Fort Marion - St. Augustine Florida

Fort Marion has a long history dating back to 1672. Located on the shores of Matanzas Bay in St. Augustine, Florida, the fort is the oldest masonry citadel in the continental United States. Originally called the Castillo de San Marcos, it was built when Florida was part of the Spanish empire. Over the centuries, different countries have laid claim to the fort until the signing of the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty when the United States took control and renamed it Fort Marion.

Fort Marion was the center of American military operations during the Seminole War that began in 1835 and lasted seven years. During the Civil War, Fort Marion had a brief flurry of excitement when the fort was seized by southern sympathizers in 1861. However, it fell quickly before federal troops and had no further active part in the war between the states. Following the Red River War in 1875, Fort Marion was utilized in the incarceration of 72 Southern Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, Caddo and Arapaho First Americans. The prisoners, trussed in shackles and chains, endured an arduous overland trip by rail from Fort Sill, Oklahoma to Fort Marion.

Why were the First Americans taken there?

The Medicine Lodge Treaty in October 1867 called for two reservations to be set aside in Indian Territory – one for the Comanche and Kiowa and another for the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho – to end the free-roaming First American populations on the southern Great Plains. Among other things, the Medicine Lodge Treaty guaranteed these tribes exclusive reservation territory, governmental help for 30 years, and the assurance of all buffalo hunting rights. The enforcement of this treaty was never fully honored by the federal government [1].

Because of this, conditions on reservations worsened and many of the Plains tribal people returned to the Texas prairies and attempted to expel white intruders from their traditional lands. These efforts culminated in the Red River War. The war was finally resolved in mid 1875 with the surrender of Quanah Parker and his Quahadi band of Comanche warriors, as well as others supporting their cause. The Red River War ended the time of the free-roaming First American populations on the southern Great Plains.

In April 1875, chiefs and warriors were carried away to Fort Marion by the U.S. Army whether they participated in the Red River War or not. Many of the prisoners were friends of Montford T. Johnson and had sent him letters explaining their captivity and conditions of their incarceration. When Johnson was reunited with his father and learned that his father had influential friends in Washington, he seized upon the opportunity to try and do something for the First Americans sent to Fort Marion [2, p. 54]. Johnson’s father agreed to help and met Johnson, his son and his uncle, in Jacksonville, Florida in the summer of 1877. Upon arrival at Fort Marion, Johnson met with army officials and many of the First American prisoners. He promised his friends that he would try to intercede on their behalf with officials in Washington. Before he left, Johnson arranged a barbecue feed for the prisoners—many of which looked to be emaciated and suffering from a variety of illnesses due to the dank and malodourous conditions at the fort.

Finally, in the spring of 1878, the Office of Indian Affairs (predecessor to Bureau of Indian Affairs) returned most of the First American prisoners to joyous reunions with family and friends at various locations in Kansas and Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Rather than go home, others chose to attend schools in the East to further the Anglo-education they received while incarcerated at Fort Marion.

Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service

Government philosophy toward First Americans

Richard Henry Pratt, an officer in the Army, in the years following the Civil War and up to his death in 1924, implemented an educational philosophy and methodology that sought to “Americanize” thousands of First American (and other ethnic groups) boys and girls [3].

When the 72 prisoners were released in May 1878, Capt. Pratt saw an opportunity to put his “education through assimilation” philosophy into practice on a much grander scale. He petitioned the federal government to grant funding and facilities to establish an Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Pratt employed a multifaceted methodology in assimilating First American children. He believed the tribal way of life and its culture was to be eliminated.

His methodology included:

  • Actively seeking the conversion of Christianity for each person.
  • The government should discontinue the practice of putting First American people on reservations,
  • The promotion of an education that would place emphasis both on the social welfare and employability of the First Americans among other American citizens [4]. His motto, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” echoed this philosophy.

The curriculum focused on vocational training for boys and domestic skills training for girls. The fidelity of implementation called for a strict military-style discipline system – that severely punished wrongdoers – while at the same time---designed to facilitate education of the “whole” student.

For over 20 years, Pratt served as a teacher, superintendent of schools, and a writer supporting his work in education[3]. His educational methods and philosophy remain a source of controversy to this day.

"Kill the savage (or Indian), save the man"

Capt. Richard H. Pratt, in a speech delivered in 1892 from History Matters at George Mason University, was quoted as saying: “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all of the Indian in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him and save the man. [5]

[1] "The Red River War of 1874," Texas Beyond History, [Online]. Available: . [Accessed 25 8 2021].

[2] N. R. Johnson, The Chickasaw Rancher, Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2001.

[3] H. A. Anderson, "Pratt, Richard Henry," Texas State Historical Association, 1 5 1995. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 8 2021].

[4] R. H. Pratt, "Battlefield and Classroom," University of OIklahoma Press, [Online]. Available: . [Accessed 26 8 2021].

[5] "Kill the Indian, save the man," History Matters, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 8 2021].

[6] G. Blazeski, "Richard Pratt is associated with the first recorded us of the word "Racism"," The Vintage News, 24 3 2017. [Online]. Available: . [Accessed 26 8 2021].