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FORT BIDWELL, Calif. - “This is where the healing begins,” said Anita Williams, the coordinator of the annual event created to honor the elders who used to attend the non-reservation Indian boarding school that was located on the site of a former military post in the Surprise Valley.
The event has been held since 2009, to celebrate California Indian Day and honor the elders who attended the boarding school. The school operated on the Fort Bidwell property from 1898 to 1930.
It was created for the Pauite and Modoc tribes and initially served just Paiute children, due to its location in Fort Bidwell. The Warner Mountain range was a barrier to easy travel for the Pit River students. Eventually, children from the Klamath, Miwok, Maidu and Concow tribes attended the boarding school, along with their Paiute and Pit River classmates.
The elders who attended the school are aging, and many have already passed on. Williams, the coordinator on the event, is dedicated to bringing former students home to Fort Bidwell to share their experiences and their tribal histories with the younger generation. Students were forcibly removed from their homes to attend the boarding school, but many family members camped near the school to be close to their children.
There are no schools in Fort Bidwell anymore. The children and teens are bused to Cedarville and Alturas for their education. The boarding school closed in 1930.
The school was on the former grounds of Fort Bidwell, the center for the U.S. calvary when fighting the Modoc Wars and other regional Indian battles in Northern California, Southern Oregon and Eastern Nevada. The Fort opened in 1865 and closed in 1930. The Modoc Wars lasted from 1872-1873.
The military’s Fort Bidwell was named after General John Bidwell, who in 1841 led one of the first emigrant wagon trains from Missouri to California. The farmer, statesman and prohibitionist also is known for founding the city of Chico, Calif.
The Mount Bidwell California Indian Day Celebration and Fort Bidwell Indian Boarding School Reunion takes place Saturday, October 6 and Sunday, October 7, 2018, starting at 9:00 a.m. each day. There is a parade on Saturday morning and a community potluck later in the day.
The Fort Bidwell Reservation Tribal Office phone number is (530) 279-2784.
(Photos courtest of Meriam Library Special Collections)
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