- Journal of SD History
St. Anthony's Indian School in San Diego, 1886-1907
By Teresa Baksh McNeil
Master of Arts Candidate in History at The University of San Diego
LACKING a comprehensive school system for native Americans, during the latter half of the nineteenth century the United States government began to rely heavily upon various religious denominations to provide for the educational needs of the nation's Indians. Many religious groups agreed to supply buildings, furnishings, clothing and other educational necessities to Indian children in return for a fixed annual per capita appropriation from the government. Day schools and boarding schools begun under these conditions were part of what became known as the "contract system."1
These contracts were especially attractive to members of the Catholic hierarchy, since government funds, together with the gifts of the famous Negro and Indian philanthropist Mother Katherine Drexel, and the teaching staffs of priests and nuns, provided adequate support for the schools. The Church found it easy to expand under such conditions.2 The Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, established in 1874 and directed by the zealous Monsignor Joseph Andrew Stephan, was successful in garnering contracts for the foundation of a large number of Catholic day schools and boarding schools for Indians throughout the country.
Through a great deal of perseverance by San Diego's famed Indian missionary, Father Anthony Dominic Ubach,3 the Indians of Old Town were also able to benefit from this arrangement. From the time of his arrival in San Diego, Father Ubach sought to obtain government aid to establish an industrial school for Indian children; i.e., a school which stressed vocational training. For years, though, his pleas for a government-sponsored Indian school fell on deaf ears in Washington, and by the 1870s, citizens were beginning to complain about Indian children attending the public school.4 Finally, in 1881, an Indian school was established under the supervision of Mrs. Crothers.5 Unfortunately, government aid was withdrawn from her school one year later. Another educational effort was made by the Indian Aid Association in 1884, which commissioned a group of Presbyterian women to teach in an Industrial Home for Indian children.6 Nevertheless, due to erratic federal funding the Presbyterians soon admitted defeat and offered to urge the Department of the Interior to put the school under the charge of Father Ubach.7
Encouraged, Father Ubach submitted a proposal to the U.S. government in February, 1885. He wrote to the Honorable Price, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, offering the services of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet8 in teaching the school:
...Some three years ago, I brought a colony of Sisters of the Order of St. Joseph, from St. Louis, Missouri, to open an Academy for young ladies in this City. . . I could procure Sisters enough to teach the Indian school here, if the Department would entrust to them the Indian children that roam in our streets, under the same terms and regulations you required of the ladies whom you had authorized to conduct their school here till lately. . . Any one, not predisposed, can fail see the immense good and most satisfactory results, that would be produced by the Sisters taking absolute charge of this Indian School here. . . .9
It was not until a year later that the prospect of Catholics securing a government contract in San Diego seemed certain.10 Father Ubach then traveled to Washington, D.C., to confer with Monsignor Joseph Andrew Stephan, Director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions. The Bureau agreed to request of the Honorable Atkins, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, a contract for the education of fifty Indian children in San Diego at an annual per capita compensation of $150.00.11A little more than a month later, a jubilant Father Ubach received the following notice from the Bureau: "Contract for seventy-five pupils at one hundred fifty dollars secured. Start school by September 1st. . .".12
Father Ubach began preparing at once for the opening of "his" school. The Right Reverend Francis Mora, Bishop of Monterey, sent $100.00 to purchase cots, and another $400.00 was donated to remodel the residence in Old Town that would be used for the school.13 This was the "Casa de Aguirre,"14 on the corner of Twiggs Street and San Diego Avenue. Father Ubach then made a tour of the rancherias in his jurisdiction to recruit students, and St. Anthony's Industrial School for Indians, named after the priest's patron saint, opened in the fall of 1886. Father Ubach was named Superintendent, and Sister Hyacinth Blanc, of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, was chosen as Superior of the school. She, along with Sisters Teresa Ortiz and Nazarene Dean, were the school's first teachers. The Sisters commuted daily by a horse-drawn buggy from their residence at the Academy of Our Lady of Peace, located at Third and A Streets.15
At first, it was not easy to induce the Indian children to attend the Catholic boarding school.16 Even at the start of its second year, Father Ubach had trouble recruiting students:
Our Industrial Boarding School opened last Thursday, Sept. 1st with 50 children and in view of the many difficulties, of which I have just mentioned but one, I pray you to request the Honorable Atkins, Commissioner of Indian Affairs to take into consideration the many great difficulties we have to encounter and it is not so very easy to get the number of children required by Contract at once: but I must get them slowly.17
Nevertheless, during that school year the Commissioner of Indian Affairs received a fine report on St. Anthony's by a School Inspector, which he passed on the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions:
... it is stated that the school is properly conducted and is worthy of the support of the Government; that the employees, with one exception, are well qualified, and that the teachers are particularly adapted to teaching. They take unusual and great interest in the proper discharge of their duties, and the pupils are making good advancement in school-room exercises under their judicious management.18
Father Ubach was relieved to learn that his contract for seventy-five pupils was renewed in 1888.19 Indeed, the school's popularity among the Indians had grown, and enrollment figures remained at such a high level that in 1890 the government approved an increase in size to ninety-five students.20 The San Diego Union reported, "This is the largest number the school has ever had, but Father Ubach says no applicant will be turned away. He will pay for such himself, as it is his desire to have all the present generation of Indians in this county educated.21
On October 4, 1890, the newly-appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Thomas Jefferson Morgan (July, 1889), made an inspection of the Indian school in San Diego and attested to its success:
I found two separate schools, one for girls, with 47 pupils present, and one for boys with 36 in attendance. Everything in both buildings was neat and clean, and the pupils appeared to be well cared for physically. They were fairly well clothed and seemed healthy and happy. The sisters I should judge were more than usually well qualified for their work. The pupils are under good discipline and I think well instructed. They read clearly and distinctly and sang unusually well. The girls have good advantages in the way of industrial training.22
In his report, Commissioner Morgan expressed only one major concern, and that concerned the problem of the Indian children being housed in narrow quarters. He stated, "The attention of the Catholic Bureau should be invited to the condition of this school, and should be asked to remove it to some place where there will be an opportunity to instruct the boys in farming, care of stock and where the pupils can have more outdoor freedom."23
City officials also encouraged Father Ubach to move the school outside the downtown district, and the priest, therefore, began making arrangements to transfer the school to Mission San Diego de Alcalá. The San Diego Uniongave notice of Father Ubach's intentions, stating that he planned ". . . to remove the St. Anthony Indian school from Old Town to the more expansive grounds of the Mission farm, six miles up the valley, that was a century ago filled with the rancherias of these children's ancestors. . .".24As the priest pointed out to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the new site would be much more appropriate:
My facilities in the future for teaching Indian Pupils industrial pursuits, such as farming, gardening, stock raising, dairywork and shoemaking, will be ample and complete, as I have some two hundred acres of fine land belonging to the Old Mission which over 123 years ago was destined and used for this very same purpose!25
In June, 1891, graduation ceremonies at St. Anthony's were held for its fifth and final year in Old Town.26 Work then commenced immediately on the property of Mission San Diego de Alcalá, which was in a state of total disarray and disrepair. However, Father Ubach was determined to make the best of the historic Catholic monument, which had great significance to him as the site of an Indian school.
The first step was to erect two buildings, one on either side of the mission. A three-story building on the west was to be used as the girls' dormitory, and the building on the east was for the boys. The Sisters were also to reside at the mission, and would no longer have to travel daily to and from the Academy of Our Lady of Peace.
Work progressed slowly, though, and whereas Father Ubach originally intended to begin the school term on September 1, 1891, he reported:
. . . owing to delays and disappointments beyond my control I was unable to open the School under my charge on the 1st inst. as the girls department was and is not yet quite completed, but within this date and the 15th proximo, everything will be finished and we will move everyone over on the Old Mission. Once there we will patiently wait for the rainy season to set in when we will begin to teach the big boys farming, gardening, and everything else in conformity with the Contract and wishes of the Government and useful to the Indian pupil.27
Sister Octavia Beaudette had been the Superior at St. Anthony's Industrial school prior to the change of locations, and remained in that position after the move. She, along with Sisters David Clancy, Loretto, Thomasine and Archangela Holly opened the school at Mission San Diego de Alcalá on October 31, 1891. According to Sister Archangela:
Father Antonio Ubach said the first Mass on the Feast of All Saints. This was the first mass said on the famous spot in one hundred years, since the sainted Father Junipero Serra and his brethren left it.28
At the time of the move, there were between 90 and 100 students, for which the government allotted $12.50 each for board, clothing and educational expenses. This did not go far, as witness the extreme poverty of the Indian children. Nevertheless, Ubach's quarterly reports for the school all contained repeated requests to the Commissioner for permission to increase the enrollment of the previous year's contract.29
St. Anthony's was primarily an industrial school, in which the Indian children were taught various vocational trades, in addition to the ordinary branches of learning. The children were instructed in agriculture, shoe-making, sewing and domestic work. All the vegetables, fruits and beef eaten by the boarders were raised on the mission property, and by 1893, the students had cultivated 120 acres of its land.
Attending Mass was a regular, part of the school day. Every morning, pupils would assemble in the chapel for the service, with some of the Indian boys assisting as altar boys. After Mass, breakfast was served, which was followed by manual labor. Class hours were from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. Religious instruction was given twice a week in addition to daily Catechism lessons.30
Catholic holy days and feast days were joyous occasions; the feast of Corpus Christi was particularly remembered. On that day, all the children dressed up in their finest clothing. Sister Ann Cecelia Smith describes the annual event commemorating Corpus Christi:
The boys under Father Ubach's direction erected five altars around the hillside while the girls prepared the linens and the candles to be used in this public demonstration of their Faith. Early in the morning the people from the town of San Diego and from the surrounding country assembled on the Mission property. A procession was formed in the afternoon and to the accompaniment of the children's voices, all marched before the Blessed Sacrament. At each altar, as Benediction was given, guns were discharged and the sound reechoed through the hills and valley.31
Each year there was also a procession up the nearby mountain to pay homage to "Our Lady of the Mission," who, they all believed, had previously saved their lives:
The first year of our residence we were visited by a terrible earthquake, which cracked the walls and threw down candlesticks from the altar. The Indian children promised to carry rocks sufficient to build a shrine to Our Lady of the Mission if preserved through the terrible night. They carried them up the side of the mountain, some on their heads, others on their backs. . . . The Indians were very fervent in their prayers of thanks. They were the remnants of two tribes -- the Dieganos and Louisianos (sic).32
Vocal lessons were given once a week, and the girls received lessons on the organ, guitar and mandolin. The boys also had a music professor, who was in charge of a brass band. When requested, the band would attend functions all over the city of San Diego to play, particularly on religious feast days or holy days. There were also three choir groups, as a student's letter to the Mission Indian, a newspaper published at St. Boniface Indian School near Banning, California, reveals:
The large girls' choir is called St. Cecilia's, and another one is named St. Joseph's. The choir of the little girls we call Angels' Choir. We are preparing for Corpus Christi, and the closing days of school. . . . Today is bake day, and we must hurry up and put the bread in the pans, so good-bye.33
According to Smith, Sister Octavia was an untiring administrator with a sense of humor to soften the heavy tasks, and she reveals an incident which illustrates how the Superior dealt with the greatest infraction of rules - that of running away:
Two little girls, aged nine and ten years, secretly packed pilfered food in a box, and at an opportune moment quietly left the school. Missing them about an hour later, Mother Octavia with a companion harnessed a horse to the buggy, and overtook the wanderers on the Valley Road. The look of relief that flashed on their small solemn faces quickly changed to grief when they realized the penalty for their disobedience. After listening to their story but not moved by their sobs Mother took from her pocket the weapon of punishment, and with four snips of the scissors their straight black hair was cut short.34
In 1893, St. Anthony's Industrial School for Indians claimed five Sisters, four lay teachers and 95 students averaging twelve years of age, twenty of whom were not covered by the government contract.35 The government paid $11,875.00 in funds that year for the school, which, other than small donations, was its only source of income.
In spite of the desperate financial situation of the school, linked to the recession following the 1880s building boom (at which time Father Ubach overextended his resources)36 Father Ubach did not turn needy children away. Indeed, an interview with a ninety-four year old former student of St. Anthony's, Mr. Julian Esparza, revealed that the priest also accepted poor Mexican children such as he and his brothers, and advised them to grow their hair long in order to appear to be Indians.37
On the average, there were between 90 and 100 boy and girl boarders at St. Anthony's Industrial School, although the Catholic Directory, in 1895, listed an attendance of 105 children being taught by five Sisters of St. Joseph.38 The following year there were forty children confirmed at the school by Bishop Montgomery, the largest confirmation class at St. Anthony's Industrial School while it was located at Mission San Diego de Alcalá.39
While religious instruction played a major role in the curriculum, the children's school life was extremely rich and varied. A great deal of information on the daily school life at St. Anthony's Industrial School may be discerned among the many letters written by the school children for publication in the Mission Indian, a newspaper preserved at the Smithsonian Institute. For example, one student named Cypriano Pachito described their school life thus:
Our school is situated south of the ruins of the first mission that was built in California. Here we have a harness shop and a shoe shop, and in front of our school a lovely flower garden. I am a shoemaker. I go to work every day, and like it very much. I also like to go to school and stay with the Sisters. They are very good and kind to us. This is my third year of school. I am in the fourth grade.40
A girl, Juanita Mauriquez, wrote the following account of her studies:
I am in the fourth grade. I study grammar, physiology, spelling, catechism, Bible history, geography and arithmetic. I am trying to do the best I can. 1 am very glad to be here with the Sisters. They are very kind to us. We have mass every morning. The other day we had a high mass for the poor Sisters that died in Old Town. Father Ubach played the organ. . . .41
When the United States government completely ceased its appropriations for Indian contract schools in 1900, the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions was forced to maintain total support of St. Anthony's in San Diego, in addition to the remaining Catholic contract schools throughout the rest of the nation. Needless to say, this amounted to a major reduction in financial income, making it extremely difficult to properly carry on the education of the Indian children. St. Anthony's existed precariously after the withdrawal of government appropriations. For the first quarter of the fiscal year in 1900 (July, August and September), Father Ubach requested from the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions a total of $2025.00, based on a per capita rate of $9.00 per child per month, for a total of seventy-five children.42 The next quarter, Father received only $1,809.00 from the Bureau for sixty-seven students.43
From that point the future of St. Anthony's Industrial School for Indians was doubtful, but the schoolchildren seemed oblivious to the problems and visitors to the mission were invariably impressed. For example, in 1905, George Wharton James published In and Out of the Old Missions, and in the book he recalls a unique experience he had when visiting St. Anthony's Indian School at Mission San Diego de Alcalá:
On one occasion I asked the children if they knew any of the "songs of the old," the songs their Indian grandparents used to sing; and to my delight, they sang two or three of the old chorals taught their ancestors in the early Mission days by the padres.34
Father Ubach received a great deal of personal satisfaction from his school for Indian children. Unfortunately, the rights of San Diego County's Indians in general continued to be ignored and their situation grew worse with each passing year. Other than providing an education for the Indian children, the beloved priest was relatively powerless in his attempts to alleviate their condition. After his death on March 27, 1907, St. Anthony's Industrial School continued for only one quarter, under the charge of Sister M. Sylvester, who was given that duty by the Bishop of Monterey and Los Angeles.45 It was then decided to transfer the remaining children to St. Boniface Industrial School near Banning, California, a school also taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. According to Dougherty, "the Mission was once more abandoned to the elements of the lonely valley."46
It has been a century since Father Anthony Dominic Ubach, the "last of the padres" in San Diego, opened his school for Indian children, thereby inaugurating a significant contribution to the education of a minority culture in southern California. Nor can the educational and religious accomplishments wrought by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet among the Indians of San Diego County be understated. Not only did this community of Catholic Sisters educate the Indian children attending St. Anthony's Industrial School, but they also conducted two other Indian schools which opened in San Diego County: the Government School at Fort Yuma, California (1886-1900), and St. Boniface Industrial School near Banning, California (1890-1956).47
1. For additional information on this topic, see Francis Paul Prucha, The Churches and the Indian Schools, 1888-1912 (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1979).
2. Ibid, p. 3
3. Father Ubach arrived in San Diego in 1866 to become the fifth pastor of the Immaculate Conception Church in Old Town. He was to remain in San Diego for forty-one years, until his death in 1907, and during that time his influence among the Indian population grew to immense proportions. The greatest resource on this priest was produced by Dennis R. Clark, "Anthony Dominic Ubach (1835-1907), Pioneer Priest of San Diego (1866-1907): A Study of His Influence Upon the Rise of Catholicism in San Diego" (Master's Thesis, University of San Francisco, 1965).
4. San Diego Union. February 3, 1874.
5. San Diego Union. July 28, 1881.
6. San Diego Union. January 29, 1884.
7. Clark, "Pioneer Priest," p. 54.
8. The Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in the United States from France 150 years ago, in 1836, settling in Carondelet, Missouri. They immediately began distinguishing themselves as devoted teachers of the nation's Indians. The community conducted numerous schools for Indians throughout Arizona and southern California. Traveling through San Diego in 1870 on their way to Tucson, in the American territory of Arizona, these women made such an impression of Father Ubach that he would not rest until he could convince a group to come to San Diego. The Sisters finally agreed, and traveled to San Diego in 1882 to open the first Catholic school, the Academy of Our Lady of Peace. Once in town, Father Ubach knew he could persuade them to teach in an Indian school, if he was ever able to open one.
9. Letter from Father Ubach to Honorable Price, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, February 20, 1885. San Diego History Center Research Archives.
10. Letter from Father Stephan, Director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, to Father Ubach. January 13, 1886. Archives, Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, Marquette University Library.
11. Letter from Father Stephan, Director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, to Mr. Atkins, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, July 1, 1886. Archives, Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, Marquette University Library.
12. Letter from Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions to Father Ubach, August 13, 1886. Archives, Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, Marquette University Library.
13. Clark, "Pioneer Priest," p. 56.
14. According to Iris Engstrand and Ray Brandes, Old Town, San Diego, 1821-1874 (San Diego: Alcalá Press, 1976), the Aguirre House was a U-shaped building constructed sometime prior to 1853. Jose Antonio Aguirre, the builder, left the property to his second wife, Maria del Rosario Estudillo, on September 25, 1860.
15. The Academy of Our Lady of Peace had been in operation for four years, opening in May of 1882.
16. Letter from Father Ubach to Father Stephan, Director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, April 16, 1887. National Archives, Washington, D.C. See also letters of March 24, 1886 and April 2, 1886, from Father Stephan to Father Ubach, in which Ubach was granted money to be used as traveling expenses to transport Indian children from the back country to Old Town. Archives, Bureau of Catholic Indian .Missions, Marquette University Library.
17. Letter from Father Ubach to the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, September 5, 1887. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
18. Letter from Honorable Atkins, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to Father Ubach, March 1, 1888; and letter from Father Willard, Vice-Director, Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, August 10, 1889. Archives, Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, Marquette University Library.
19. Letter from Charles Lusk, Secretary, Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, to Father Ubach, August 11, 1888. Archives, Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, Marquette University Library.
20. San Diego Union. August 31 and September 1, 1890.
21. San Diego Union. December 19, 1890. The article continues, "Banning (St. Boniface) has now over 100 at the new school, and the one to be opened at Perris next year will enable all to have Instruction."
THE PHOTOGRAPHS are courtesy of the Archives of the Diocese of San Diego