Carlisle Indian School Band

A History of the Band from the "Red Man,"
Vol. XIII, #7, p.6,
February, 1896

Possibly no more notable proof that man is the most pliable of all substances can be had than that furnished by the Carlisle Indian Band. When we remember that only a few years ago the members of this band were without and beyond the reach of our civilization and were perfectly ignorant of music as we know it in this age, and then note that among the fine bands in this country they rank today with the foremost in popular favor a spectacle is presented in which our fancy even, cannot conceive of a greater change. The appreciation of the efforts of the band results from proficiency in musical interpretation, and not so much from the uniqueness of the organization as might be expected.

Their history began in 1881, two years after the Industrial School, of which they are members, was started, and the circumstance which led to their organization was simply this:

During the first year's existence of the school, the two great musical instruments to be heard were the "tom tom" and Indian flute, which were as annoying and unmusical as they were constant in their use. From early morn until obligated to retire at night, the only musical sounds coming from the boy's quarters were the tom tom, tom tom, tom tom and or other like melody.

The aim of the school being the complete transformation of the Indians in respect to their ambition, habits, language, and the substitution of the better elements of civilization in their places, the display of savagery and barbarism, even in song and language, with in its very walls were certainly incompatible with the accomplishment of the object in view and necessitated, sooner or later, the entire prohibition.
But while early in the school's history the rule was made that the use of the Indian language and the practice of Indian customs by students would not be allowed, Indian singing was never prohibited. It was easy enough to substitute sports of the Nineteenth Century for those which the untutored savages enjoyed and to teach the English language for the Indian because in the former, the environments were such as to make them desire a change and in the latter, the circumstance caused by having nearly every Indian tribe (54 tribes or more are at present represented at the school) a dialect different from every other Indian language, compelled them to join some one language before they could talk with each other. But not so with their songs. To take them away was to take away the source of their enjoyment and happiness.

Besides the government at that time had very little hope for the Indians, and consequently the annual appropriation was not calculated to cover the luxury of musical instruments which prevented the replacing of the Indian drum and flute with clarinets, cornets, and pianos which were very much desired. The question, therefore, was one of finance.
Finally, however, Mrs. Walter Baker, of Boston, came to the rescue. During a visit she had been making, she was very much delighted with the prospect of the school and its Indians, and as she was about to leave said to Captain Pratt, the superintendent:

"Captain, what can I do to help the school which would be distinct and by itself, and not be part of some general contribution?"
The Captain replied: "Since you have been here you have heard the 'tom tom' and Indian singing down in those quarters?"
"Well, I want to stop that, but feel it wouldn't be fair to do unless I can give them something else as good, or better, on the same line. If you will give me a set of brass band instruments I will give them to the 'tom tom' boys and they can toot on them and this will stop the 'tom tom.' "

And so Mrs. Baker sent the boys a set of Boston instruments and the girls were provided with pianos. Strange to say, the order to stop the singing of Indian songs was never issued, but as the first band became more musical, the Indian songster in proportion became musicless.
The funny side-splitting tales of the first Indian band at Carlisle can only be told by those who witnessed the first efforts of those red Indians.
Soon after its organization the band was invited to play at an entertainment at the school. The band boys had got by this time so they could play the scales and simple little songs, sometimes getting triumphantly and at other times getting stuck in the middle of the tune. Still they decide to try their luck and the bandmaster selected Amos High Wolf, a big Sioux boy who was using the bass horn, to play a solo. At the appointed time, Amos walked up to the stage with the dignity and grace of an artist, and adjusting his mouth-piece without dropping his horn, he began playing "Sweet bye and bye." He began rather firmer than sweet, but continued to the end of the strain without any serious catastrophe, except that toward the finish, while he was taking his usual breath, it suddenly dawned on him he was making a distinguished success, and he became unable to go on the second strain, and to get out of it he gave a grand "War Whoop." This was taken up by the other pupils and the noise they produced with their Indian yells and whoops will find few duplications in American history.

With this small, and yet rather noisy beginning, the band has grown and progressed until the "sweet bye and bye" of Amos seems near to attainment. For they now render such music as overtures "William Tell," "Fra Diavolo," "Tannhauser," and classic music by Grieg, Schubert, Weber, Mozart, and other great composers.
Their first instructor was a lady cornetist, later an ex-army band master and at present Mr. Dennison Wheelock, and Onieda Indian, a graduate of the school, under whom they have won many laurels. The band was a special feature at the Columbian parade in New York City, and the New York "Tribune" has this to say of them: "But the one that caught the crowd was the Indian band that headed the delegation from Carlisle. With the smoothest harmony and the most perfect time, this band of forty or fifty pieces played a marching anthem as it swept past the reviewing stand. Both the melody and the spectacle were so unusual that the people rose to their feet and cheered again and again."

They also participated in the parade at the opening ceremonies of the World's Fair and headed the second grand division. Their concerts in the Festival Hall and on several band stands attracted much attention during the Fair and received many flattering notices by the press.

--[D. M. W. in "The Dominant."]

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