Phoenix Indian School

Location: Phoenix, AZ
Years of Operation: 1891-1990

Brief History: The school was the largest facility in the Southwest region and it was the second largest school in the United States at one time, behind Carlisle, PA. At its peak in 1935, 900 students attended the school. Early emphasis was placed on vocational training with boys becoming laborers and girls becoming domestic workers. An early slogan of the school was, "Be a Phoenix Indian, not a Reservation Bum." Runaways were common.

Wearing school clothing and marching uniforms was mandatory and boys drilled with the Arizona National Guard. The introduction of school clothing to pupils on their arrival was traumatic, as their traditional clothing, seen as a shell of savagery by the school officials, was literally cast off. Robert Lewis described the experience of leaving home in his graduation speech, published in the 1905 issue of the Native American, the Phoenix Indian School newspaper:

The boy is filled with sorrow, to think he can no longer enjoy the freedom of his home, and live with those he loves. He must soon be placed in the care of the pale-face, whom he can not fully trust. He can no longer listen to his father's stories and legends of the past. The feathers and paint, with which he loves to ornament himself, must be renounced.

During the 1890s, overcrowding at the school caused epidemics of smallpox, influenza, measles and whooping cough. Tuberculosis outbreaks continued at the school into the 1900s primarily because of the vast number of TB camps that were set up all over the valley. It was believed that the dry climate helped cure the disease.

The campus, which consisted of 160 acres, was purchased by the City of Phoenix in 1996 and a portion of the property was converted into a park.

Primary Sources: The Phoenix Indian School: Forced Assimilation in Arizona, 1891-1935; Archaeology of the Phoenix Indian School (O. Lindauer); History of Steel Indian School Park


Site Coordinator:

Jeff Woolley


Contact number:

(480) 789-7985


Event Date and Time:

May 27, 2009

9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.


Event Location:

Steele Indian School Park

300 N Indian School Road

(3rd Street Entrance)

Phoenix, AZ


Event Flyer:

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