History: Graduates of the Chilocco Indian School

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Chilocco Indian School graduates

The Chilocco Indian School, in New Kirk, OK. was founded in 1884 and has remained open for almost a century. Indian students from all over the country were sent there – some by force – to learn trades, such as carpentry, car mechanics, agriculture or housekeeping.

But some alumni have broken away from stereotypical careers and carved out a unique niche for themselves.

One of them was actor Wes Studi (Cherokee), a graduate of Chilocco 1964.

Wes studio

His specialty was dry cleaning – but he really cleaned up in Hollywood, where he starred in many notable films – including “Hostiles”, “Dances With Wolves”, “Last of the Mohicans” and “Avatar”.

He also played Navajo Police Officer Joe Leaphorn, a character created by author Tony Hillerman.

Studi, who is also a Vietnam veteran, recently received an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement.

Chilocco can also claim the first full-fledged Native American to play in Major League Baseball – Moses “Chief” Yellow Horse. But Yellow Horse’s brief baseball career would also lead to a decades-long rift between him and the Pawnee tribe.

Yellow Horse was born in 1898 in Indian territory (Oklahoma did not become a state until 1907). Like many indigenous people in the area, Yellow Horse was taken from his family at a young age and sent to boarding school. This is where Yellow Horse discovered baseball.

Yellow horse

In 1917, Yellow Horse gained attention as a pitcher when he compiled an outstanding 17-0 record for Chilocco. After leaving Chilocco, Yellow Horse pitched for travelers to Arkansas and, in 1920, led the team to their first championship.

In 1921, Yellow Horse was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He won five games before sustaining a serious arm injury. He returned to the team the following year, but his season ended with another arm injury. Rumor has it that he was injured when he fell while intoxicated.

On the Pirates, Yellow Horse befriended the future Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville – who introduced the young man to alcohol. Yellow Horse began to drink heavily, which caused the Pawnee tribe to move away from him.

Although Yellow Horse played several more years in minor league baseball, arm injuries ended his career. He returned to Oklahoma, working menial jobs.

Then, in 1945, he stopped drinking cold turkey. He was re-embraced by his tribe and lived the rest of his life without touching another drop of alcohol. Cheval Jaune died in 1964.

Page resident Reuben D. Begay, Sr., (class of 1963) was such a remarkable student that his Chilocco teachers wanted him to attend medical school. But Begay – who reads Carl Sagan, for fun! – chose not to leave his native country. He retired after nearly 30 years as a chemist for the Navajo plant.

His wife, Bernice Austin-Begay, was also fortunate enough to leave Dinetah. After graduating from Chilocco in 1965, she was offered the opportunity to join NASA, but turned it down. Austin-Begay spent 48 years as a teacher, the last 22 as the first Navajo language teacher for the Page Unified School District. She is the daughter of famous Navajo healer Buck Austin.

Other notable Chilocco graduates include three Medal of Honor recipients – Jack Montgomery and Ernest Childers, for WWII service, and Charles George (Korean War) – two former Seminole presidents, Mitchell Cypress and Howard Tommie, silversmith Pawnee Marlene Riding-In Mameah, Navajo Code Talker Keith Little and professional football player William “Lone Star” Dietz.

The first Navajo to graduate from Chilocco was Bertha Shipley in 1915.


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