Perris Indian School circa 1893-1902
by Bill Hulstrom
Perris Valley Historical & Museum Association
The Perris Irrigation District was formed on May 20, 1890 to provide water for the newly planted citrus groves. In 1892, they began negotiating with the Bear Valley Water District to bring water from Big Bear Lake to the bustling Perris Valley. Land buyers and bond buyers worldwide were defrauded by the assurance that water from Big Bear Lake would be available. Among the land buyers was the Federal Bureau of Indian affairs.
According to Tom Patterson, in an Article in the Press-Enterprise (Nov. 26, 1989), a prior water right had been sold to irrigation agencies in the Redlands area. These agencies soon took almost all the available water, leaving almost none for Perris. It became common to see abandoned citrus groves and newly constructed homes raised up and hauled to Riverside where water was more plentiful.
The Perris Indian School was another victim of the water shortage. It had been located in Perris because an adequate water supply had been promised. The photo shows one of the buildings at the Perris Indian School. It is believed that this building housed the girl’s dormitory, dinning hall, kitchen, sewing room, and rooms for employees since a tower was mentioned for this building. With the promise of water, the purchase of an 80-acre site (at the corner of today’s Perris Boulevard and Morgan street) was approved by T. J. Morgan, U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
The Indian bureau spent $18,000 to construct a lateral from the main line to the school site. In 1892, H.W. Rust, Indian agent from Colton reported such an abundance of water at the school site that a stream of water “can be thrown over the tower of the girls building.” In 1892, under Mr. M. S. Savage's direction, the school opened in Perris with eight students and by the end of the year had 118 boarding students. By 1896, the second superintendent of the school, E. A. Allen reported “the irrigation district, at a very high price, is able to furnish only enough water to keep a few plants and a very small patch of grass alive”. For a school that was teaching agricultural as a main core of its subjects this fact was devastating. Congress did provide support for the Indian school.
The following is the Congressional appropriation for the support and education of four hundred and fifty pupils at the Indian school, Riverside, California, seventy-five thousand one hundred and fifty dollars; for pay of superintendent, two thousand dollars; for additional water irrigation and sewer systems, six thousand dollars; for dairy sheds and other improvements on farm, five thousand dollars; for general repairs and improvements, ten thousand dollars; in all, ninety-eight thousand one hundred and fifty dollars: Provided, That so much of said amounts as may be necessary in the judgment of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs may be used for the education and support of pupils and repairs to the plant at the Indian school, Perris, California.
In 1897, Harwood Hall, the new Superintendent, concluded that the lack of sufficient water made teaching agricultural subjects an impossible project for the school even though the condition of buildings, management and supervision was excellent. Mr. Hall visualized the need of a better location for the school than at Perris with its inadequate water supply. Mr. Hall endeavored to influence Congress and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to see the growing need for better educational facilities for American Indians in the Western United States.
On May 31, l900, Congress authorized $75,000 for the construction of new facilities in Riverside. It was James Schoolcraft Sherman, then Chairman of Indian Affairs for the House of Representatives and later Vice President of the United States, who promoted the erection of Sherman Institute, which was named after him. The Congressional appropriation for the new Indian School in Riverside was for support and education of four hundred and fifty Indian pupils at the Sherman Institute, Riverside, California, seventy-five thousand one hundred and fifty dollars; for pay of superintendent, two thousand dollars; for additional water system, three thousand dollars; for industrial building for boys, ten thousand dollars; for general repairs and improvements, five thousand dollars; for purchase of reservoir site, five hundred dollars, to be immediately available; in all, ninety-five thousand six hundred and fifty dollars: Provided, That the Indian school at Perris, California, is hereby discontinued, and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, is authorized to sell and convey said property, and apply the proceeds thereof to the improvement of Sherman Institute, at Riverside, California.
It is hoped that some of the readers may have additional information about the Perris Indian School. Please contact the Perris Valley Historical & Museum. Any information shared would assist the Perris Valley Historical & Museum Association fill in pieces of the history of the Greater Perris Valley. Post Office Box 343, Perris, CA 92570. (951) 657-0274.