On July 21, 1883, Alfred Riggs met with Beloit College professors Joseph Emerson, James Blaisdell, and William Whitney to discuss an exchange program between the Santee Normal Training School and Beloit College, a program they called “the Indian Experiment.”
By this time, seven Dakota students had attended Beloit College’s preparatory school. Known then as Beloit Academy, it functioned as a feeder to the College and other Midwestern universities from 1846-1910. Sponsored by Alfred and his father Stephen—then a teacher at Beloit—these boys were subject to further assimilation at the Academy, where they took classes ranging from classics to business economics.
Both Riggs and the College wanted to continue sending Dakota students to Beloit for further assimilation. Apart from attending classes, they were required to work at the Eclipse Wind Engine Company, a windmill manufacturer that eventually merged to create Beloit industrial giant Fairbanks, Morse & Co. At Eclipse, they performed various carpentry and blacksmith tasks.
Neither Beloit College nor Riggs had sufficient funds to conduct their "experiment." They decided to ask the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Hiram Price, to cover half of the costs. Price, doubtful of the quality of industrial training Eclipse could give, nevertheless agreed to help. Beloit College received a total of $573.92 from the government to cover the cost of the "experiment"—a total of $15,249.15 in 2020.
The original plan was for twenty students, but only four students were sent to Beloit College. All had attended the Santee Normal Training School under Riggs: Tatemaza/Mark F. Khune, Vines P. Mitchell, Caska/George Philbrick, and Asayeyapi/Charles Frazier.
Price required President Chapin to send monthly reports on the students. In these reports, the President stressed that the students were receiving an adequate industrial training from Eclipse, but Price continued to have his doubts. Chapin sent only vague descriptions of his students' apprenticeships, and the commissioner feared his money could be better spent on other assimilation efforts.
The College had their doubts too. It wanted to bring three or four more Dakotas that spring, but felt that the degree of industrial training that Price required would make the boys abandon their school work. Furthermore, Price wanted the boys to receive industrial training from a place other than Eclipse, but the City of Beloit at the time had few industrial facilities, and fewer that wanted to take on the students.
The monthly report of the students, October 1883.
Credit: Beloit College Archives
On June 7, 1884, President Chapin wrote to Commissioner Price of his plans to suspend his "experiment." While he admitted he was reluctant, he nevertheless boasted of his success in assimilating the students:
They have lost much of their peculiar Indian look and manner and have taken on in good degree the air and bearing of civilization. We doubt if in the whole number of those under your charge, many can be found who have made better progress.
President Aaron Chapin (1817-1892)
Credit: Beloit College Archives
Hupacokamaza/Eli Abraham (1847-1920)
A former student of the Santee Normal Training School, Abraham was sponsored by Stephen Riggs and studied at Beloit from 1872-1873. After Beloit, Abraham returned to Santee, where he became ordained and taught from 1878-1914.
Samuel Hopkins (1854-unknown)
Eighteen-year-old Hopkins left the Sisseton Sioux Reservation and joined Abraham at Beloit in 1872. He was sponsored by Stephen Riggs and stayed at the college for two years. Hopkins later became a reverend and worked closely with Alfred Riggs.
James W. Lynd
A former Santee Normal Training School student, Lynd came to Beloit in 1876. Sponsored by Alfred Riggs, he only stayed for a year. In 1884, Lynd returned to Santee, became a reverend, and joined Abraham as a teacher at his former school. His birth and death dates are unknown.
Not much is known about Robinson. Sponsored by Alfred Riggs, he came to Beloit in 1879 from the Flandreau Sioux Reservation. He would stay at the college until 1882. Robinson’s birth and death dates are unknown.
Asayeyapi/Charles Frazier (1864-1938)
Frazier attended the Santee Normal Training School from 1870-1882 before being sent to Beloit as part of the college's "Indian experiment." He attended the college from 1883-1884, later becoming a reverend.
Tatemaza/Mark F. Khune (1868-1888)
A former Santee student, Khune joined Frazier in 1883 as part of Beloit's experiment. However, he stayed only for a few months, having left to take care of his sick mother. He ended up teaching at Santee in 1886 before dying of tuberculosis two years later at the age of twenty.
Vines P. Mitchell (1859-1915)
At the age of twenty-four, former Santee student Mitchell was the oldest to be sent to Beloit during their 1883-1884 experiment.
Caska/George Philbrick (1866-1888)
A former Santee Normal Training School student, Philbrick attended Beloit from 1883-1884 as part of the experiment. He went on to become the Secretary of the YMCA at the Santee Reservation before dying on October 16, 1888 of tuberculosis.
While there is little information about the majority of the Native American students who attended Beloit during this time, the three students below went on to find national fame as advocates, educators, and religious leaders. Click on their pictures below to learn more about Beloit College's unsung Native American activists.