Indian Mission School
Over the years, the Indian Mission school building has functioned as a school, community center, head start, and garment factory to the Ho-Chunk people living in and around the Mission. Prior to the 1920s there had been a school in the mission through the church, however when the new boarding school was built in Neillsville, the school in the Mission outside of Black River Falls closed down.
In October of 1933, “a representative of Jackson county while making a survey of the conditions among the Indians, found 32 children of school age who were not attending. No provisions had been made for them. Knowing that Congress had made an appropriation to meet just such an emergency action was taken so that by the middle of November school opened in the old Mission Church with picked up equipment” (The Winnebagoes , Banner Journal 9/18/1940). The result was a federally funded Indian Day school.
A.P. Jones, in one of his columns, stated:
“During the past winter there were 300 Indians living in the town of Komensy, Jackson county. Practically all of these were centered close around the old Mission church. In Jackson county, or but temporarily absent, were 365 Indians. Of these 165 were children and 117 children were attending school. Forty-six were too young for school while but two were too sick to attend school. Full half a hundred were enrolled at the Indian day school (Hotonga) maintained by the federal government, and this was easily the most popular education institution both with pupils and parents” (THE INDIANS).
“In 1936 the present school building was erected” (Banner Journal 12/11/1952).
In September, 1938, Miss Kippenhan went to the “Mission near Black River Falls to start her work with the Winnebago youth” (Banner Journal 6/29/1960). Miss Kippenhan organized a Boy Scout patrol and a Girl Scout troop. “The older girls (teenagers) were formed into a Girls’ reserve, the older boys into a Hi-Y.” (6/29/1960). Through the help and education provided by Miss Louise Kippenhan, many of the youth were able to graduate from high school and find employment. The Mission school was the only school in the district with only Winnebago pupils.
By 1940, the enrollment of students at the school had doubled and two full time teachers had been hired. “Funds for the buildings, and a nearby community hall, as well as to cover all other expenses of the school are provided from federal funds. To establish and maintain just such schools is why the boarding school were abandoned” (The Winnebagoes, Banner Journal 9/18/1940).
The students at the school were given the opportunity to attend the public high school in Black River Falls after the completion of eighth grade, and by 1940, fourteen boys and girls were allowed to attend the public school. The funds for their tuition and transportation to and from Black River Falls was also paid for through federal funds.
“The Hochunkgra school … had as its first school board, Joe Soukop, Jerry Jelinek, Frank Marousek. Mrs. Norma Krametbauer … taught in 1934-35; Rose Bauner started in 1936-37 and Mrs. Emma Olson took over that year and has been there ever since as principal and sole teacher until 1938-43 when Laura Amundson taught; 1943-45 Mrs. Hulda Churchill; 1946-47 Miss Irma Loomis; 1946-47 Mrs. Nilda Torkelson and from 1947 until now, 1952, Mrs. Clara Johnson is the primary teacher. Due credit goes to these primary teachers for they not only taught classes but in some cases taught the children to talk English. All of the Indian children speak two languages” (Banner Journal 12/11/1952). Because of the rarity of this school and its success, many visitors were brought to the school to show off the achievements made by the pupils and the school.
The school was closed in 1963 when the Indian Agency, the Department of Interior, and the State Board of Public Instruction decided that integrating the children into the public school would provide a greater learning opportunity for them. Throughout its existence as a school, it offered an invaluable learning facility and home to many Ho-Chunk youth. It was the only school in its district with only Winnebago pupils. The teachers were able to make sure that “their heritage became an important part of school activity”, which made it a favorite school by many parents and students alike (St. Paul Press, 5/23/1976).
The 120 acres that the Mission sits on was still owned by the United Church of Christ when the school closed, however the 39 acres of land that the school was seated upon was turned back to the Indian Agency. “Both the land and the unused schoolroom could be put to good use if the Winnebagoes would be allowed to use the property,” said Wilbur Blackdeer (La Crosse Tribune, 11/26/1963).
During an informal meeting, held in Black River Falls, representatives of the Wisconsin Winnebago and city civic and service organization delegates decided upon the future fate of the Mission. “[Melvin] Schmallenberg volunteered to contact the Indian Agency to try to secure permission for use of the school building by the Winnebagoes” (La Crosse Tribune, 11/26/1963). Melvin Schmallenberg was the district school superintendent at the time of the meeting.
On February 17, 1965, the La Crosse Tribune published an article stating that the old Hochunkgra school remodeling was almost completed. When the remodeling was completed, the building was to become a community center.
Towards the end of that year, the building became home to a small revenue source. At the time, there was little to no income coming to the Mission and most residents had to look elsewhere for employment. A small business was started in order to help bring in some money to help out the community. “The recently remodeled Hochungra school and its dining room is being used to house the plant [a small garment making factory]. The school was no longer used after the children were transported to Black River Falls schools, so the government remodeled the building at a cost of $28,000 last spring and turned it over to the Tribal Council in July. New floors, interior walls and ceilings, light fixtures, kitchen, running water, toilets and a fully-equipped kitchen, have created an ideal workspace” (11/18/1965).
The garment-making factory was called “Winnebago Indian Mission Industries”. The factory received $600 from the First Congregational of Madison, and the United Church of Christ Mission Board gave $300 to help start the factory. The workers were Mrs. Lila Blackdeer, who was elected manager of operation; Mrs. Leona McKee, Mrs. Mathilda Buker, Mrs. Agnes Thundercloud, Mrs. Mabel Lowe, Mrs. Cecilia Blackdeer, and Mrs. Norma Whitedeer. The committee over the factory was headed by Reverend Mr. Whiterabbit, who acted as the president; Reverend Jacob Graether, Mrs. James Savides, Mrs. E. E. Homstad, Indian Affairs Chairman of the Ninth District Federation of Women’s Clubs; and Russel Ferris who operated an Indian moccasin factory in La Crosse.
The factory was trained for four weeks to make hospital gowns. All gowns produced were “shipped to the Community Textile Furnishing Co., Skokie, Ill., who supplies the material, pays the freight charges, and does the marketing” (Banner Journal, 11/24/1965). The factory was created to help create another way to bring income to the tribe. After their four-week training period, the women were to assume all upkeep for the building, and once they began to make a profit from their factory, they were expected to pay rent.
The Mission school is undergoing changes once again with new renovations being made to the building.
**This project is still on-going and will be updated as more information is put together. If you have any information that you would like to have us add regarding the Indian Mission School please contact Josephine Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.