Skip to main content

Charles E. Larsen Chemawa Indian School collection

Identifier: WUA068

Scope and Contents

The Charles E. Larsen Chemawa Indian School collection is a compilation of Chemawa Indian School and Northwest Native American history dating from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. Materials in this collection give a look at student and employee life on the Chemawa campus. This collection includes newspaper clippings, correspondence, photographs, handbooks, graduation lists, and historical monographs written by Larsen. Newspaper clippings document events related to both Larsen and to the school specifically. Many relate to Chemawa athletic activities from the 1900s to the 1940s. Much of the correspondence relates to Larsen's appointment to different positions either at Chemawa or schools or agencies. Memoranda sent to employees document school events, specifically policy changes and the possible closing of the school.

Documentation of student life can be found in portions of two circa 1920s and 1930s handbooks which include school policies and the daily schedule followed by Chemawa girls and boys. Planning materials for such events as the Chemawa 56th birthday party are included as well a photographs of the Chemawa campus, Larsen's family and photographs of the Chemawa Alumni Association. Larsen additionally compiled lists of Chemawa graduates dating 1885 to 1949. The typewriter on which Larsen typed his monographs, lists of graduates, and athletic records, is also included.

Throughout the collection are pieces of Larsen's writings about the history of the Chemawa Indian School as well as his own autobiography. Documentation of the possible closing of Chemawa in the 1930s including a transcript of Larsen's defence of a local petition is included. Larsen's typed speech to the Woman's Christian Temperance union in January 1939 about liquor laws and Native Americans is included in the collection.

Also included are copies of treaties that Larsen collected including the Rogue River treaty of 1853, the unratified treaty of the Coast Indians of 1855, and the Siletz and Grand Ronde treaties of 1922.


  • 1853-1953


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

Library acts as “fair use” reproduction agent.

For further information, see the section on copyright in the Regulations and Procedures of the Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.

Copyright Information: Before material from collections at Willamette University Archives and Special Collections may be quoted in print, or otherwise reproduced, in whole or in part, in any publication, permission must be obtained from (1) the owner of the physical property, and (2) the holder of the copyright. It is the particular responsibility of the researcher to obtain both sets of permission. Persons wishing to quote from materials in any collections held by University Archives and Special Collections should consult the University Archivist. Reproduction of any item must contain a complete citation to the original.

Historical Note

The Chemawa Indian School is the oldest continuously operated boarding school for Native American students in the United States. Enrollment in Chemawa required, and continues to require, membership in a federally recognized Native American tribe or Alaska native village. What is now Chemawa was initially located in Forest Grove, Oregon. Construction began in 1880 for the first class of fourteen boys and four girls. By 1884, with the lack of community support, need for more land, and the burning of the girl’s dormitory, the school was moved to a location near Salem, Oregon. In June of 1885, the Chemawa Indian School opened, known then as the Salem Indian Training School.

Chemawa began with a goal to integrate the Indian population into general society through vocational training at a boarding school. Courses were taught in blacksmithing, shoe making, carpentering, wagon making, farming, dairying, nursing and the domestic arts. Initially, the school served students through the 9th grade. By 1927, the elementary program was dropped and the school became a fully accredited high school.

In 1900, 453 students were enrolled, coming from Alaska, Washington, Idaho and California. By 1913 enrollment had grown to 690, and to 1000 by 1926. By the 1930s demand for off-reservation boarding schools was diminishing as tribal schools were being located on reservations and state schools began allowing Native American students. Chemawa threatened to close in the 1930s, 1940s, and again in the 1960s. Push-back from alumni, Salem residents, and Oregon politicians aided its survival.

In 1947, the Chemawa campus had grown from its initial 177 acres to 457 acres with fruit trees, a farm with chickens, pigs, and a dairy, as well as one hundred buildings. The buildings included dormitories, classrooms, a gymnasium, and a hospital. Much of the schools funding and food came from student labor. 84 acres had been added in 1887 with funds students earned from picking hops. Food came from the campus agriculture, and students were later trained in industrial labor to raise money. In addition to vocational studies, students participated in debate, literary societies, and the school band. Male students participated in athletics including football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, boxing and track. Female students participated in women’s basketball beginning in the early 1900s.

In the 1970s, with the growth of Salem and building of the interstate, the Chemawa campus moved to a smaller, adjacent location. Enrollment remains at up to 400 students from the Western United States, with a new dormitory built in 2009. The school specializes in technology integration into education, and the campus includes a challenge course, wetlands, a forest, athletics fields, a swimming pool, auditorium, and gymnasium. The private boarding school continues to be funded and operated by the Bureau of Indian Education.

Beginning in 2005, Chemawa and Willamette University began the Chemawa-Willamette Partnership Program, providing tutoring and opportunities to collaborate on events.

Biographical Note

Charles Larsen was a Chemawa student and employee whose goal was to document the history of Chemawa. One of nine children, Charles was born in Warren, Oregon in 1883 to Henry and Emma Larsen. Henry was a postmaster and owned a country store. Being part Chinook, many of the Larsen children, including Charles, enrolled in Chemawa in 1893. While there, Charles was a member of the school band, was the school bugler, worked in the school print-shop and played baseball and football. Larsen completed school in 1902. He was then employed as the Chemawa assistant clerk, dairyman, and disciplinarian until 1912.

Between 1912 and 1925, Larsen left Chemawa to work at the Jones Male Academy in Hartshorne, Oklahoma, the Tulalip Indian Agency in Tulalip, Washington, the Cushman Trade School in Tacoma Washington, and the Klamath and Siletz Indian Agencies in Oregon. He married Myrtle Romona Loughrey in Marysville, Washington on July 8, 1914. Their daughter, Vivian Cora was born on April 20, 1915.

In 1925, Larsen returned to work as clerk until 1946. He additionally served as band instructor and coached football, baseball and basketball. Larson became president of the Chemawa Alumni Association beginning in 1931. During his time at Chemawa, Charles collected and documented his own history as well as the history of the school.


2 Linear Feet (4 boxes)


The Charles E. Larsen Chemawa Indian School collection is a compilation of Chemawa Indian School and Northwest Native American history dating from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century.


Items are arranged in original order.

Physical Location

Mark O. Hatfield Library

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mary Ann Youngblood and Steve May, 2014.
Guide to the Charles E. Larsen Chemawa Indian School collection, 1853-1953
Finding aid processed by Ashley Toutain.
© 2014
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Willamette University Archives and Special Collections Collection Descriptions

Mark O. Hatfield Library
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 United States