Near Valentine, Arizona, rocky hills and towering mesas press in on both sides of Route 66. Nestled in this stunning landscape is an imposing time capsule from a very controversial period in our nations history.
Construction of the Truxton Canyon Indian School began in late 1899 with the manufacture of bricks as part of the Industrial Arts program for Hualapai students. The first buildings completed were the student dormitory and teacherage.
A multitude of problems plagued the construction project but it was shipping issues that led to the longest delays. As a result the school was not fully operational until 1903, two full years after the scheduled date for opening.
The ideal behind the school and similar programs was noble in concept, the assimilation of native Americans into mainstream society. Sadly, the schools were run in an almost military like manner with little concern for the students cultural background which prevented any familiarity with this type of disciplined, rigidly structured lifestyle.
A 1903 “Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs” noted, “All Indian Schools are industrial training institutions. The central thought is work as a preparation for life. The day, therefore, is divided so that one half of the pupils are for three hours in the academical classes acquiring the knowledge of English letters, history, geography, arithmetic, etc., usually taught in the public schools of the white people; the other half of the day is devoted to industrial pursuits adapted tot he age and sex of the pupils.”
The Indian Schools were designed to break students mentally and physically out of the tradition lifestyle mode and separate them from the teachings of the elders in the tribe. The Truxton Canyon school was no exception.
Every aspect of the campus presented a radical and shocking departure from the traditional Hualapai lifestyle. As an example the massive solidity of the brick structures were in stark contrast to the dome shaped brush and mud wikieup.
Meals were prepared in a kitchen not over an open fire. Lessons were learned from teachers, not the elders of the tribe. Food was eaten from china rather than woven baskets and pottery.
Depression, the strange surroundings and new foods to adjust to as well as exposure to a variety of never before encountered diseases took their toll. The worst of these was the Spanish influenza that claimed twenty two lives in 1919.
By the early 1930s, with Route 66 and the railroad vying for space with the expanded campus in the narrow canyon, the school had assumed the appearance of a busy little farming community. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 enable the Hualapai to form a form of self government on the reservation that included assuming responsibility for the education of tribal children. The Truxton Canyon Indian School closed in 1937.