grounds. That won their hearts and after this she had
no other problems. Today these children are scattered all over the Rock Hill school
districts and high school and other places. And many have graduated from the high school.
It is interesting to note that Doris Blue's daughter was one of the first ones to graduate
from the high school. The very school where her mother was forbidden to enter or to
study. And so today, great changes have taken place because from these schools have gone
forth talented, trained, educated Catawba Indians. They have integrated into the life and
the activities of the community and of the city. Today they are secretaries, teachers, dental
assistants, nurses, technicians, electricians. They are working everywhere: in mills, in
factories, Bo Waters, Southerneers, York, the hospitals, everywhere. And from the
Carolinas to Florida and far out to Oklahoma. The pattern of their life reaches out to help
and to teach and to inspire other people. So the Catawbas live on. Not only in our
memories, but also in our daily life. And for them, we give thanks.