Now available in Pearl, the digital repository of the Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS), are records of the American Indian Institute, one of the first college preparatory schools for Native American boys in the country.
Known as the Roe Indian Institute until 1921, the school was founded in 1915 by the Reverend Henry Roe Cloud, a Ho-Chunk Native American and Presbyterian minister.
The newly digitized records trace the early founding of the institution through its transfer of leadership to the Board of National Missions in 1931. They include correspondence (mainly with Cloud), reports, financial statements, contribution registers and other documents related to running the school.
Cloud was born in 1884 on the Winnebago Reservation in northeastern Nebraska. Orphaned by the age of 13, he spent his childhood immersed in Christian education, attending both reservation and non-reservation schools, including Santee Memorial Training School in Nebraska and Mount Hermon Preparatory School in Massachusetts. Cloud later enrolled at Yale University, becoming one of its first Native Americans students. There he met Walter C. and Mary Wickham Roe, two evangelistic mission workers who become his “adopted” parents. Cloud went on to study at Oberlin College and Auburn Theological Seminary, where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree. In 1913, Cloud was ordained as a Presbyterian minister.
In 1915, Cloud founded the Roe Indian Institute, in Wichita, Kansas, which eventually became the American Indian Institute. The school was Native American operated, providing a unique educational opportunity for Indigenous youth. Cloud’s wife, Elizabeth Bender Roe Cloud, was an experienced educator and activist who helped incorporate curriculum that appreciated Indigenous cultures.
The U.S. government viewed Cloud as an asset for fostering Native relations and crafting policies. In 1931, he left the school and began working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). After his stint with the BIA, Cloud became superintendent of the Haskell Institute in Kansas. His career eventually led him to other Native institutions including the Umatilla Indian Agency and the Grande Ronde and Siletz Indian Agencies in Oregon. He died of a heart attack on February 9, 1950, leaving behind Elizabeth and their four daughters.
Henry Roe Cloud’s impact remains appreciated today. In 2010, Yale celebrated the centennial anniversary of his graduation.
The American Indian Institute remained under Presbyterian supervision until it closed in 1935, and was one of many Presbyterian-affiliated Native American Schools including early mission schools, on- and off-reservation boarding schools, day schools, agricultural and industrial schools and higher education schools.
To aid researchers, PHS created the Guide to Presbyterian-affiliated Native American Schools, which offers brief histories of each (including alternative names) and a list of the society’s collection materials that speak to the history of the school.
The Presbyterian Historical Society acknowledges the original inhabitants of the land on which its building is located: the Lenapehoking (Lenni-Lenape).