Cherokee Orphan Asylum

 

In 1873, after the Cherokee orphans had been cared for at Tahlequah for several years, the Cherokee Nation purchased the home and farm of Louis Ross, a Cherokee citizen located in the eastern part of Mayes County, adjoining the present town of Salina, and converted it into a home for Cherokee orphans.  In 1875, the large Ross mansion was enlarged and the school was prepared to care for one hundred or more orphans. This home was admirably adapted for the purpose to which it was dedicated. The farm consisted of about three hundred acres of land, approximately one-half of which was fertile bottom land, the other half consists of timber and pasture land. Horses, cattle and hogs were raised, and the bottom land produced abundant crops of corn, oats and wheat. The timber land furnished fuel for the home, and fencing and lumber for the improvement of the farm. Everlasting springs of pure water bubbled out of the nearby hillside, furnishing an abundant supply of pure water for the home and livestock.
     For nearly a third of a century the Cherokees cheerfully supported this institution entirely from their own tribal funds, expending annually about twelve thousand five hundred dollars for the support of about one hundred and fifty of their orphan boys and girls, but on the 17th day of November, 1903, the entire home, including the original building and the three wings which had been added was destroyed by fire. The fire occurred at noon, causing no loss of life but consuming almost the entire contents of the building. About fifty of the orphans were transferred to the Whitaker Home at Pryor Creek and the others were cared for at Tahlequah. The orphan home, or asylum, as it was called, was never rebuilt, and a mound of old brick is all that is left to remind the Cherokees of their historic home which for thirty years was one of the institutions in which they manifested special pride.

Oklahoma State Home

     The Oklahoma State Home for the orphan children of the state is located on a 550 acre tract of land adjoining the town of Pryor Creek. This is one of the state's best institutions and represents an investment of $350,000. The institution is complete in every respect. Besides the administration building, there are eight brick cottages which house from 25 to 35 children each, a well equipped hospital, being a two-story brick building, a commissary, garage, laundry, power plant and a nice new two-story brick school building which is so situated that it is completely surrounded by the other buildings heretofore mentioned. The home has a large farm in connection with the institution and it is a great help to the state in feeding the 250 to 300 children that are cared for the year around. There is a fine Holstein herd of about one hundred cows on the farm and one of the most complete dairy barns in the state. The barn is a two-story brick building 36 by 120 feet, with all the modern conveniences for sanitation. There were more than sixteen thousand pounds of hog meat cured for the use of the home last year, besides which, there was a sale of thousands of pounds on foot.
     About one hundred and fifty children are placed in private homes annually through this institution.
     Neal B. Gardner is the present superintendent and has held this position since August 1, 1915. Mr. Gardner and his good wife take great interest in the institution and the home shows the effects of their tireless effort.
     Until the state took this institution over in 1908, it was run as a private institution and known as the W. T. Whitaker Orphan Home. The home was founded by W. T. Whitaker, a Cherokee Indian, in 1897, it being Mr. Whitaker's desire to build a home for the white orphan children of the Indian Territory. It will be remembered that at that time and up until 1904 the Cherokees had a fine orphan home for Cherokee orphans only, just east of Pryor, on Grand River. The first building or what is now the administration building (a three-story stone, built in 1907), handled most of the needs until statehood. It was located on forty acres of land, being a part of the Whitaker allotment. When the Cherokee Orphan Home burned, Mr. Whitaker then opened the doors of his home for the white orphan children, to the homeless Cherokees of the territory. Although crowded conditions prevailed, the children, with Federal aid, were cared for until statehood came.
     Mr. Whitaker is still a resident of Pryor and is appreciated for his services rendered to the orphans of Eastern Oklahoma.

Mayes County

Source: Muskogee and Northeastern Oklahoma, 1922

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