It was shortly before 6:15 a.m. on a day in May 1898. All 125 children at St. Boniface Indian Industrial School filed into the chapel for their morning prayers and daily Roman Catholic Mass. Their teachers, nuns, sang with them. At 7:15 a.m. a bell rang. To the beat of a drum, the children marched by rank and in single file, to breakfast.
This, according to a write-up in the school newspaper 110 years ago, was how each school day started for the schoolchildren from the region’s Cahuilla, Serrano, Luiseño, Kumeyaay, and other American Indian nations. St. Boniface first opened its doors in Banning on Sept. 1, 1890. Although the school closed years ago and only its cemetery remains, memories of St. Boniface live on, especially in the families of many area Native American people who attended school there.
How the day went
Once breakfast ended, the school’s Mission Indian newspaper reported in 1898, work began: cleaning, sweeping, dusting, helping in the kitchen (girls), cutting and carrying wood (boys). At 9 a.m. another bell rang and it was time for classes. The girls on Monday would wash and iron all the school laundry, then often go to the sewing room for mending and their instruction in “plain sewing and fancy work.” Other girls worked in the kitchen, learning how to prepare meals and serve people. This, after all, was an industrial school. No one in that era foresaw women or nonwhite men as scientists, engineers or the United States President. “Baker boys” learned the art of baking bread by making it for the school (in 1905 the school boasted that 600 lbs. of flour were used each week). Other boys worked on the school farm, and learned shoemaking, carpentry, and other trades.
Three times a week all children received religious instruction and every evening at 6 p.m. they broke from work to recite prayers. At 7 p.m. they assembled in the chapel for more instruction and religious ceremony. Between were sandwiched classes and other lessons. The boys also did military drills and calisthenics. Being idle was not an option at St. Boniface.
In Diocese of San Bernardino records compiled in 1994 by diocese archivist R. Bruce Harley, we catch a glimpse of some school activities. In the June 27, 1898, “annual entertainment” program for the public, students Patricio Lugo, Peter Salvadeo, and Stephen Saubel performed a dialogue called “The Base Ball Enthusiast.” More than 30 pupils did a “Columbia” march and drill, and 21 treated the crowd to a “patriotic exercise.” The audience applauded more dialogues, recitations, and skits. The school chorus sang, “The Heavens Speak Forth the Lord’s Mighty Power,” and, “Viva L’America.” The entire school closed the program by singing in Latin, “Haec Dies Quam Fecit Dominus.”
St. Boniface and other schools taught American Indian children how to cope and work in the non-Indian world. But there also was a devastating loss. The schools were among social pressures that pushed Indian people to forget their languages, which hold their history in stories and songs. Indian children were separated from their families and were discouraged from learning their cultural traditions and knowledge. Now, Indian schools, such as Sherman Indian School in Riverside, encourage those working to recover and revive languages and cultural knowledge.
In Dorothy Ramon Learning Center’s next Dragonfly Lecture on May 11, Tanya Sorrell will share some of her UC Riverside graduate research and discoveries, “Inside St. Boniface.” People are invited to share their own St. Boniface memories. The Dragonfly Lecture is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. May 11 at the Learning Center at 17 W. Hays. Organizers said donations at the door will help the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Learning Center save and share Southern California’s American Indian cultures, languages, history, and traditional arts. — Pat Murkland