Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2021

Native American Prisoners at Alcatraz – An American Travesty


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(Photo courtesy Mennonite Archives, Bethel ...

The largest group of Native American prisoners to be confined, without trial, at the prison on Alcatraz Island in California were nineteen Hopi “hostiles.” Their crimes: they opposed forced education of their children in government boarding schools that were far from their homes. Their apparent offense was in resisting U.S. government policies designed to erase Hopi language and religion.

The names of the nineteen were as follows: Heevi’ima, Polingyawma, Masatiwa, Q’tsventiwa, Piphongva, Lomahongewma, Lomayestiwa, Yukiwma, Tuvehoyiwma, Patupha, Q’tsyawma, Sikyakeptiwa, Talagayniwa,

Talasyawma, Nasingayniwa, Lomayawma, Tawalestiwa, Aqawsi, and Q’iwiso.

They are shown here, shortly after their arrival in January of 1895, grouped in front of the first Alcatraz Lighthouse. Just why the government had them pose in front of the lighthouse is unknown. The U.S. Lighthouse Service certainly had nothing to do with their confinement. Perhaps a photo taken of them in front of the prison walls might have upset some of the general public if it found its way into the newspapers of the time and the lighthouse seemed to be less controversial.

On Alcatraz Island they were to be: “. . . held in confinement, at hard labor, until . . . they shall show . . . they fully realize the error of their evil ways . . . until they shall evince, in an unmistakable manner, a desire to cease interference with the plans of the government for the civilization and education of its Indian wards.” - Indian Agent 1st Lieutenant S.H. Plummer.

When they agreed to comply with governing demands, the government released them in September of 1895, about eight months after their arrival to Alcatraz.

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2021 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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