What Happened to Hiawatha’s Bell?

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2017 No bell in the tower

Many items go missing at Haskell Indian Nations University, but one in particular would be hard to steal: Hiawatha’s bell.

While being interviewed for a recent story regarding the upcoming renovations to Haskell Indian Nations University’s historic Hiawatha Hall, Lee Pahcoddy, Facilities Director, stated that he was hopeful the school’s bell would be found. The bell, which formerly occupied the north tower of Hiawatha Hall, seems to have disappeared from the building altogether. Owing to the mere size and probable weight of the bell, it does not seem likely that its removal from Hiawatha Hall would have been an easy task. However, with the fact that the bell would have been Federal property, one would think that this sort of work, or its possible disposal, would have been documented.

1918-1919 Indian Leader photo showing the bell in Hiawatha’s tower.

The bell would have been installed during the construction of Hiawatha Hall in 1898 and its importance to the history of Haskell Institute comes partially from the role it played in the “Haskell Rebellion” of 1919. One October evening a group of students cut the school’s electricity just before an assembly. The conspirators, having cut off the power, proceeded to smash light fixtures, loot the school’s food supply, threatened the school’s principal with bodily harm, and rang the school bell. This rebellion was short-lived and the incident resulted in nine students, four boys and five girls, being expelled from the school for insubordination and damage to property. Interestingly, the 1919 Haskell Rebellion was not well recorded at the time and the only contemporary source of information regarding the event exists in letters from the school’s principal which are held today at the National Archives and Records Administration. An excellent retelling of the events can be found in Brenda J. Child’s book Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940.

Allen Stephenson, a Comanche Nation citizen and Junior in the Indigenous and American Indian Studies program at Haskell with familial ties to the school going back over 100 years states: “I really hope that they are able to find the bell and put it back in place. Having something historical like that would be good for our campus it’d be sort of like the bells at KU.”

Employees who have worked in Hiawatha Hall over the years have stated that they have never seen, nor can they recall, a bell in the building and do not know where it could have gotten to, but state with relative certainty that it is not in the building. Pahcoddy, however, is hopeful that the bell may have fallen through the floor when the stairs leading to it collapsed or may possibly be stored somewhere inside and has merely not yet been located.

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