From the opening of the first non-reservation boarding school in 1879 (one of the several types of schools described in this previous blog entry) through at least 1907, the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) expected agents and superintendents to collect information about each student under their auspices who was sent to a non-reservation boarding school. In the OIA’s Rules for Indian Schools 1892 edition, the requirement is found in section 27; the 1898 edition, it is found in section 17. Across the years, however, the spirit of the rule remained the same.

Enter the 5-138, the form that detailed children sent away to school. While not consistently saved, the 5-138s that remain are priceless in the student data they provide.

A 5-138 form, front and back, from March 1884, prepared by the Rosebud Agency in South Dakota and documenting students being sent to the Genoa Boarding School in Nebraska. This particular example, found in the Rosebud Agency records at the National Archives at Kansas City, is important because the Genoa school closed early and no direct records were saved from it. Thus, forms like this are all that remain to list which students attended.

What is on the form?

While agents did not always fill in every field, the form has space for the student’s name, both Native and anglicized; blood quantum; tribal nation; band; father’s name; notations if parents are living or deceased; age; height; weight; two columns for chest measurements; and a remarks section typically used for medical history notes. The latter few columns appear to be included to satisfy another OIA requirement: to have the agency physician or matron sign off that the students were “sound and healthy” before transferring them.

A 5-138 form from November 1899, prepared by the Blackfeet Agency in Montana and describing students being sent to the Carlisle Boarding School in Pennsylvania. This copy is found in the Blackfeet Agency holdings at the National Archives at Denver. A ruler is shown here to demonstrate the size of the form.

Where are the forms?

These forms are most often found in the local agency files—the records generated and saved on the reservation itself by OIA employees. Agents and superintendents prepared the forms and then sent them to the school. They also sent a copy to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs office and often kept a copy in their own files. Judging from the records that exist today from the early years of non-reservation boarding schools, the data was transferred into bound pupil registers, which have a section for "Descriptive Record of Students as Admitted." Ostensibly, the forms were then disposed of, with only the Chilocco Indian School in Oklahoma seeming to have saved any, seen here. Likewise, among the records of the commissioner’s office, the forms show up sporadically in collections of letters received, but not in their own series.

That leaves the local OIA agencies to have saved the forms. While never comprehensive date-wise, many agencies have the 5-138 forms segregated into their own series, and many are described in our online Catalog;

Some agencies filed the 5-138 with other school-related records. They can be found with other “miscellaneous school forms” in the White Earth Agency holdings here or with other “lists of students” in the Fort Berthold Agency records here. Yet other agencies filed the 5-138 within general administrative files, as the Northern Cheyenne Agency, then named the Tongue River Agency, did, filing them under “housekeeping records.”

A 5-138 form from August 1897, prepared by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Agency (today known as the Concho Agency) in Oklahoma of students being sent to the Chilocco Indian School  (also in Oklahoma). This copy is unique in that it survives within the files from the school itself and not in those of a reservation agency.

The bane of researching students who attended non-reservation boarding schools is often the simple lack of records. Many were closed in the early 20th century, before the advent of more rigorous records management. Unless a local reservation agency captured some of the records, nothing was saved when a school was shuttered. This is why the 5-138, “Descriptive Statement of Children,” forms that remain are so priceless.