Federal Fathers & Mothers: A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869-1933

By Cathleen D. Cahill | Go to book overview

4
Seeking the Incalculable Benefit of
a Faithful, Patient Man and Wife

MARRIED EMPLOYEES IN THE INDIAN SERVICE

When prospective employees opened their letters of appointment from the commissioner of Indian affairs, they learned which position they had been offered, where it was located, and the date they were expected to report for duty. Many letters also included brief directions to their new post. But the three or four concise sentences typed out on the page rarely prepared them for the actual journey. The first leg usually involved a train ride, during which they might carefully ration a basket of food meant to see them through their long trip. Some might transfer to a smaller rail line that would take them to a local station. Upon their arrival, a few found themselves close to their new school or agency. Many others faced a journey of a day or more over the sandy soil of a short-grass prairie, up steep mountain passes or around dry arroyos, some of them bouncing on the hard wooden seat of a wagon and others clinging to the back of a horse or a mule. Most ended their journey when they arrived at the scattered array of wooden buildings that comprised the reservation agency, but day-school personnel continued on to their small cottage and classroom, which were often located in a remote corner of the reservation (Illustrations 4.1 and 4.2).1

In the most distant posts, the Office of Indian Affairs intended its employees to serve as examples of “civilized” living in places where no white communities existed; it also needed to retain them in their isolated locations. To accomplish both of these goals, the agency turned to hiring married couples. In this way, the same experiment in building a workforce based on influence, example, and suasion that brought thousands of single white women

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