Tushkalusa and Talihina Graded School: Exceptionalism in Indian Territory

Tushkalusa and Talihina Graded School: Exceptionalism in Indian Territory

We are excited to offer more from the transcription of the 1896 Principals Report of Tushkalusa Academy by Dora Johnson! This is only part of the complete report which is still being transcribed and interpreted due to the degradation of the original medium.

Followed by this letter is a report from Principal H. P. Mabry of Talihina Graded School. The importance of showing these incredible letters together is to display just how high the standards of education were at that time in Choctaw Nation for both Freedmen and Non-Citizens.

In 1891 when the Tushkalusa Academy was created by the Choctaw Nation, it was the first school in Talihina that was not a typical one-room schoolhouse. The only options available at the time for many families were small schoolhouses such as the Dukes’, Rock-Creek and Lennox schoolhouse. More often than not, these were very rudimentary schools which were free for tribal citizens but charged the children of white immigrants. A typical education at one of these institutions consisted of the “Three ‘R’s” (Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic).

These schools offered little to many early Talihina families which were already capable of teaching their children to read and write. Often churches acted as a place of early education but those were comparable to the aforementioned one-room schoolhouses.

It should serve as no surprise that even in the first newspaper records of Talihina, there exists written record of yearning for a school of higher education. In a very rare occurrence within a former Confederate territory, the educational opportunities of minorities exceeded that of even the most wealthy white children.

Tushkalusa Academy towered over Kiamichi Valley at three stories tall and was constructed for over $7,000 at the time. As noted before, this all-black school was the only school of its caliber existing in Talihina. Capable of teaching classes that drove past the “Three R’s”, Tushkalusa offered Reading, Arithmetic, Geography, Spelling, Writing and Phonics. Evidence from the principals report suggests that there was even a “preparatory” grade for students in their final year of attendance. At least two of the students became certified educators within a year of leaving the Academy.

It can be readily assumed that the Tushkalusa Academy opening in the area pushed the urge for education even further for the non-tribal parents and tribal parents who could not get their children into the esteemed Academies of the Nation. Talihina was rapidly outgrowing the infrastructure of the Choctaw Nation and community leaders were making strides in developing their own services that accommodated rapidly growing needs.

The communal desire for an education that was not tied to Choctaw tribal membership led community leaders to form the “Talihina Graded School”. In April of 1894, under the direction of H. P. Mabry, the Talihina Presbyterian became home to the Talihina Graded School and would begin molding the futures of many prominent children. In October of 1894 the average attendance was over 80 pupils and the max recorded attendance places the school at having over 103 students!

While it may seem like these parallels are simply an academic interpretation from someone looking back, there are incredible comparisons when reading from the thoughts of Dora Johnson and H. P. Mabry side-by-side.

Note: The Tushkalusa report is only partially transcribed, however the articles of the letter are in the correct order as written by the author with some sections omitted until such date that they are transcribed.

Report of Principal of Tushkalusa Academy
Talihina I.T. Feb 8, 1896

Tushkalusa Academy pictured in 1899

(To:) Superintendent H. Nail

Dear Sir: In compliance with your request I hand you here with a brief statement of my work as principal of Tushkalusa Academy for the past scholastic year.


The primary objects of the investigation and drill has been the just and orderly development of the mental powers.

After all that has been said when the subject, teachers, many of them are yet liable to devote too much attention to merely strengthening memory and cramming it with statements of facts to be repeated upon occasion not troubling themselves to see that the facts stated are understood or that the mind is in any way cultivated. This is a fatal error and must be thoroughly eradicated before the education can even be commenced.

The objects of my management have been the development of the will-power in general, self control in particular, the education of the moral faculties, the foundation of good habits both work and deportment, the cultivation of a faculty for order, neatness and care, the encouragement of proper respect for the rights, interests and feelings of others, and, in a word the establishment of a strong, noble lovable, character

Thorough Work

It has been the special object of the teachers to do thorough work. No other kind of work is worth anything. Careless work engenders careless habits and the pupil who contracts such habits has no right to expect success in any calling. Teachers should remember that nothing will induce thoroughness in the part of the pupils than thoroughness by the teacher.

The Teacher, Pupil and Parent

The Pupil occupies a position between the parent and the teacher. If the work of the teacher is strengthened by home influences and instruction, she can be of much more benefit to her pupils. If on the other hand the home influences are bad, the teacher has a very unpleasant way.

The parent who would have his child do well must give the teacher his hearty sympathy and cooperation as an unwavering support will never do. Look for the good parts in the teachers’ work and you will find them. I believe the one true duty of the parent should be continual visits to the school room. Go with the object in view to make the teacher stronger and better, not by advice and dissatisfaction, but sympathy and good-will. Go to find good and no evil.

Such a course must strengthen the teacher’s work and benefit the child beyond estimate.

Hoping the management of the school here met your approval, I am,
Most respectfully

Dora E Johnson, Principal
Julia I Coleman, Assistant.

Report Card reflecting the Tushkalusa Academy girls performance for the year of 1894.

Teachers and their Duties, H. P. Mabry Oct 8th 1894

Talihina Presbyterian Church as photographed in the late 1890s after the second story was added.

Teachers are the allies of the legislators; they have their influence in the prevention of crime; they aid in regulating the atmosphere of civilization, whose incessant action and pressure cause the life blood to circulate and return pure healthful to the heart of the Nation.

Whatever you would have your children become, strive to exhibit in your own lives and conversation. Of what unspeakable importance is this to the mothers who give lessons to the young before any others, who produce impressions that only death can obliterate and mingle with the cradle dreams that should be read in eternity.

The actions of the teacher are as important in his sphere as are those of the father and mother in theirs, as he has the molding of the “young ideas” entrusted to him. Someone has truthfully said that “Our children’s companions have more to do with the shaping of their characters than all the council of their tutors”. This is doubtlessly true, and when we take into consideration the number of children thrown together in the school room one will readily perceive how great a responsibility rests upon the teacher.

Here, under one common rule, is a miniature republic. But little can be accomplished until the teacher can be able to make an impression on the young minds. In order to do this he must be able to secure their undivided attention, which is not always an easy task. Some are full of mischief and must be drawn out; some are stubborn and must be controlled, others are indifferent and must be stimulated. It requires a knowledge of human nature and the aid of parents and guardians to accomplish this.

A school cannot be successfully taught until this has been done. The next step is to lead the young mind to investigate, and then to think for itself. Not until this is done can education be said to be on a sure foundation. Someone once said: “Think for thyself one good idea, but known to be thy own is better than a thousand gleaned from fields by each other sewn”.


H. P. Mabry
Principal Talihina Graded School

Report of Talihina Graded School, September 1894

We hope that you enjoyed the words of these esteemed early Oklahoma educators and if you would like more information on the Tushkalusa Academy, visit:


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