Life in Wyoming and at the
Haskell Indian Institute, 1923-1929
After the death of her father, Essie's family moved to Wyoming to be with relatives. Her account of growing up with a single parent echoes the plight of many families who were left in the same situation due to a parent's death in World War I. Although this move brought Essie into greater contact with her extended family, she and her siblings experienced what she deems "poverty and neglect."
The deterioration of the family situation triggered the enrollment of three of the Burnett children (Essie, Bernice, and Gordon) in Haskell Institute, an Indian boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas. Essie's recounting of this schooling reinforces the positive experience many Native Americans had at these educational institutions. The role the boarding school played in the (accidental) development of pan-Indianism is also illuminated through a glimpse of Essie's experience.
The picture is painted, from a personal and individual perspective, of the growth of self-assurance and independence of "Indian School" students. Ironically, this is coupled with the school's attempt at military-type discipline as part of its assimilationist mission.
Again, there is a personal picture of growing up, immersed in the very different values of two cultures, neither one excluding the other. Essie recalls exceptional teachers who influenced her, and mundane as well as exceptional events in this facet of the life history. The "jewel" here is a young life filled with the normal pains and joys of growing up. The "setting" is a (by today's standards) highly unusual multinational, multicultural boarding school which brought together peoples of many Indian nations and cultures.
A FRAGILE SINGLE-PARENT FAMILY
After my father's death, my father's brother, Uncle Bill Burnett—an op