For ninety years, Stewart Indian School fulfilled a federal commitment to pursue Native American education in Nevada. Located three miles southeast of Carson City, the school grounds encompassed 240 acres. The school opened on December 17, 1890 with 37 students from local Washoe, Paiute and Shoshone tribes and three teachers.
In 1888, the Nevada Legislature passed a bill that authorized the sale of bonds to purchase land for an Indian boarding school. Once purchased, the land was conveyed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs who established the boarding school to train and educate Indian children with the ultimate goal of assimilation. The campus opened with a capacity for 100 students and included a Victorian-style wood framed dormitory and school house. As enrollment increased, new buildings included shops for training, a hospital, and a recreation room. A Virginia and Truckee Railroad stop was established by 1906 to deliver supplies and facilitate transporting students to and from the school. By 1919, 400 students attended the school. During the next 16 years, students learning stone masonry from their teachers, including Hopi stone masons, constructed over 60 native stone buildings.
Student curriculum included classes in reading, writing, and arithmetic but focused on vocational training in various trades, agriculture, and the service industry. Classes offered for boys included ranching and farming, mechanics, woodworking, painting, and carpentry, while girls attended classes in baking, cooking, sewing, laundry, and practical nursing. Much of the school’s basic needs were supplied by students’ products or fulfilled by their newly acquired skills. Vocational training remained the school’s principal focus until a shift to academics occurred in the late 1960’s. The school closed in 1980 due to federal budget cuts and earthquake safety issues with the masonry buildings.
The State of Nevada acquired the campus through several transactions during the 1990’s and is now used by the State for classes, training, and agency offices, including the Nevada Indian Commission located in the former Superintendent’s home. The Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California established the Stewart Community on much of the former school’s land where they also occupy some of the buildings.
Today, the Stewart Indian School is listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places and the Stewart Indian Cultural Center is to be established in the former Administration Building. Memorabilia from the former Stewart Indian School is currently displayed at the Nevada State Museum’s Under One Sky exhibit and in the Nevada Indian Commission office.