Clark County Press, (Neillsville, WI)
February 18, 1993, Page 7
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
The Neillsville Indian School: A View of the past
By Ken Luchterhand
(Editor’s note: This is Part II of a three-part series. The school official wishes to keep anonymous; so the name has been changed to Margaret Brady. All other names and incidents in this article remain factual.)
As you drive west from Neillsville, you pass an old monument to the community just before crossing the Black River. It seems as this old building has been around forever, in fact since 1920, but few people know or remember what the old building was all about.
Memories of young Indian children laughing now haunt its halls, if only in the minds of those who once lived there. The building is the Neillsville Indian School.
It all began when Rev. Jacob Hauser, as a missionary, founded the Winnebago Indian Mission of the Reformed Church in Black River Falls on July 9, 1878.
There he began teaching the Indian children, as requested by their parents, of the Winnebago nation. The demand for schooling outgrew the tiny log cabin schoolhouse and several buildings were added.
An addition to the Indian School, the left portion, was constructed in 1929.
In 1884, the Rev. Jacob Stucki was appointed to assist Rev. Hauser, who then succeeded him upon Hauser’s retirement.
Up to this point, the school was conducted as a day school, but the course of events caused Stucki to consider an alternate method of teaching facility: the boarding school.
Forests were being rapidly cut down by lumbermen, and years of subsequent drought came. This, along with devastating fires, caused many Indians to search for a way of living. Consequently, they sought education for their children, along with boarding, from Mr. Stucki.
“The Winnebago Mission at Black River Falls was the only school being provided for the Winnebago children,” said Margaret Brady, school official, and for a period of time it was held at the Stucki home.
The boarding school was to provide an education and cover as many areas as possible. But the facilities could no longer keep up with the demand.
Soon Jacob Stucki’s son, Benjamin, became involved with the Indian Mission and began to look for additional land to construct a new school. He found land in Humbird and Neillsville, but based his decision on the most community support. He chose Neillsville.
The new school was constructed near the banks of the Black River in 1920 and the school opened in 1921. Ben Stucki was the administrator and the funding was primarily through the church.
Rev. Ben Stucki reads to Indian children.
“There was a working farm on the property at the time,” Brady said, “which gave the children some experience raising pigs and milking cows. But also it provided the food for the students and the staff. The girls learned skills by helping with the cooking and sewing, and cleaning.”
The school held classes for both boys and girls in grades 1 through 8, and was at first a one room classroom. Later a divider was added down the middle so that two separate classes could be held.
“The Indian children were enrolled by their parents,” said Brady, “none of them were forced to attend. In fact, the demand became so great that, in 1929, an addition was added to the school, nearly doubling the size. At one time 125 students were attending classes and living here.”
In addition to the students, a staff of approximately 10 people also lived within the school.
The Neillsville Indian School provided all the necessities of life, including separate sleeping areas for the boys and the girls.
How were the children treated?
“The children loved Rev. Ben Stucki,” Brady said. “He made sure that the children wee happy, creating many activities to keep them busy. Sure there were times they had to be disciplined, but that happens within any group, Indian or white. He made sure they had a full life, never being bored. They conducted plays for the community and made many crafts, such as baskets and beadwork, and then sold them from the school.”
The children would come to the school in the fall, with many going home for Christmas, and then stay until spring. Some of the youngsters, however, would stay the entire summer, if they so chose.
“If a child had completed grades 1 through 8, they were given the option of staying here and attending public school,” Brady said. “That way many children went on to get a high school education that they probably would not have had the opportunity to achieve under other circumstances.”,
The children were allowed to speak their native tongue at the school, however, they were to learn English, therefore during certain times of the day, they were restricted to only speaking English.
The school continued until 1957. At that time, the government was encouraging that Indian schools be closed, as they wanted the children to live at home. By that time the public schools were presumably “welcoming” Native Americans. But still, in many schools, they were looked down upon.
Rev. Ben Stucki died in 1961. He had lived his whole life among the Winnebago Indians and devoted his career to improving their lives.
The school still remains, now as Sunburst, a school (for) children with special needs. But the building remains to those who know its history.
It remains as a monument to the Indians who struggled with a new way of life; and a monument to those who devoted their lives to helping the American Indian, such as Rev. Ben Stucki.
(If anyone is interested in further information about Sunburst Youth Homes, contact administrative offices in the old main building.)
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