War Dance at Fort Marion: Plains Indian War Prisoners

by Brad D. Lookingbill, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2006, $29.95.

On April 28, 1875, eight wagons loaded with Arapaho, Caddo, Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa detainees, escorted by troopers of the 4th and 11th cavalries, left Fort Sill in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) to begin an educational experiment. By wagon, train and steamer, these prisoners of war traveled to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Fla., where they would be held until 1878. The experiment was a precursor to Captain Richard Henry Pratt’s better chronicled Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. “Kill the Indian in him and save the man,” Pratt said, and as author Brad Lookingbill notes, “Pratt’s words became a mantra for federal Indian policy in America’s Gilded Age.”

The 72 prisoners and three nonprisoners (a mother, a child and a black captive) incarcerated and educated at Fort Marion ranged in age from about 16 to about 60. The prisoners included 13 “tribal headmen,” 37 “implicated in various murders around their reservations” and the rest “accused of armed robbery and seditious acts.” Longbill, an associate professor of history at Missouri’s Columbia College, uses a narrative approach and relies heavily on primary documents, including Indian sources.


Originally published in the June 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here