Lincoln Creek Day School, one of three day schools built in the 1930s on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in southeastern Idaho, is a physical manifestation of a dramatic shift in U.S. government policy spearheaded by Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, who was largely responsible for the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, also known as the “Indian New Deal.” Through the Act, Collier sought to reverse policies focused on allotment and assimilation, ending interference with religious practice and cultural expression, decreasing federal control, and increasing Indian self-government. Under Collier’s leadership, the Office of Indian Affairs closed the infamous, assimilationist Indian boarding schools, which attempted to eradicate Indigenous languages and cultures, and replaced them with community-based schools where students remained with their families who could nurture their Indigenous identities. Lincoln Creek Day School is one of only two Indian day schools remaining in Idaho.
Given government policies in place when the Fort Hall Indian Reservation was established by an Executive Order under the terms of the 1868 Fort Bridger Treaty, it is unsurprising that the education of Shoshone-Bannock children was a contentious issue from the outset. Fundamental was the policy that enabled Indian agents to forcibly separate children from their families, sending them to boarding schools to mold supposedly model American citizens by stripping away Indigenous identities, including cutting their hair, replacing traditional clothing with uniforms, and punishing children for speaking Indigenous languages or practicing Indigenous religions. The curriculum focused on domestic training for girls and agricultural training for boys, and included little academic instruction. Boarding school was a dangerous place for many children, who faced physical and sexual abuse and even death from accidents and disease. Another issue was perpetually inadequate government funding that led to poor school facilities, overcrowding, malnourishment, disease, and even periodic school closings. Although the Fort Bridger Treaty stipulated that the government would provide a school building and teacher at Fort Hall, Congress delayed funding for four years, and it was another two years before the day school was established and another six beyond that for a boarding school, then the government’s preferred assimilation apparatus.
After Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, the Office of Indian Affairs sought to reform education by closing boarding schools and replacing them with day schools that allowed students to remain with their families, continue cultural learning, and strengthen their Indigenous identities. In 1935 the Office of Indian Affairs announced plans to close the Fort Hall boarding school and open three day schools. Lincoln Creek Day School was built in 1936, but did not open until the fall of 1938. The curriculum included training in the same practical skills taught at the former boarding schools, but also included traditional academic coursework, Tribal arts, and education in health and hygiene. Inadequate funding plagued the Fort Hall day schools, as did lack of roads and transportation. Although Shoshone-Bannock people took pride in educational achievement, Office of Indian Affairs correspondence revealed poor attendance and according to contemporary reports in the Tribal newsletter, some children resisted attending the day schools, despite exhortations by Tribal leaders and others. Of the Fort Hall day schools, the lowest enrollment was at Lincoln Creek; only ten students attended in 1940. World War II also affected Lincoln Creek Day School attendance as older boys left school for defense work, to join the army, or to help farm. (Students remaining in school grew food which was, in turn, canned by the teacher and bus driver.) Lincoln Creek Day School closed permanently in 1944, victim of a six-foot flood, the absence of a capable teacher, and continual lack of funding. By then the majority of children from Fort Hall were already attending public schools in the nearby towns of Blackfoot and Pocatello.
The Lincoln Creek Day School was built in an isolated location eight miles east of the nearest town of Blackfoot, and twenty miles from the agency headquarters in the town of Fort Hall. The one-story, wood-frame school sits on the remains of a tree-lined lawn surrounded by fenced grasslands. The building’s exterior materials include an exposed concrete foundation, clapboard walls, and a wood-shingled roof. The building has predominantly double-hung windows, but includes transoms over exterior doors and eyebrow dormer windows leading into attics.
As viewed from the road along the south, the massing of the building expresses its two uses: the teacher’s residence on the west steps back and its gable roof steps down from the school on the east. Each of the building’s five first-floor entrances, three feet above grade, were reached by solid concrete stoops with pipe railings. The front door of the residence is set in an entry porch on the southwest corner. The school’s main entrance, near the center of the building, is sheltered by a small gabled canopy with a barrel vault soffit supported by decorative brackets. Along the north facade, the teacher’s single-car garage protrudes from the west end and along the east end a linear light well illuminates the basement classroom.
The teacher’s residence includes a living room with a brick fireplace along the west, two bedrooms along the south, and a kitchen and bathroom along the north. The school had two classrooms, one on the first floor and another in the basement below. The first-floor classroom was remodeled into a half basketball court and gathering space. The twelve-foot-high flat ceiling and framing was removed to raise the ceiling to the underside of roof rafters.
Twelve years after the 1944 closure of Lincoln Creek Day School, the Bureau of Indian Affairs transferred the title of the school building to the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. In the 1960s the building was used as a private residence, but then it stood vacant for many years. When the community began to restore the day school in 2005, the building required significant work, having suffered from a severe lack of maintenance and damage by vandals. The Lincoln Creek Tribal District of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes hired Trout Architects to restore and adapt the building for use as a community center. Since 2005, community residents and professionals have been restoring the building. The work has included structural stabilization, new roof trusses, cedar roof shingles, siding, and windows and exterior doors. Construction has been funded by grants from numerous agencies and charitable entities including the Lowes Foundation, National Heritage Trust, Idaho Heritage Trust, and National Park Service.
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