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Chilocco School Short Stories
Chilocco Lake

Impressions are made upon a person in an instant and this is what happened to folks as their car came into the Chilocco Indian School campus. The flat lands around the grounds were prairies. In fact at one time they had called the school "The Light on the Prairie." This applied literally since it was the only place lighted for miles around, but sometimes one has to wonder if it wasn't symbolic also. Certainly it was a light shining into many lives of great numbers of American Natives from great numbers of tribes.

First impression was the driving through the long entrance. Possibly the distance was a mile and maybe a third, roughly estimating. Lining both sides of the road were lovely old Maple trees with their red leaves in the fall. Over the years the trees died out and were replaced with Elms, but it was still that feeling of ambiance this drive gave.

Immediately upon arrival onto the landscaped and verdant clean environment there was the lake. The road over and across it held a low bridge with no tall banisters to distract one's eye from the small body of water. Even though the great numbers of trees planted there broke the ever blowing prairie wind there was still an evidence of gusts across the choppy waters. Bobbing like white corks upon the lake's rough surface were the ever present geese. Something about their presence spoke strongly of this as a paradisaic Shangri La. The wind ruffled feathers on their back so there would be a few out of place looking like someone had brushed their hand against the pattern and direction of their growth.

There was a small island setting to the north side of the lake. One passed beside this island when walking over the narrow bridge. The tiny island was covered with trees and wild growing scrubs. The memory of it is tied up with Aunt's shuddering slightly saying, "Ways-sahws," or Ponca for "Snakes."

There were numbers of buildings setting on the edge of the little shoreline. There were the employee's homes, the infirmary, the women's apartment building, the power plant, and the academic building called, Haworth Hall. To look up from one's work while in a classroom across the waters was very pleasant. If one's apartment was on the south side of the Women's Building there was a beautiful view at night. The dark smooth glassy surface was free of the day times restless wind. There were large tall poles holding bright sparkling lights. Their reflection was bounced off those waters, which was brooding now with quiet darkness.

The pageant at the year of 1955 was being practiced by the whole school. Nights were full of excitement as the students were given more freedom than they had ever had during the darkness of night. Of course, they were still heavily chaperoned, but just the feeling of freedom from the before ever present daily regimen was thrilling.

The pageant pictured with live persons an enactment of different parts of Chilocco's history. There were the early days when the children arrived on horse and buggy in their tribal dress. Another scene would depict a vocation such as the welding school. The sparks of the welding lighted only the face and hood of the welder and it was picturesque.

As the gym class girls swung the heavy exercise clubs to The Merry Widow Waltz the lights were turned off that group all at once, and the markings of black light tape gave a design to the night, via the swinging exercise tools.

A beautiful young Indian maiden in her buckskin dress offered a rendition of the Lord's Prayer in sign language and one had to be moved by the beauty of the presentation. The long shadow behind her was created by the low light in front and below her feet. The feeling of something far reaching and spiritual was created by the use of that shadow.The pageant was without a question the most striking performance put forth by the students through the direction of their creative instructors. If anyone ever attended the pageant, it was never forgotten. The year of 1955 the theme was the progress made over almost one hundred years. The old was portrayed and then the modern was acted out. However, on hearing different people talk about the showing of it, I believe it was very much the same every year. Because it was shown only every other year, a student would only see it twice if they attended four years at the school. I only saw it once, and that was the year I graduated.

For whatever trials we have suffered through in our life time we must have a thankfulness for this brief shining moment when we were privileged to enjoy the activities around and about the Chilocco Lake. The last time I drove over the south edge of it I noticed beaver's were building a dam across one of the overflow areas. It struck me as rather ironic to think the waters that cared for the soothing of many children's fears and tears were again being reclaimed by this little animal. Still, we are not to despair. He was probably there first anyway. And maybe again were the children's spirits there directing the little animal that he might save the now neglected lake?

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