Going to Columbus
We were invited to a high school graduation in Columbus and thought it would be fun to see friends and try to hit a couple Nebraska Passport stops. After enjoying the graduation party, we attempted to visit the Platte County Museum. It touted early historical artifacts of Platte County, NE. In the passport booklet, it stated it was open from 1-4 on Saturday. However, when opening the app (which we did as we arrived and also checked the doors) it is only open by appointment on Saturday. Frustrating. I wish the passport booklet would have stated that information, as I like the visual of the booklet map to plan when we go out of town. So, we decided to head on westward to Genoa and the next closet passport stop.
Genoa, NE is a typical small Nebraska town. It’s streets look much like other small towns we’ve visited. We visited during the COVID pandemic. No one wore masks – probably because these more rural areas in Nebraska were very minimally impacted by COVID. People were friendly and we enjoyed the real ice cream at the local gas station. We paid $1.75 for a “scoop” – which was a nice full bowl. My family visited my great uncle who lived there when I was a child, but I hadn’t been there in over 30 years.
From the Netflix show “Anne with an E” recently, I learned these Indian schools are depicted as a rather harsh place. Not wanting to offend, I asked the volunteers working about the history of the school. The couple working that day were incredibly friendly and accommodating and very willing to share the history and information with us. Apparently, some teachers were quite harsh (one may have killed a student) while others were kind to the students and some students have fond memories recorded in records from reunions and memoirs. It was made clear to us that – as rumored – these US ran Indian schools stripped the children of their cultural identity – made to wear Euro-American clothing and hairstyles and learn Christian education. They learned trades such as saddle making, blacksmithing, farming, and sewing. They dressed in uniforms and it was ran much like a military academy.
Unfortunately, the only building that is available was an instructional building – but we saw a model of the whole campus. It was complete with faculty housing, dorms for the younger and older boys and girls separately, several farm buildings, and other trade buildings. There was a steam factory that powered the campus – one of the towers was still there. It was an well done model of the campus. A couple of the faculty houses were still in the area as well as a couple barns but they were privately owned. It would be nice if the city could acquire all the buildings for a more interactive experience.
Small, but Interesting
The couple told us stories of the things the children made and did. There were pictures of alumni – many of whom had been quite successful – including a person who worked for NASA. There were several artifacts downstairs. Apparently, the school is one of a handful still standing. The site was originally chosen because there was a Pawnee reservation in the area, but children from several states and reservations attending – from as far away as Michigan. We were able to see old stoves that heated the school house, other original items and the buildings were original. The first part was built in 1907 and the attached wing in 1911.
The upstairs was the most interesting. A classroom was set up upstairs with a real (loud) school bell that my boys enjoyed ringing. The next room upstairs was an area of industry. It showed saddles in the style that the students made as well as the blacksmithing and saddle making tools used. The framed paintings of saddles that the students used as models were the originals still hanging on the wall! The display also held pieces of wagon making that the students did – the pieces of wagon wheel displayed were stamped the Genoa Indian school address!
Overall, we found this stop to be very interesting. It really only took us a half hour to visit (perhaps 45 minutes to an hour for someone very interested in Indian culture who looked at everything thoroughly). I would encourage this stop in conjunction with other nearby activities – perhaps on a tour of museums (the museum had a list of 7 other museums in Nance county) or with a camping trip – the Loup river as well as Broken Arrow camping was nearby. However, we found this a nice insight into a part of Nebraska history that wasn’t very familiar to our family previously, with very friendly volunteers.