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A Tribute and Educational Reminder: The Burney Institute

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The Chickasaw Council authorized the Burney Institute, a high school for girls, in 1854 with the cooperation of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Searcy, Arkansas. Reverend R. S. Bell served as the school’s first director. (1) The school for 40 Chickasaw girls opened in 1859. In 1860, Burney Institute received its own post office.


The David C. and Lucy James Burney family is the namesake of the Burney Institute. They settled in Burneyville, Indian Territory, in 1845. The Burney family left its homeland in Mississippi and had to stop in Shreveport, Louisiana so that Lucy could give birth to the future Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, Benjamin Crooks Burney. Governor Burney’s namesake was the captain of the steamboat his parents traveled on while moving to Indian Territory. (3) Today, Burneyville is an unincorporated town in the same location where the Burney’s settled and carved out their farm about nine miles west of Marietta, Oklahoma.


The Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations understood that if they were to survive in Indian Territory as a U.S. territory, that education was paramount to their success. The Chickasaw Nation established the Burney Institute and three other schools twenty years before the federal government built off-reservation boarding campuses. (2) The tribes provided the school's financial backing. Protestant missionary boards operated the schools and hired teachers from eastern universities and academies. The missionaries endeavored to teach Christianity through scripture memorization and do away with Native American traditions.


Burney Institute taught their first wave of Chickasaw schoolgirls to sew, knit, cook, and keep house but also provided an excellent education. (3). During that time, the Indian schools did not allow their students to speak their native languages. Many of the schoolchildren with parents of white and Native American lineage were only allowed to speak English at home. (4)


One of Burney Institute’s first teachers, Sally Holford, rode horseback to work from her brother’s mansion near the school. Walter Holford eventually owned the famous Holford’s sheep ranch in present-day Gordonville, Texas. (10) The Civil War interrupted the operation of the Burney Institute, and the school closed in 1861. The Chickasaw Nation reopened the school in 1872 serving both boys and girls and operated it independently until 1910. That era is called the Golden Age of the Chickasaw boarding schools.


After the Civil War, the Burney Institute became known as the Lebanon Orphan Institute. Another Burney Institute educator, Murrell Askew, left his home to teach at Burney. Over his years of preaching, he became terribly discouraged with the doctrines of the Baptist Church in the southeastern U.S. Murrell was one-quarter Choctaw from Alabama and taught at Burney for two years before falling ill in late 1883. He died on January 4, 1884, and is buried with three of his family members in the Burney Institute Cemetery. (8)


In 1887, the school’s name changed to the Chickasaw Orphan Home and Manual Labor School. The school taught boys agriculture and girls homemaking, but English and literature remained extremely important. (3, 7) In 1892, The Sixty-First Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior recorded the school's annual expenses as $11,860. (5)


The Dissolution of Tribal Governments and Their Institutions


Two federal acts, the Dawes Severalty Act (1887) which changed communal tribal lands into individual plots, and the Curtis Act (1898), which gave Congress control over Indian affairs in Indian Territory, led to the final demise of the Chickasaw and other tribal institutions. (11) The Chickasaw Nation controlled their boarding schools until Oklahoma statehood in 1907. The state of Oklahoma created its educational system based on the model schools established by the Five Civilized Tribes. (4) The Burney Institute finally closed in 1910.


A 1985 interview with Lucille Morgan, the landowner of the former Burney Institute property, reported that the school was sold at public auction around 1914 to L. E. Wood. Lucille’s husband, J. T. Morgan, bought the property in 1919. Lucille moved into the dormitory of the school in 1929 as a bride. When J. T. and his father looked into buying the property, that they found that it dated back to 1846 as the Lebanon Indian Academy that served Native Americans from Ft. Washita. (9)


Fast forward to 1981, when Claude Gilbert, Director of Indian Work for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, set out on a mission to find the old Chickasaw property. Claude found the historical marker on SH 32. He found the Morgan property, the dormitory the Morgan’s had restored, and the old school standing in ruins on a hill. He may have spoken with Clinton Robertson, Lucille's son-in-law.


Claude’s trip seems to have been the beginning of one Chickasaw reclamation of part of their history in their new country so long ago. In January 2006, The Chickasaw Times announced the tribe’s 2005 November acquisition of the two-story brick school, the first floor of the three-story school dormitory that Lucille Morgan’s family lived in, and its surrounding 176 acres.


The institute's property is located about one and a half miles from Lebanon, Oklahoma, near SH 32. (3) The original school building burned down in 1895, and they rebuilt it in 1896. In the dormitory, the kitchen and dining room were on the first floor with the girl's rooms, the teachers stayed on the second floor, and they housed the boys on the third floor and in the attic. (3)


In 2014 and 2015, the Chickasaw Nation funded a complete restoration of the Burney Institute property for use as a possible museum and hired The Dallas, Texas branch of Western Specialty Contractors for the restoration process. Western Specialty Contractors completed the restoration on time and within budget in April 2015. You can read about the interesting and difficult operations this contracting company faced and see some restoration photos here:


http://www.westernspecialtycontractors.com/western-project/burney-institute/


Pictures of the completed interior here:


https://governor.chickasaw.net/News/Expansion-Projects/Completed/Burney-Institute.aspx


Read Claude Gilbert’s story here:


http://www.cumberland.org/hfcpc/schools/BurneyAcademy.htm


Pictures:


1. The dormitory that Lucille and J. T. Morgan restored.


2. Claude Gilbert’s Picture in 1981


3. Claude Gilbert’s Picture in 1981


4. Historical Marker in SH 32 East of Lebanon


5. A Plaque on the Rebuilt School in 1896


6. A Threshold Plaque


7. The Restored Institute


Sources:


1. http://www.cumberland.org/hfcpc/schools/BurneyAcademy.htm


2. http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CH034


3. http://www.nancyhankslincolnpubliclibrary.com/user/image/001-chickasaw-times-january-2006.pdf


4. http://www.asylumprojects.org/index.php/Chickasaw_Orphan_Home_and_Manual_Labor_School


5. United States. Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Secretary of the Interior. Sixty-First Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1892. 255.  


https://books.google.com/books?id=lZg6AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA254&lpg=PA254&dq=Chickasaw++Orphan+Home+and+Manual+Labor+School.&source=bl&ots=5XYjD9W-W3&sig=oNUdrWhCmZo9F-ECbi9hRhUOZgk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjPwoaejfzaAhUFU98KHdniA2sQ6AEIVjAI#v=onepage&q=Chickasaw%20%20Orphan%20Home%20and%20Manual%20Labor%20School.&f=false 


7. http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=MA030


8. http://www.therestorationmovement.com/_states/oklahoma/askew.htm


9. http://newsok.com/article/2099434


10. Thoburn, Joseph Bradfield. A Standard History of Oklahoma: An Authentic Narrative of Its Development from the Date of the First European Exploration Down to the Present Time, Including Accounts of the Indian Tribes, Both Civilized and Wild, of the Cattle Range, of the Land Openings and the Achievements of the Most Recent Period, Chicago, IL: American Historical Society, 1916. Page 1445.


11. M. Kaye Tatro, "Curtis Act (1898)," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.org (accessed May 10, 2018).


 




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