Built around 1832, the Wheelock Academy was one of the earliest schools.
Situated in McCurtain County about one and one-half miles northeast of
Millerton and about ten or twelve miles north and west of Idabel known
as Towson County, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory before statehood.
Alfred and Harriet Wright,
missionaries, made their way west with Choctaws from Mississippi.
Begun as a mission school for girls,
Wheelock Academy was named after Eleazar Wheelock, founder of Moor’s Indian School, later to become known as Dartmouth College. By 1839, the influx of boarding
students was so great that a large, two story frame dormitory was added to the campus.
It was selected in 1842 to become the first Choctaw National
academy served as the model for the school system established by
the Five Civilized Tribes. It set the precedent for over 30 academies and seminaries
maintained in Indian Territory.
The Choctaw National School
System took over Wheelock in 1842, converting it to a girls school.
Teachers at Wheelock were
both educators and missionaries thus exposing students to the Bible in
the classroom and by example. The curriculum included home
economics which received as much, if not more, emphasis as English,
geography, history, and science. Five
hours were spent each morning in academic studies, while four hours each
afternoon were devoted to domestic skills.
The girls learned how to use a spinning wheel and loom and crafts
such as knitting, needlework, and sewing.
The Wheelock seminary was
closed in 1861 along with all the Choctaw schools when the Civil War
In 1869 fire all but
destroyed the original campus, including the 1845 Rock Church (now the
oldest church building in Oklahoma still in use). A new facility was
built in the early 1880s a short distance northeast of the original
mission and school was opened for students in 1884.
Pushmataha Hall was the first
structure to be rebuilt, a two-story wood frame structure. Two years
later, Wilson Hall (the classroom building) was completed.
Since its founding Wheelock Academy has been rebuilt, added to, and
remodeled. The plain wooden buildings, attractive in their simplicity, housed one
of the most complex institutions of its kind in Oklahoma.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs
owned Wheelock Academy from 1932 to 1955. When the school closed in
1955, the complex included 17 structures on the approximate 15 acre
site. The General Services Administration owned the school from 1955
until ownership reverted to the Choctaw in the late 1960s. In the late
1970s only six buildings remained.
In 1966 the academy was
declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Park Service of
the US Department of Interior.
Wheelock Academy has been
retained on the just-released list of Oklahoma's Most Endangered
Historic Properties for 2002. Historic Wheelock Academy last year was
included by the National Trust for Historic Preservation on its list of
the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America. The future of Wheelock is
Rev. Alfred E. and Harriet
Bunce Wright were missionaries to the Choctaws from the American Board
of Missionaries. Alfred Wright was born March 1, 1788 in Columbia,
Connecticut and was ordained as a minister in 1919 in North Carolina.
Harriet Bunce was born Sep 19, 1779 to Captain Jared and Lydia (Prettyplace)
Bunce. She was a teacher of unusual ability and the story of Wheelock
belongs as much to her as to her husband.
Harriett Wright and Anna
Burnham were the first teachers at Wheelock. Anna Burnham had joined the
Wrights at Mayhew in 1822 and accompanied them to the Choctaw Nation.
Much of the operating of the school fell upon them because Rev. Wright
was away from the mission treating the ill or preaching sermons.
The Wheelock Mission and
Wheelock Female Seminary (girls boarding school) were directed by the
Presbyterian missionary Rev. Alfred Wright who collaborated with
fellow missionary Cyrus Byington to develop a written Choctaw alphabet
and translated and printed books of the Bible and hymnals. They learned
to speak the language and Byington, in particular, concentrated on
developing the tools of the tongue, a dictionary, definer and grammar.
Joseph Dukes was with Wright as a translator of the New Testament from
1836 to 1870. Joseph Dukes married Nancy Collins and their son, Gilbert
Wesley Dukes served as Chief of the Choctaws from 1900 to 1902.
Wright died at Wheelock March 31, 1853, and lies buried within sight of
the beloved church he had created in the heart of the wilderness in the
graveyard near the stone church build in 1846. A flat stone over his
grave tells a brief story of his useful life. Wheelock Mission Church
located south of the academy site was erected by Presbyterian
Harriet Bunce Wright tried to
carry on with her teaching chores at Wheelock after her husband's death,
but after the 1854 school year her health failing she went east to live
with relatives. She died Oct. 3, 1863 in Madison, Fla., and was buried
Following the death of the Rev. Alfred Wright, the American Board of
Missionaries sent Rev. John Edwards, another Presbyterian minister, to
serve as superintendent of Wheelock. John Libby, who had made the
journey west with the Wrights as a young seminarian but who had
returned east to further his education in the late 1830s, returned to
Wheelock with Rev. Edwards as an assistant. In 1857, Mary J. Semple (who
would later become the wife of the Rev. Ebenezer Hotchkin) joined the
staff. She was to be a career educator, spending 40 years among the
Choctaws teaching first at Wheelock and later at Spencer Academy.
Accompanying her west was Mary Lovell.
Symbol of Belief, Dedication and Hard Work for more information
about the various Superintendents of Wheelock.
Asbill, Barbara and Louis Coleman.
Wheelock Academy, An Endangered Native-American National Historic Landmark. Native American Press Archives.
Jun 2002 http://www.anpa.ualr.edu/Symposium/SYM_Images/SYM_Sat_Morn_Asbill_wheelock_aca.htm
Colby, Catherine. Wheelock Academy, Model for the Indian Territory.
Cultural Resource Management, Vol. 20, No. 9, National Historic Land
Marks, Assistance Initiative. May 2002 http://crm.cr.nps.gov/issue.cfm?volume=20&number=09
Dale, Edward Everett.
Oklahoma, The Story of A State (New York: Harper & Row, 1949, 1955, 1968).
Debo, Angie. Oklahoma: A Guide to the Sooner State
[The WPA Guide to 1930s Oklahoma complied by the Writers'
Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Oklahoma with a
restored essay by Angie Debo and a new introduction by Anne Hodges Morgan]
(Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma, 1986).
Bishinik [Newspaper] January 1979, Wheelock, Symbol of Belief, Dedication and Hard
Work. Jun 2002 http://www.tc.umn.edu/~mboucher/mikebouchweb/choctaw/cwheel.htm
Morrison, W. B. . The Choctaw Mission of the American Board of Commissioners for
Foreign Missions. The OSU Library Electronic
Publishing Center, Digital Collections, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume
4, No. 2, June, 1926: 166-183. Jul 2002 http://digital.library.okstate.edu/
Murphy, Justin D. Wheelock Female
The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Jul 2002 http://www.choctawnation.com/wheelock/wheelock1.htm
Murphy, Justin D. Wheelock Female
Seminary 1842-1861. In The Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol LXIX, No. 1,
National Register of Historic Places, Oklahoma, Bryan
#72001056 3 mile NE of Bokchito. Jun 2002 http://www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/OK/Bryan/state.html
Gilbert Wesley Dukes Jul 2002 http://home.earthlink.net/~carrierodell/gilbertdukes.html
Wheelock Academy, Millerton,
National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Jul 2002 http://www.nthp.org/11most/2000/wheelock.htm
Wheelock Seminary. The OSU Library Electronic Publishing Center, Digital Collections,
Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 1, No. 2, October, 1921: 117-120.
Jun 2002 http://digital.library.okstate.edu/